Save Our Lakes Program

June 28, 2012 by  

By Doug Leier

With all due respect to the big boys of North Dakota fishing – the Missouri River, Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakawea and Devils Lake – I’ve always smiled a bit bigger while landing a fish in the hundreds of “Mom and Pop” fisheries of our home state.

Each angler knows how they need to shift their own balance to provide the most outdoor enjoyment, and personally I’ve always emphasized just being outdoors over limits, whoppers or lunkers.

Save Our Lakes Program

Part of the Save our Lakes Program

Two decades ago the North Dakota Game and Fish Department had about 140 managed fishing waters. In 2012 that number has grown to more than 360. Thanks to a program called Save Our Lakes, we’ve been able to maintain, enhance and improve some of these waters.

The SOL program has invested nearly $8 million in upgrading state lakes and reservoirs over the past decade. Scott Elstad, Game and Fish SOL coordinator, said the program was initiated in 2001 with a simple goal of making some lakes better for fish and people.

“We started with a mindset of improving lakes and reservoirs, but it has evolved to more than that,” Elstad said. “It has been very well received.”

Altogether, crews have undertaken more than 300 separate projects and enhanced more than 40,000 feet of shoreline.

SOL projects range from creating dry dams to collect sediment, to low-level draw downs that evacuate nutrient-rich waters from our reservoirs, and planting trees and native grasses on cultivated property. Larger scale projects include repairing eroded shorelines and removing sediment so fish have more habitat and anglers have access.

One such project was completed at Crown Butte Dam in Morton County a handful of

years ago. The lake was drawn down 10 to 12 feet, Elstad said, and Game and Fish removed sediment, resloped 50 percent of the shoreline, built 17 earthen fishing piers and installed a walking path along the northeast corner and west side of the lake.

From start to finish, it took about three months to complete. Big projects generally cost around $100,000, Elstad said, with the goal of tackling one per biennium. Smaller SOL project costs anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000, and usually take three weeks to a month to complete.

“These kinds of projects, such as shoreline enhancements, are what we spend most of our time on,” Elstad said.

Shoreline enhancement projects typically take place at older reservoirs, generally one that is 40-plus years old. “The sedimentation has reduced the amount of shoreline access to anglers,” Elstad said, “so we go in and remove the accumulated sediment and aquatic vegetation, and resloped

The SOL program is entirely funded by angler dollars, with a budget of slightly more than $1 million per biennium. District fisheries biologists recommend waters best suited for rehabilitation. In addition, various public entities request assistance in lake or watershed improvements.

While the SOL program is successful, Elstad reminds anglers that a blue-ribbon fishery doesn’t happen overnight. “It takes a few years for a lake or reservoir to recover,” he said. “But the SOL program certainly can facilitate recovery.”

SOL by the Numbers

• 106 – Easements, such as establishing filters on private land for aquatic environment

• 53 – Fishing piers

• 53 – Shoreline enhancements, such as planting shrubs and trees used for shade, seeding grass, placing fabric, reshaping banks

• 47 – Sediment dams

• 12 – Waste management ponds, such as assisting financially with lagoon systems for ranchers

• 7 – Outlets

• 7 – Alternate water, such as wells and rural water systems

• 5 – Low-levels, such as releasing water of less quality off the bottom of the reservoir

When I think about the smiles generated from all these local fishing spots, I must also acknowledge it’s not just serving low impact anglers like myself who just want a spot to wet a line. There’s fish in those waters, too.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:[email protected]


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