Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

A different type of census

You won’t find a U.S. Census taker out on the ice knocking on fish house doors looking to ask a few questions.

But it is possible that anglers at Stump Lake this winter, and Lake Audubon last year, did get a tap on the door from a clipboard-carrying surveyor. These are two large bodies of water where the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is trying to gather useful information on angler use and fish harvest.

In the winter, creel clerks travel out on the ice to talk to anglers. In summer, clerks primarily set up shop at boat ramps and conduct interviews as anglers come off the lake.

Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader, says North Dakota fisheries have three primary components – fish, habitat and anglers.

“As anglers are one of the main components of a fisheries management plan, we on occasion want to sample these people to gather information on fishing pressure, the number of fish caught, released and total harvest,” Gangl said in an article published in the February 2019 edition of North Dakota Outdoors magazine. “Creel surveys are another monitoring tool that allows us to gather information that helps in the management of a fishery.”

The interviews are short, simple and to the point. Surveyors ask what species anglers are primarily fishing for, how long they’ve been fishing, and what they’ve caught.

“The more interviews the creel clerks can conduct, the better our catch-rate information,” said Jason Lee, Game and Fish north central district fisheries manager. “We try to randomize to some degree when we’re out checking on anglers, to get a look at the entire fishing day, rather than just focusing on the sundown walleye bite.

“This gives us an overall idea of how well they’re enjoying their fishing experience,” Lee added. “Without angler help with the creel surveys, Game and Fish wouldn’t have any of this valuable information. “In general, anglers have been great about taking a few minutes out of their trip, or at the end of their trip, to talk to creel clerks about what they caught, their experiences and if they harvested any fish.”

While North Dakota’s more popular waters, such as the Missouri River System, Lake Audubon and Devils Lake, are surveyed routinely, but not every year, Gangl said the Game and Fish does survey other smaller waters when answers to questions are needed.

No matter the location of the creel survey, or time of year, Gangl said the opportunity to simply talk with anglers, to put a face with the agency managing the fisheries, is important.

“A big benefit is that we, as an agency, get to interact with the angling population on things other than biology,” he said. “We learn how far anglers are traveling to fish certain waters and we get to gauge their satisfaction. We don’t have a lot of control over what makes people happy, but they are generally happy when they are catching fish.”