- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Walleye are rebounding in Lake Oahe after millions of rainbow smelt baitfish were flushed through the Oahe Dam during 2011 Missouri River flooding, wildlife officials say.

Rainbow smelt is the primary baitfish in the Dakotas lake, especially for big walleyes. The smelt population in Oahe that typically numbers about 3 million was reduced to less than 1 million adults because of the flood.

“The biggest impact is going to be on your bigger sport fish. They need more fat to survive,” Mark Fincel, senior biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, told the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1b8ymKh ). “Smelt is the perfect fish for that - they’re really oily.”

Biologists began seeing Oahe’s bigger walleyes die off in 2012, but the lake’s mid-size fish were able to survive on other prey such as zooplankton, shiners, young perch, white bass and crappies.

It’s going to be years before anglers start catching 24-30-inch walleyes again, said Bret Afdahl, state chapter president of Walleyes Unlimited. However, there should be plenty of 15-16-inch walleyes, according to Geno Adams, fisheries program director for Game, Fish and Parks.

Last year, the number of the walleye under 15 inches was so high that the state allowed anglers to keep up to eight walleyes a day from Lake Oahe.

“We knew there was an opportunity, and we wanted to let people take advantage of it,” Adams said.

This year, fish born in 2009 will grow to be longer than 15 inches. Since that age group of fish makes up the vast majority of the walleye in Oahe, Adams said, the department decided to change the lake’s walleye daily limit back to four fish, with only one 20 inches or longer.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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