Walleye tagging project will include cash for anglers

The sun sets over Lake Oahe on Sunday.

The joy of fishing might be its own reward, but it’s about to get even more profitable for walleye fishermen on Lake Oahe.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department are cooperating on a project to tag at least 10,000 walleyes per year starting in 2013 and running through 2016, or at least 40,000 walleyes total, in order to learn more about walleye populations in Lake Oahe. South Dakota State University researchers are also involved in the study.

The tagging will take place from about mid-April into early May.

To convince anglers to turn in the tags, fisheries biologists are including about 5 percent “reward tags” that will earn each angler who catches one of those fish $100. That means about 500 “reward” walleyes will be tagged each year of the program. The tags are silver and found around the mouth bone of the walleye. The reward tags say “reward” so it’s easy to tell if you’re a winner.

Lake Oahe extends from Oahe Dam, just north of Pierre, to above Bismarck where the Garrison Dam marks its northern boundary, so the states have divided the lake into five zones – three in South Dakota and two in North Dakota – and will be tagging and releasing fish at different locations in the two states.

Mark Fincel, senior fisheries biologist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, said the reward tags are designed to help increase fishermen participation in the study, which will yield information to help manage Lake Oahe’s walleye population better.

But he added many anglers are genuinely curious about the fish they love to catch. Turning in the information on the tags helps fisheries biologists, especially if anglers can provide additional information about where the fish was caught and how big it is. Anglers get to keep the tags, and they’ll also get a card in the mail after they submit their information. The card will tell them where and when the fish was tagged and how big it was — information that many anglers find valuable.

“A big question is fish movement. A lot of people want to know where was that fish tagged, how far did it travel, how much did it grow? People are genuinely curious,” Fincel said. “Some of these tags might be recovered 15 years from now.”

Fincel said some of his own research showed that walleyes can live at least 18 years on Lake Oahe, and they have been found to live longer in other places, so it is entirely possible that some lucky angler will still be able to claim a $100 reward years from now.

It’s also possible some tags will be recovered lower on Lake Sharpe or lower on the river if some tagged fish move through the dams.

But he added that most of the tags that are found will be recovered on Oahe in the same year the fish are released, with the number that are recovered from that year’s releases diminishing steadily in subsequent seasons.

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