- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - One-fourth of all documented record fish in North Dakota history have been caught in the past five years, but two trophy fish have remained elusive for decades.

That might change in the near future, a state expert says.

A record 4-pound, 12-ounce goldeye caught in Lake Audubon in July was the seventh state-record fish caught since 2010. Others are a record crappie, lake trout, paddlefish, saugeye, white bass and buffalo.

More fishing lakes and a lot more anglers are reasons for the sudden windfall of whoppers, according to Greg Power, fisheries chief for the state Game and Fish Department.

“Things are good when it comes to fishing in this state,” he said.

Thanks to the state’s stocking program, the number of fishable lakes in North Dakota has more than tripled over the past 40 years, from 110 to 399. Annual fishing license sales have jumped from about 134,000 to nearly 220,000. Sales have set records in each of the past two years.

“We have a record number of fishing lakes in the state, a record number of license sales. There’s just ample opportunity,” Power said. “Every once in a while, a fish gets by (anglers) and gets bigger, and eventually somebody gets lucky and catches it.”

But when it comes to walleye and northern pike - two of the most sought-after fish in North Dakota - no one has landed a record since man stepped on the moon. Melvin Slind, of Roseglen, holds the northern record - a 37 pound, 8 ounce monster he caught on Lake Sakakawea in June 1968. The walleye record goes back to January 1959, when Blair Chapman, of Minnewaukan, landed a 15 pound, 12 ounce lunker in Wood Lake.

Many anglers believe that isn’t the true record - that Chapman didn’t catch the fish but instead found it dead. His son, Blair Chapman Jr., in the past has publicly said that the fish was found dead. A woman who answered the telephone at his home recently said Chapman has hearing problems and no longer is interested in discussing the story.

Anglers have come close to the walleye record - Alecia Berg, of Minot, caught a 15 pound, 4 ounce fish at the Garrison Dam Tailrace three years ago. Some people believe that might be the actual state record. But it will be difficult for an angler to best the documented record, according to Power.

“To get to be a 16-pound walleye - basically what you would need for a state record - that fish is going to have to live anywhere from 12 to 20-plus years,” he said. “And probably, somewhere in that lifespan, they’re going to see a hook.”

Northerns are a different story.

“We’ve had good years for pike in the Missouri River system,” Power said. “There’s a lot in the 15-pound range now. That (record), we think there’s a real possibility in five years or so it will be broken.”

Devils Lake, known for its walleye, northerns and perch, has tripled in size after two decades of flooding, boosting the fishery. The walleye catch has been steady and northerns are “coming out of our ears,” said Kyle Blanchfield, owner of Woodland Resort.

But it is the perch in the lake that he thinks might set a record soon, eclipsing the 2 pound, 15 ounce fish that Kyle Smith, of Carrington, pulled from the lake 32 years ago.

“In my crystal ball, I think we’re going to see a 3-pound perch come out in the next year or two,” Blanchfield said.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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