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Before delving into what worked and where in 2018, I would like to talk a little about what to expect in 2019 and to discuss recent refinements to a long-utilized salmon catching technique.

So, what level of success will the 2019 salmon fishing season hold for anglers? Forage fish (smelt) numbers, spawning results, tagged fish results, and lake levels are all indicators of a good 2019 summer of salmon angling but then we have been down that road for the last two seasons. All the indicators for 2016 pointed to potentially a great 2017 season and the same was anticipated for last summer for similar reasons. But as each season played out the numbers of fish just weren’t on the east end of the lake during August and September and the sizes of the salmon being caught were smaller than had been expected. I certainly don’t claim to have any answers and I won’t even try to predict what 2019 will hold, but each season brings a new level of enthusiasm and we anglers find ourselves back on the water trying to find the secret that will fill our coolers with fish. For me this summer will be no different.

But one last thing before discussing techniques and results, I would encourage veteran anglers and anglers new to the sport of salmon fishing to get involved with the Great Planers Trout and Salmon Club. Most of the members have 20 to 35 years of experience fishing salmon and are more than willing to share what they have learned. During the summer, the Club holds two informal outings, one in August and the other on Labor Day weekend. At the outing a friendly competition for prizes is held and a potluck meal including a salmon boil is provided. Afterwards members sit around and share a little bit of truth and maybe even an untruth or two about salmon fishing. These outings are held in the Lake Sakakawea State Park at Pick City. In addition to the outings the Club sponsors a salmon derby/tournament in August on Lake Sakakawea, an Annual Winter Meeting in January, and a Spring Gathering/Chili Feed usually in March. Both the Winter Meeting and the Spring Gathering are held in Bismarck. If you are interested in joining the Club just show up at any of the Club functions, check us out, and join the Club if you like what you see. Now, on to the tips and tricks and the results of last summer’s salmon angling efforts.

One thing I would like to discuss is the new twist of dyeing bait that has started to take-off the past couple of seasons and just maybe this is something that might increase your catch.

Fishing with herring and brining and dyeing it: Fishing with herring (bait) has been a productive choice for anglers on Lake Sakakawea since the beginning of salmon fishing in North Dakota. North Dakota salmon fishing techniques are a hybrid of Great Lakes fishing and West Coast fishing. When we got started salmon fishing in the 80’s we leaned on our friends to the east and copied their techniques of primarily running plastics and spoons. And at the same time, we turned to the west and started experimenting with bait or herring as a method of fishing salmon. In those early years, along with running whole herring and cut herring, we also fished with herring strips in a plastic clip called a “strip teaser” manufactured by Rhys Davis. Packages of different sized herring strips were available that fit in the appropriate size of teaser. However, while the teaser can still be found, the packaged bait is not readily available.

From the beginning a deterrent to running herring was that the bait could only be trolled for a limited amount of time before it started falling apart, if whole, or blowing out, if cut. So to extend the trolling life of herring, anglers started brining the bait. Most early brining techniques called

for mixing rock salt, dry powdered milk, and distilled water or preferably lake water, as a brine for toughening the bait and adding a sheen to the bait with the addition of the powdered milk. While many recipes can still be found on the internet and on YouTube, you can also purchase products which do the same thing. My favorite brining powder is a product by Pro-Cure called Brine ‘N Bite. It tightens bait scales and keeps bait fresh longer. It comes in a 20-ounce jar and for the average angler, a jar may last all season. I spend my winters in northwestern Washington and area guides and charter captains say that they have used bait that was brined ten days earlier by keeping the bait in a freezer at night. Their feeling is that if the bait refreezes overnight you are not adding enough brine. Just like brining, dyeing of bait did not start out with the advent of commercial dyes. The earliest dyeing started out by adding a solution of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, a laundry product, to the bait to achieve a light blue coloring on the bait. It was felt that the coloring brightened the bait that faded during freezing and added a sheen to the bait. Those anglers who wanted to experiment with different colors added food dye to their brine solution instead of Mrs. Stewart’s. As anglers started seeing better catch rates with dyed bait, commercial dye products appeared on the shelf. Three of the larger brine/dye manufacturers are Atlas-Mike’s, Pautzke Bait Co., and Pro-Cure. Atlas-Mike’s has three products; UV enhanced natural, green chartreuse, and blue liquid brines/dyes. Pautzke products include blue, natural, red, chartreuse, orange, purple, and green Pautzke Fire Brine and concentrated UV enhanced chartreuse, red, pink, and blue Pautzke Fire Dye. Pro-Cure markets both powder dyes and liquid dyes. The Pro-Cure Bad Azz powders come in metallic blue, chartreuse lime fluorescent, fire orange fluorescent, brite pink fluorescent, deep purple, and brilliant fluorescent red colors. The Pro-Cure Bad Azz concentrated UV liquid bait dye comes in brilliant blue, chartreuse lime, magneta red/pink, passion purple, scarlet red, and sunset orange colors. These concentrated UV dyes can, with the use of a Q-Tip, add spots or lines to already dyed herring once the original dye has set on the herring. So, for the angler who wants to experiment with colors, there are a number of options. One caution about the dyed brine is that it can and will stain if you don’t attend to it immediately. So, drips on the boat floor or along the side of the boat should be wiped up immediately. To keep my hands from displaying the telltale sign of dyed bait I have gone to wearing latex gloves when handling bait.

Earlier trolling whole herring and cut herring was mentioned. The easiest method I have found to cut bait is to utilize a commercial bait cutting tool. The brand I use is the Folbe and I use the Coho cut. For cut bait I use a two-hook harness of 3/0 or 4/0 offset siwash hooks. Again, YouTube is an excellent source for videos on tieing two-hook harnesses and for threading the harness through the cut herring. When using whole herring or anchovies I prefer either the Krippled Anchovy by Krippled Fishing Lures or the JDF Baitheads by O’Ki brand hoods. The head of these two hoods is a little bit longer and makes it easier to insert the bait in the hood. Other bait hood options include the Anchovy Special and the Bulletroll by Rhys Davis. The hook arrangements are a #3 or #4 treble for the lead hook on whole bait and if I use a trailer hook it will typically be an offset siwash 3/0 or 4/0 hook.

The leader lengths typically run between 18 and 72 inches for bait, and I tend to go to the long end of the scale for whole bait. The limiting factor for leader lengths is the length of your net handle. If you have a 72-inch leader behind an 11-inch flasher and a net with only a three-foot handle it is going to be a long reach with the net to get to the fish. I generally run “red” label herring for the hoods and either “green” or “red” label for cut bait. If I can find anchovies, I prefer them for the hoods because they have a narrower head and that makes it easier to insert them in the hood. Unlike plastic baits, squids and needlefish, which typically use a loop knot to connect the lure to the flasher, I prefer to use either a bead chain, a ball bearing swivel or a rolling swivel. These allow the cut or whole bait to roll easier.

Finally, many anglers swear by the practice of adding a strip or small piece of herring to the hooks of squids and needlefish. Salmon have a very acute sense of smell and the addition of a little herring to the lure may trigger a bite. Just one more trick for days when the bite is slow.



So now for the what and where of 2018. The Great Planers Trout and Salmon Club once again sponsored the salmon report card coupon program. The program was established as a means for anglers to share their successes with other anglers in an effort to promote salmon fishing in the state and to provide anglers, new to the sport, a starting baseline of information. Each year the Club encourages anglers to fill out coupons printed in the Club newsletter or also available at area bait and tackle shops, so that the data from angler successes can be compiled and summarized in a report. The summary is published in the Dakota Country magazine and is also reprinted in the Club newsletter.

As always, the Club is asking for your assistance by filling out a coupon for each salmon you catch and submitting it to the Club. The data provided in this report is only as complete as the information anglers provide us. The more coupon results the Club receives, the more representative the results will be and they will better reflect what works, where it works, and how it works. As an incentive to encourage anglers to submit the coupons, the Club annually sponsors a prize drawing from all of the coupons submitted by Club members. The drawing from the 2018 coupons, which was held at the recent Annual Winter Meeting of the Club, found Bryce Andersen of Riverdale the most recent winner and fifty dollars richer for sending in his coupons. Congratulations to Bryce and thanks to all the anglers who took the time to fill out coupons and submit them.

So as in past years let’s will get down to the nuts and bolts of what worked in 2018 to catch fish along with when and where.



Starting with “when”, the time of day for prime fish catching is always important to any angler. Over the years it seems that the period of 9AM and noon produces the greatest percentage of salmon caught and 2018 followed true to form. The 9AM to noon period produced 48% of the fish caught while the period of 6AM to 9AM followed at 27%. The period from noon until 3PM produced 18% of the fish caught. There definitely seems to be a morning bite for salmon with 76% of the salmon caught before noon and 94% caught before 3PM. Things like angler eagerness to get the day started, boat traffic, cooler morning temperatures, and lighter winds probably all figure into the reasons for early in the day success.



Ever since the ND Game & Fish Department started stocking fish on the east side of the lake at Government Bay anglers are finding their greatest success in the south end of the lake and on the eastern shoreline. The area from Deadman’s Bay to the Riverdale Overlook was the best producing area during the summer of 2018. 87% of the salmon were caught in this stretch of water. The area in front of Government Bay produced 33% of the salmon reported

caught, the area in front of Deadman’s Bay came in second with 16%. The Pochant Bay area, the run below the Riverdale Bluffs and the W’s area along the cut banks between Pochant and Deadman’s Bays followed with 13%, 13%, and 12%, respectively. The Department stocks salmon in both Government Bay and Scoria (Rodeo) Bay. It makes sense that fishing sees considerable success in the Government Bay area but I am surprised that better catch rates have not been seen on the Face of the Dam and in the area around the Intake Structure and Scoria (Rodeo) Bay. I am not sure if this is because the salmon are not returning to this area or if it is because anglers are not concentrating their efforts in these areas. Don’t be afraid to venture to the Face of the Dam and areas west of there if the boat traffic on the east side becomes frustrating to you. There is no reason why salmon shouldn’t be there.

The other part of the where equation is where in the water column are the salmon and over what water depth? The average lure depth for catching salmon during the season was 88 feet and anglers were running these lures in an average of 127 feet of water. This was almost the same depths that were successful in both 2016 and 2017 and with similar lake water levels all three years, that is not surprising.



What works, this is the last question to the salmon catching equation but an important one. How do I know what should I use and why should I use a particular color, lure, or attractor? Salmon lures can basically be grouped into six categories; squids, needlefish, bait, spoons, flies, and crankbaits. Usually squids, needlefish and bait are your best choices when on the water and typically there isn’t much difference between the three. In 2018, 93% of the salmon where caught on one of those three presentations and there was a clear-cut favorite in that 45% were taken on a squid set-up. Needlefish and bait followed at 27% and 22% respectively.

Lure color saw a dominant preference for pink with pink hooking 34% of fish, followed by green and blue both at 19% and white at 14%. Fish were also caught on chartreuse, glow, mother of pearl, orange, purple, rainbow, silver, yellow, and any combination of these colors.

When it comes to attractors, flashers are used most of the time and why not as they have been so successful over the years. In 2018 an attractor, either a flasher or a dodger, was used was 77% of the time while only 19% of the fish were caught on a “naked” setup; straight bait, a spoon, or a crankbait. A white attractor led the color parade with 29% followed closely by blue at 27%. Other colors of attractors used were chartreuse, glow, green, mother of pearl, pink, purple, rainbow, silver, and yellow. So, the “what” factor of the equation was a pink squid behind a white flasher, and this is the fourth consecutive year that a white attractor was the choice of both the anglers and the salmon as well. One last note on color, lure or attractor wise, I have noticed that UV enhanced lures and attractors are definitely getting more attention by anglers.



The following is a listing of the top weights from the coupons during the past season:

Della Schick, Bismarck – 12# 2oz

Mike Anderson, Riverdale – 9# 0oz

Jerry LaFave, Mandan – 9# 0oz

Mike Anderson, Riverdale – 8# 12oz

Jack Long, Riverdale – 8# 3oz

Gene Nerby, Riverdale – 7# 14oz

Della Schick, Bismarck – 7# 14oz

Mike Anderson, Riverdale – 7# 12oz

Bryce Andersen, Riverdale – 7# 8oz

Mike Anderson, Riverdale – 7# 8oz

Mike Anderson, Riverdale – 7# 8oz

Dylan Rebel, Bismarck – 7# 8oz

In 2018, the average angler caught salmon weighed in at 4.7 pounds. I have been preparing this report since 1989 and during that time span, the largest average was in 2000 and was 10.0 pounds, while it bottomed out in 2006 with an average of 3.7 pounds. All total, in 2018, there were only five salmon with a weight of eight pounds or more as compared to sixteen in 2017, and 2016 when 127 salmon of eight pounds or more were caught. It is a bit worrisome that the numbers of larger fish have declined in recent years and that the average weight of the salmon caught is much closer to the lowest seasonal average than it is to the upper end of the scale. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this trend of smaller fish reverses itself and that 2019 sees more fish and larger fish.


As you begin your salmon angling in 2019, whether you are fishing in the river or on the lake, once you have put that caught salmon on “ice”, take a moment or two to fill out a report card coupon and send it to the Club designated mailbox, bring it to any of the Club functions, or give it to any of the Club E-Board members. Each year it is because of you that there is a Salmon Report.

As a reminder, each year the Game and Fish Department staff and the Garrison Dam Hatchery staff tag a certain percentage of the hatched salmon with microchips in the head area of the salmon released that year. To identify a tagged salmon from a non-tagged salmon, they clip or remove the adipose fin of all tagged salmon. If by chance you net a salmon with a clipped fin, please remove the head when cleaning the salmon and turn the head in at any number of collection sites. These sites include the Game and Fish offices in Riverdale or Bismarck, the Hatchery, the Honey Hole in Riverdale, or Scott’s Bait and Tackle in Pick City. Information provided by the tags validates what is actually being caught by anglers. Not only does the information gathered by the Department show growth rates but the information also indicates where the returned fish were stocked at, when stocked, and the percentage of caught stocked fish tagged by age.

The 2018 spawning effort was very productive with nearly 2.3 million eggs being collected. In addition to satisfying our stocking needs, the Department was able to provide Montana with approximately 387,0000 eggs.

Finally, to provide a perspective of how this past year’s North Dakota egg collection ranks to recent previous years, in 2012, 1.7 million eggs were collected, 2.0 million in 2013, 1.3 million in 2014, 0.5 million in 2015, 1.7 million in 2016, 2.9 million in 2017, and 2.3 million in 2018.


• Last summer you needed to get on the water early, set up on the east shore, grab a pink squid, hook it behind a white flasher and drop your cannonball down to a depth of 88 feet. If you had done all of this, you probably would have ended up with a salmon weighing about four and three-quarters pounds.

• Once you get that salmon in the net and in the boat, take a few moments to fill out a report card coupon and send it in to the Club.

• Check all caught salmon to determine whether or not they have been “fin clipped” and if so, remove the head and drop if off at an appropriate site so that the Game and Fish Department can include that fish in their data base.

• Finally, consider joining the Great Planers Trout & Salmon Club.



2018 GPTSC Derby Results

1st - Knudson/Townsend/Ell/Magstadt 4 fish 20.75 lbs.

2nd - Gregoire/Hunze 3 fish 17.69 lbs.

3rd - Modin/Modin 4 fish 16.89 lbs.

4th - Little/Little/Little/Little 4 fish 15.86 lbs.

5th - Haaland/Haaland/Engelhart 2 fish 13.36 lbs.

6th - Ganje/Renner 3 fish 13.26 lbs.

7th - Mitzel/Mitzel/Becker 2 fish 12.43 lbs.

8th - Loeb/Stein 2 fish 11.64 lbs.

9th - Nerby/Nerby 2 fish 11.38 lbs.

10th - Vietz/Sperling/Rohrich 2 fish 9.89 lbs. •