Sakakawea is the 3rd largest reservoir in the US, and with more shoreline than
the coast of California, it can seem daunting for someone coming here for the first
time. It doesn’t have to be scary; with the Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)
approach you can be fishing your way to limits quickly.
Ron Linder pioneered the formula F+L+P=Success. If you put that to work on
Sakakawea you are bound to catch fish. Don’t worry it’s a SIMPLE formula; that
doesn’t require the use of a calculator. F stands for…you guessed it, fish! L
stands for location, and P stands for presentations. If you add those 3
together you will have success, it’s that simple! I can already hear some of
you saying (in a sarcastic tone) oh yeah just simple…. C’mon, give us the
goods! Ok, Ok, let’s break down this huge lake and make it simple.
first thing to look at when applying the FLP formula is you have to fish where
there are fish. Lake Sakakawea has fish…. Lots of fish. North Dakota Game and
Fish Department surveys indicate near-record high walleye populations with a
good number of year classes present. There are plenty of good eater size fish
to take home and also a good number of larger, CPR (Catch, Photo, &
RELEASE) fish. We recommend to all our clients that all fish over 23” are
released to fight another day.
note on those eater fish, North Dakota Game and Fish is in the process of
revising their fishing regulations and there was talk of new fish
transportation regulations. Please read those carefully when the new
regulations are released on April 1st. The possession limit for walleyes is 10
per person so please be courteous and take only what you are allowed and will
use. Another note on regulations is there will be new ANS (Aquatic Nuisance
Species) requirements for all boats. There is a new $15 ANS sticker that all
boats must-have. For boats registered in North Dakota that fee is charged when
you renew your registration in 2020. For boats registered out of state a yearly
$15, ANS sticker must be displayed when on ND waters.
that we know the fish are present, let’s talk a little bit about walleyes
because understanding the fish you are after is another important part of the
formula. Walleyes are walleyes, wherever they are found in North America. They
follow similar patterns everywhere.
probably the simplest part of this equation on Sakakawea; next, we will look
into the L.
has all sorts of structure but we can really narrow it down to 3 specific
structures. Main lake points, flats, and large bays are the 3 predominant areas
to target on your adventure. Using your electronics will be a big help, rarely
do you catch fish in an area where you don’t mark fish. You pay good money for
those graphs, learn their capabilities and trust them! Reservoir fish have a
tendency of being here today and gone tomorrow so watch those graphs and move
on if you don’t mark fish.
in late fall and throughout the winter many fish start migrating up the 2 main
rivers coming into Lake Sakakawea. The Missouri and Little Missouri rivers are
the largest rivers coming in and those areas are great areas to start your
search in the spring as they usually warm up the fastest. While river fishing
might sound scary, you don’t actually need to go into the true river, you are
still in what we would call the reservoir. These reservoir parts hold plenty of
fish, the true river is often dirty from runoff anyways. In the early spring
and into early June water temperature is the main factor I use when determining
location. Generally, I’m looking for the warmest water.
Little Missouri Arm is a large area with flats way up the river, then as you work
out it has more rocky points along with a few bays that will hold fish. The
Little Missouri is smaller than the Missouri, especially when it gets to the
true river so it often holds less fish than the larger Missouri although there
are still really good numbers. In 2017 when the NWT was on Sakakawea; many of
the anglers fished the Little Missouri Arm. This area has many bends that
protect it from many winds. This area has 3 access points at Little Missouri
Bay, Mackenzie Bay, and Charging Eagle Bay.
Missouri flows into Lake Sakakawea up by Williston, this is the area where the
2017 NWT tournament was won. This area has a few more access points, which is
very helpful because it is less protected on the main lake, any east or west
wind of 15mph will create some pretty large swells. The north side of the lake,
east of Williston has 4 different access points (Lewis and Clark State Park,
Lunds Landing, Little Beaver Bay & White Earth Bay), the south shore has 1
access area at Tobacco Gardens.
As the water
temps continue to rise the fish spread out and can be found throughout the
system. By early to mid-June the bite is usually good throughout the reservoir.
The New Town area provides many access points that can be fished in a variety
of wind conditions. The east end around Garrison has been holding more smelt
lately so that area holds some of the chunkiest walleyes you will ever see.
you have determined where you will launch then the map work begins. Like I had
mentioned before 3 main areas should be your target, the flats, main lake
points, and back bays. Early in the spring look for sand/gravel areas, as those
are the areas that walleyes use to spawn. Early season and even into mid-summer
there are catchable walleyes shallow. We rarely fish deeper than 15ft before
presentations produce walleyes on a regular basis. Pitching, Cranking, and
Bottom bouncing are the staples here. You don’t need to try all sorts of crazy
new techniques to fill your livewell and put those tasty fillets on the table.
jigs or crankbaits on main lake points or in the back bays can be one of the
most fun bites of the year. The “tick” of the walleye inhaling that jig or the
rod stopping strike on a crankbait is exhilarating. A 1/4oz jig pitched up
shallow and worked back to the boat with a slow lift/drop retrieve works
wonders. Most days you don’t need to go any lighter than a 1/4oz but on windy
days you may want to give the 3/8oz a look. The key is to make sure to maintain
bottom contact. The heavier jigs also help you work down the steeper breaks
better, where a light jig will glide all the way down and out with the bait out
of the strike zone. I prefer to use Berkley Nanofil in 10lb test since it casts
so well. Be sure to inspect the line often as it can fray faster than fireline.
A jig tipped with a minnow or crawler is tough to beat but I’ve given up live
bait on pitched jigs unless we are in major cold front conditions. The new
Salmo soft plastics are a great place to start. The walleye shad is a classic
paddle tail swimbait in 3” and 4” versions available in great Sakakawea colors.
As for crankbaits, a #5 Salmo hornet is hard to beat.
fishing the large flats on Sakakawea get those crankbaits out and cover some
water! I prefer to run 2 long rods with 10lb Berkley fireline and then 2 shorty
rods with lead core. Even though we are fishing shallow the lead core allows
you to stagger your line out and those inside lure track the boat better and
help reduce tangles. Properly tuned crankbaits also really help eliminate those
tangles as well. Salmo crankbaits are all hand-tuned and tank-tested, the Salmo
Perch 8 was a great lure for me last summer, and as always the hornet has been
voted the best walleye crankbait. These reservoir walleyes don’t mind the
speed, if water temps are above 63 I’m starting at 2.5mph, if below I’m
starting at 2.0mph and adjusting from there.
last technique is a reservoir standby, a bottom bouncer trolled with some
variation of a spinner (I prefer a Mack’s Smile blade), lindy rig, or slow
death rig will produce. This can be used in almost all locations. A great way
to cover water on the flats if trolling crankbaits is not your thing, but can
also effectively be trolled along the contours of those main lake points and
back bays. One mistake I often see people make is using too light of bottom
bouncers. A 1oz bottom bouncer is generally the lightest I run, as we get
deeper I add more weight. If you let that bottom bouncer drag with too much
line out you defeat the purpose of the bottom bouncer. The wire on the bottom
is meant to go through the snags, but if the entire bouncer is dragging it will
snag up just like any other sinker. Start each day with a variation of rigs and
baits then let the fish tell you what they want. Minnows, leeches, and crawlers
all have their days. My starting speed is 1.0mph and if they bite that I
increase the speed until I see a decrease in bites, then dial in the speed.
With so much water to cover I want to put the baits in front of as many fish as
Lake Sakakawea can seem very daunting it is very angler friendly in the fact
there are lots of fish that like to eat! We offer fully guided fishing trips
beginning in the spring shortly after ice-out (usually mid-April). Every year
we take out clients for a day or two to show them the ropes and then they
continue on their own. We can accommodate almost any size group large or small.
Our main busy season is June through August. Give Liebel’s guide service a call
at 701-770-6746 to schedule your fishing adventure today, let us help you
reduce the learning curve on the giant and beautiful body of water! It’s
fishing, not rocket science, KISS it and KISS those tasty walleyes!