- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Baitfish rebounded in Lake Oahe this year, but the population remains smaller than it was before the 2011 Missouri River flood.

The lake had a good hatch of lake herring and a decent crop of rainbow smelt this year, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks biologist Mark Fincel told the Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1x990mt ). That led to an estimated cold-water baitfish population of nearly 42 million in the Missouri River reservoir in the Dakotas.

Baitfish are important because they provide food for game fish such as walleyes that are sought by anglers.

A lot of smelt were flushed through Oahe Dam during the 2011 flood. Smelt had poor spawning seasons the next two years, and in 2013 the population was estimated at fewer than 1 million. This year’s estimate is closer to 20 million.

The low smelt numbers might have contributed to a strong lake herring hatch. Biologists believe smelt tend to eat larval fish such as lake herring.



“When we see a smelt crash, we usually see a few years of good herring production,” Fincel said.

The baitfish population is still fairly low compared to what it has been in the past, Fincel said. Before the 2011 flooding there were an estimated 100 million smelt and juvenile herring in the lake.

Wildlife officials are considering expanding a gizzard shad stocking program in Oahe next spring to ease pressure on rainbow smelt and help them recover, Fincel said.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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