THE SMALL LAKES: Good Fishing For Everyone

February 5, 2009 by  

By Bill Mitzel


Devon Butz, Bismarck, with a nice rainbow trout from Raleigh Reservoir...From the pages of the April Spring Edition of Dakota Country Magazine...

Devon Butz, Bismarck, with a nice rainbow trout from Raleigh Reservoir...From the pages of the April Spring Edition of Dakota Country Magazine...

For as long as I can remember, I’ve touted the joyous benefits of fishing the small lakes. They’re abundant, they’re easy to access, they’re productive and they have few limitations in terms of weather, crowding or lack of fish. Yet sometimes, when I look at the copious crowds fishing the Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe, Devils Lake and others, I wonder why my joy isn’t being shared.

Perhaps I’m a bit too expectant. “Small” isn’t a favorite American word. No, we Americans like the biggest, the fastest, the best. On the other hand, I’ve been told by various fisheries biologists that it’s the small lakes that are the backbone of the Dakota fisheries. I always hope that’s true, but on a nice summer day, I’m not seeing a lot of folks using these resources.

Between both Dakotas, we can choose from no less than 400 lakes, one or more assuredly close by our home. These lakes can vary from 30 acres to 300 acres, but most provide good fishing at one point during the season. These lakes contain a multitude of species, from walleyes to trout to panfish to bass. And when I look at the bottom line, I think I favor these small lakes so much simply because they have an abundance of fish, and you just about never go home without having a super day. I recall so many outings to Sweetbriar Dam, Fish Creek Dam, Crown Butte Dam, all in Morton County. Tremendous fishing days for a variety of fish. Mac McKnight and I once caught a double limit of walleyes from Sweetbriar Dam that would have averaged 5 pounds each. We returned the fish to the lake, but when we relayed the information of our great success to other anglers, we were looked at with a great deal of skepticism. After all, what would a 5-lb. walleye be doing in a small lake like Sweetbriar Dam?

While I have a special affection for the Missouri River and other big waters, there are frequent times when I must retreat to the solitude and productivity of the small lakes in the state. We have so many from which to choose. May is a great month for these waters, and the good fishing will extend well into June. A check with your closest bait shop or are conservation officer will get you in the right direction.

Simply adjust your fishing technique to what you’re pursuing. Go small, with a small bobber and hook. Worms are always excellent bait for just about all fish, and you can also cast a small spoon, lure or spinner for the gamefish while you’re waiting for the bobber to dip. A great thing about the smaller lakes is that they contain such a diverse variety of fish, from panfish to predators. You can usually get out of the wind, either from shore or a boat.

There are no losers when you fish a small lake, especially with the kids. When they tire of fishing, they’ll either play in the bait bucket or chase frogs and butterflies. They (and you) will remember it all forever. It’s family bonding at its best. Whatever you do, the odds are very great that you’re going to catch fish. Our family grew up on the many small lakes of North Dakota. From the time our three kids were in diapers, we picnicked, fished, boated, swam and enjoyed the small lakes near our home. Such great memories.

Mostly, these small lakes are so beneficial because they have abundant fish, they’re pretty much easy to catch (when one species isn’t biting, another one is), wind isn’t usually a problem, and even a small boat will gain you access to shorelines otherwise unreachable. Some of the lakes have limited shoreline access, but not impossible. If you have a small boat, so much the better. A little homework through the respective Game and Fish agencies and or a review of the lakes available in each state will tell you where the lakes are and what’s in them. It’s worth your time.

You can grab a portable grill, a can full of worms, some light tackle, a good selection of junk food, and find a small lake for a day. It’s a treasure.


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