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Sakakawea Preview 2024

First off, water levels are starting off much better this year. We are sitting at 1835 feet elevation, which is about ten feet above last year and should mean most every access is in good shape. That said, mountain snowpack is about 70-80% of normal, and the projected rise this year is only 2-3 feet unless something changes. April tends to be wet, though, so a bunch of snow or a big rain event like the Yellowstone floods a couple years ago could bring a ten-foot rise pretty quickly. Nevertheless, even if it stays dry, we should be in good operating mode all season or perhaps a little low in the fall.

Last year walleye catches were extremely good, especially in that 18-21 inch range, and I believe there are still going to be lots of those left - despite anglers best efforts - now grown up in the 20-23 inch range. There are some big year-classes coming up, though, so it may be a game of weeding through or moving off the 12-15 inchers to find nicer ones, which wasn't really an issue last year. I would also say 2023 was one of the best in recent years for catching big, photo fish of 24-29 inches (with a few 30s as well, just not in my boat), so there could be a decent number of trophies landed in 2024 as well.

Bait-wise, the G&F preview said smelt numbers are good but the size structure is smaller than normal this year, which could mean a little smaller growth rate on fish during this season, but it could also help anglers entice bites easier with lures when we're not competing with the steak dinner that is a large smelt. I'll be curious to see if this translates to a stronger jigging rap bite over last year or maybe seeing more big fish caught on the old nightcrawler, which hasn't been as productive for big fish lately.

As for ice, back in February I was optimistic we'd get an early open-water season and have a long window for pre-spawn activity on the lake, but March changed a lot of things. My goal is to be ready to start the year April 15, but whether ice is out or not is very unknown at this point. If it does warm up, though, and y'all want to try a pre-spawn trophy day, give me a call!

And for those chasing other species, pike numbers continue trending downward but they can be caught, salmon numbers are strong but smaller on size (many 4-6 pound fish), and G&F indicates smallmouth bass are still good, but for whatever reason they were somewhat elusive last year compared to previous years. I still think they're there, but even days we went searching for them we didn't have as much luck last season.

If you remember, last year was very bizarre for weather, with - as far as I know - a record late ice-out and then a record fast warm-up which made fishing as good as anyone's ever seen it post-spawn through mid-June but then had fishing heading very deep the rest of the season. I can't imagine that would repeat, so I'm looking forward to a normalized trend to this coming year rather than going to 35+ feet already before July.

Still have some openings for the summer, especially July and August (and a select few dates in June as well), so if you want to head out on the lake this year, I wouldn't wait much longer!

For those following the YouTube channel, ice fishing was sparse, but we dipped our toes into the podcast arena with eight episodes of Cast a Line, so I'll drop a few of those down here for you to sample, and you can check out the rest over there if you desire.


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