by Doug Leier

Most of my life I've been curious and inquisitive on how different factors influence what we do, where we go and how we spend our time and money outdoors.

So I'll be very interested in the results of an ice fishing survey the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is conducting this winter.

While Game and Fish has completed a number of winter fishing creel surveys in the past, this one is a bit different in that it is not lake-specific, and it is looking at not only what anglers are catching and how long they are fishing, but also where they are coming from.

021815 creel surveyAs gas prices spiked the past five years I participated in many conversations about how anglers were still ice fishing, but some were limiting their trips. That is, until there was news of a consistent hot bite which would entice anglers to drive a little farther and a little more often.

As quick as a bite can go from hot to cold, it seems like one of the literal "driving" factors for ice fishing - the price of gasoline - went from a hindrance to a help in the last several months.

That, plus easier access to lakes, plus good fish populations, has spurred what might be record high ice fishing activity this winter. So it's a good winter to have a survey in progress.

"In the past, we've done lake specific surveys, but with this one we are concentrating on geographic areas," said Scott Gangl, fisheries management section leader for Game and Fish. "Our guys will be hitting various small district lakes scattered throughout south central North Dakota, primarily in Logan, McIntosh and northern Kidder County, where you find clusters of lakes."

Many of these waters are "newer" managed fisheries. Some are home to yellow perch, while others have blossoming walleye populations.

This region-specific creel survey is a joint effort between the department's south central and southeastern fisheries districts, and will be ongoing as long as ice fishing activity continues.

"What we're after is the size, catch rates, species and the quality of the fishing experience," Gangl said. "Are anglers keeping medium-sized fish, small fish, only big fish, and what is their preference?"

Just as important as what anglers are harvesting is where anglers are coming from. "We want to know how far they've traveled to get to a lake, and does the distance they've traveled influence the size of fish they are harvesting," Gangl said.

Creel clerks are working mostly on weekends. Anglers who agree to be interviewed will be asked a series of questions, and the clerks will measure harvested fish. Once the interview is completed, anglers will be given an orange card to complete when they quit fishing for the day.

Boxes will be placed at access points for anglers to quickly drop off their cards when leaving the lake. There is no need to stop at a box unless you are returning a card.

Few will argue the price of gas and the fishing action will both contribute to how far anglers travel and how often they go. As long as the ice stays safe, hard-water anglers will have reason to keep on searching for the hot bite