Some monsters may soon be returning to local waters.
The National Fish Hatchery near Valley City is in the process of relaunching the state’s muskie (muskellunge) program. Muskies are the largest member of the pike family, typically growing from 30 to 50 inches long.
“The rebuilding of that program is in its infancy,” said fish hatchery director Kurt Eversman.
“We have the buildings. We have the infrastructure. We’ve got a great relationship with the professors at VCSU and we have the manpower with the students. There’s no reason why the state of North Dakota couldn’t produce muskies again.”
Eversman said the program was not only meant to enhance the muskie populations for recreational fishing, but also to be used as a teaching tool. The fish would be raised in the hatchery’s “muskie building” until they are fingerling size, then raised in two or three ponds until they reach a stockable size of eight inches.
Before his arrival as director, Eversman said the program had run into trouble when the hatchery was unable to produce enough feeder fish for the muskies, and fathead minnows in particular. As the state struggled to gather enough minnows, it eventually became easier to outsource muskie production in other states or from private businesses.
Eversman said he’s had success raising fathead minnows in other hatcheries, and last year there was an abundance of fathead minnows in the Sheyenne.
“I haven’t been here long enough to know the banner or bust years for fathead minnows, but it would be a great place to be able to capture a brood stock and be able to continually develop and add to a brood stock. Basically just to have viable fish that would be able to spawn.”
Valley City native Ben Simonson, an avid fisherman who divides his time on the water between fishing locally and muskie fishing in Detroit Lake, said he would like to see the muskie program move forward.
“Game and Fish offers a lot of opportunities to the state and this could be a good opportunity. There are no good opportunities for muskies in North Dakota,” he said.
On a recent trip to Detroit Lakes, Simonson landed a 47-inch muskie, not the biggest he’s reeled in, but the first he caught with a broken rod.
“Had to bring it in by hand. When I sent the hook it might have known what was going on, then my rod snapped. It was like it didn’t feel any pressure so it started swimming. I was just real light with it, just brought it in nice and easy and netted it,” he said, adding the muskie put up a bigger fight out of the water, at one point slapping him in the face with its tail.
Simonson, who holds a B.S. in Fisheries Management from Valley City State University, said from the research he’s read, muskies hardly affect the surrounding population of the fish around them and the fish they prey on are often unwanted species.
The last time he’s heard of any muskies being stocked nearby was a couple years ago in Red Willow Lake, off State Highway 1, northwest of Cooperstown. He said he’d like to see how the fish would take to Lake Ashtabula, but was suspicious as to how they would handle the water being drained from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River upstream from the Ashtabula.
“I don’t know about the dynamics of this lake with all the Devils Lake water coming through. I don’t know how successful it would be but it would be worth a shot, but you could put them in other lakes around here,” said Simonson.