Game and Fish Department biologists stocked roughly 225 adult gizzard shad in Lake Oahe’s Beaver Bay in May to help jumpstart a limited forage base.
A good share of Oahe’s young-of-the-year rainbow smelt were flushed through the dam during flooding in 2011, drastically thinning what game fish have to eat. In addition, high flows and sediment-laden water reduced production of other forage fish.
“When we did our fall reproduction survey in 2011, we saw very few young-of-the-year fish in all of the forage species,” said Scott Gangl, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries management section leader. “We knew going into 2012 that there was going to be a forage problem, at least for the short-term.”
Stocking prespawn adult shad was a collaborative effort with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks fisheries biologists who stocked additional sites on Lake Oahe. “The plan is to give Oahe a little shot in the arm to help boost the forage base,” Gangl said.
If the adults spawn successfully, young-of-the-year shad will be on the game-fish menu by late June or early July.
Gangl said biologists on both sides of the border are trying to mimic the shad boom seen in the mid-2000s when smelt numbers were down. “We watched the shad slowly build over time and they eventually provided a good forage base for game fish,” he said. “We don’t have anything to lose by trying this. It’s certainly worth a shot.”
Gangl said Lake Oahe has a lot of hungry game fish, but the forage shortage is more pronounced on the North Dakota end of the reservoir. “The fish aren’t starving to death, but they are hungry,” he said.