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The Hunting & Fishing Magazine of the Dakotas!

2016 Salmon Outlook

by DC Staff

Chinook salmon anglers in the Dakotas will soon begin exploring waters of lakes Sakakawea and Oahe in earnest, as the late summer season for the prized fish begins.

Chinook salmon don’t maintain a widespread following among Dakota anglers, but those who pursue these fish are a passionate bunch. They have the equipment, they work hard and they enjoy the meat of this great fish. And the next three months is their special time of the year.


North Dakota

Dave Fryda at the Riverdale office of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says there should be an adequate number of carryover salmon from last year’s crop that, while not abundant, should make up for it in size.

“The 2015 season started off pretty decent, just prior to the (Great Planers Trout and Salmon) derby, but it ended tough,” said Fryda. “About that time there were a few days of really strong 60 mph winds and the thermocline literally broke down. We’ve never seen that before.”

It affected the salmon bite in negative fashion. The lake was turbid, and the salmon bite, which should have been favorable, never recovered, even into fall when salmon traditionally move into shallower water.

“On the positive side,” Fryda continued, “there were a lot of jacks (1-year-old males) last fall. A lot of them, from the 2014 stocking. That was the first time in a few years we’ve seen that many.”

As far as spawning efforts last fall, that was impacted by extended warm water that lasted into early November and kept salmon away from traditional spawning grounds. Ultimately, biologists captured only a small batch of spawning salmon, far less that the goal, resulting in a stocking of 144,000 in late May last spring, significantly less than the 415,000 of the previous spring.

“We’re looking for the 2014 age class of nearly 210,000 to come into play this summer,” Fryda said.

Fryda is quick to point out, however, that a reduced salmon stocking doesn’t necessarily mean fewer fish available for anglers.

“Fewer salmon stocked isn’t necessarily a bad factor,” he said. “More stocking doesn’t necessarily mean more fish.”

“The best fishing took place in 2012,” Fryda said. “And that was from a stocking of 50,000 in 2009.”

Much of it depends on survival and growth from available forage, along with lake levels.

While salmon were fewer last year, they were bigger. Fish in the teen weights were reported before the winds grew and shut down the fishery.

“Last year we saw the largest jacks we’ve ever seen,” he said. “There should be some good carryover from that batch.”

In addition to a positive salmon outlook, rainbow smelt forage has been on the upswing. In fact, the 2014 hatch of smelt was the biggest in nearly two decades, if not the biggest ever. A smelt die-off occurred in May on Lake Sakakawea, but while it was important, it was not believed to be severely detrimental to the population. Smelt die-offs occur at various intervals of time, Mother Nature taking care of itself. The die-off affected the lower two-thirds of the lake.

For this approaching fall, Fryda said they will gratefully take all the salmon eggs they can collect, but they’re hoping to have a stocking of 400,000 fish next spring.


South Dakota

On Lake Oahe in South Dakota, salmon fishermen enjoyed some very large fish last summer, many in the teen weights and beyond. In fact, a new state record salmon was established when Gordon Samon of Highmore netted a 24-8 Chinook in the early morning hours of Aug. 14.

It was about mid-July when salmon action took off.

“It’s not fast and furious, but they’ve been catching salmon since the middle of July,” said Dan Miller at Carl’s Bait Shop last summer. “The fish they’re getting are really nice, in good shape.”

Most of the action, as is traditional, takes place in the region around the face of Oahe Dam.

South Dakota fisheries biologist Bob Hanten said the excellent growth of big salmon in the lake was mostly due to large lake herring.

For this year, Hanten said the should be picking up with more salmon in the 3- to 5-lb. range.

“More small size salmon will be dominant this summer, 2-year-old fish in the 3- to 5-lb. range. There will still be a few bigger salmon also.”

Like conditions in North Dakota, biologists in South Dakota struggled last fall to take their quota of spawning salmon. They cornered 123 prime female salmon that yielded 475,000 eggs, a strong production. However, those eggs produced a poor eye-up stage, one of the lowest on record, Hanten said, and only 16 percent of the 475,000 eggs taken were hatched. That resulted in a reduced stocking of about 55,000 fish this spring, must lower than the department’s goal of 300,000.

“That won’t be felt so much this year, but it will show up down the road,” Hanten told Dakota Country.

On the plus side, smelt numbers continue to improve in Oahe after the Great Flood of 2011, which all but destroyed the population. In addition, as mentioned earlier, lake herring are picking up some slack, providing heavier forage to larger salmon growth, accounting for last year’s bigger fish.

“We’ve had strong natural reproduction on lake herring the last couple of years, and that’s not common,” said Hanten.

Salmon anglers always hope weather patterns are on their side in late summer when the bite traditionally begins. Mornings have proven best for salmon activity, from sun-up until noon. By early September salmon begin searching shallower water, and then become a bit more vulnerable to long-lining and trolling crankbaits.

Regardless of outside elements, there are abundant salmon available this late summer and fall, and anglers dedicated to this great fish will take advantage of it.

Another form of salmon, the Atlantic, is still being studied, and plans continue for an eventual stocking of the fish into Lake Oahe.

Meanwhile, fishermen are asked to turn in the heads of salmon they catch on those fish with the adipose fin (on top of the fish, rear) missing. Data on the fish has been implanted in these salmon and the respective departments need the information from anglers as to when it was caught, where it was caught, and size. The information will be beneficial in helping biologist learn more about better salmon survival, stocking locations and growth.

The heads can be frozen and turned into local bait shops or Game and Fish Dept. offices.