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'Cross The Wide Missouri

Bear Den Bay

Greg Power*

JPG-Bear Den Bay Map

JPG-Bear Den Bay
Located on the south and west side of lake Sakakawea, north of Mandaree, Bear Den Bay is both remote and beautiful.
  In the central portion of Lake Sakakawea, anglers are well familiar with a 25-mile section called the "river reach." This area is characterized by a definite narrowing of Lake Sakakawea — for the most part not much more than a mile across — surrounded by rugged, badlands-like bluffs. Not only is this area inherently beautiful and unspoiled in terms of development, it contributes significantly to the walleye population throughout Lake Sakakawea.

Of particular importance is Bear Den Bay, located in the middle portion of the river reach. Bear Den Bay is one of the more remote locations on the lake, at more than 10 miles from the nearest boat ramp.

Bear Den is one of six finger bays in the river reach, and although it is not particularly large, (generally less than a quarter-mile wide by three miles long) it is important to the lake's fishery.

Bear Den Creek is a small, intermittent stream that drains 74 square miles of pasture and badland breaks north of Mandaree. The immediate watershed, although providing a picturesque backdrop, is not that meaningful for walleye reproduction. Instead, the location and depth of Bear Den Bay are factors that generate significant natural reproduction in most years.

Typically, warming waters in April and May attract spawning walleyes, and high banks protect the water from strong winds. Areas upstream of Bear Den Bay between New Town and Williston can also produce walleye, but they are more susceptible to wind because the shoreline slope is more gradual, and sediment (i.e. mud flats) can limit egg hatching and larvae survival.

Bear Den Bay and the surrounding area are also important for sauger reproduction. Spring and fall offer outstanding sauger fishing opportunities for those who want to target these walleye cousins.

To the south and east of Bear Den Bay, bison roam along the reservoir breaks. The south shore of Bear Den Bay delineates the northern end of North Dakota's largest bison pasture, where bison have been reintroduced onto reservation lands by Three Affiliated Tribes officials. A six-foot-high fence keeps the bison from wandering too far, but 10,000 acres of native grasslands within the project provide bison with room to browse.

Seeing bison wander along the shoreline just seems right, especially in the remote Bear Den area.

  JPG-Bear Den Bay

*Greg Power is the game and Fish Department's central district fisheries supervisor.

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