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Salmon spawning at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery

Published: Oct. 17, 2020 at 7:00 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - State Game and Fish Department fisheries biologists at this time of year are usually electrofishing for salmon on Lake Sakakawea, yet last year that was not the case.

“Last year they were evacuating surplus water, so they had the spillway gates open for the first time in the fall. And the salmon just got pulled out of the lake and ended up in the river and we were able to catch them down here. It worked out, but it was very different from what we would consider normal," said NDGF Fisheries Biologist, Russ Kinzler.

Water levels on Lake Sakakawea are lower than last year and the spillway gates are closed.

“This year, we’re back to more of a normal year and most of the fish are coming from Lake Sakakawea above the dam. The backs of the bays near the dam and then along the dam itself. Specifically the corners of the dam, like around the intake structure, they tend to congregate there and they’re trying to get back to where they were originally spawned, which is the hatchery and while the closest place you can do that is the dam," said Kinzler.

Biologists have the same goal as last year for collecting salmon eggs.

“1.4 million eggs is what we’re shooting for. They’re not all completely full of eggs, a little over 3,000 eggs per fish,” said Kinzler.

Kinzler said the fish they’re catching from Lake Sakakawea this year look healthy.

“The driving force behind salmon is rainbow smelt. If we have a good population of rainbow smelt, we’re generally going to have good numbers of salmon in the lake. And when the rainbow smelt in the lake are bigger, we tend to have bigger salmon. The last few years we’ve had a lot of smelt but they’ve been small, and the salmon have reflected that. And this year we’ve noticed that there’s some bigger smelt out there and we have bigger salmon," said Kinzler.

The Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery will raise the salmon over winter and then North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries biologists will release the fish next spring into Lake Sakakawea.

“We’re shooting for 400,000 salmon, the same as we’ve done the last few years. We’re shooting for that about five inch-fish. We’ve learned that if we stock them at that size, we can get past the goldeye which is a major predator on young salmon," said Kinzler.

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