The Reason for Year Around Fishing

February 23, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Year around fishing means you never have to put your fishing gear away

Year around fishing means you never have to put your fishing gear away

Every year about this time, a few anglers question North Dakota’s year-round fishing season. It’s not so much an opposition as it is a curiosity, because many North Dakotans are aware that Minnesota closes its season for game fish from late February to mid-May.

South Dakota’s regulations are much like North Dakota’s. Most waters are open to fishing for game species year-round.

It’s a good thing that anglers are concerned about protecting fish and making choices that benefit our fisheries. We couldn’t have conservation and effective fisheries management without that support.

North Dakota has had a year-round fishing season since 1993. Prior to that, the State Game and Fish Department closed fishing for walleye, northern pike, bass and trout from mid-March to early May, except for the Missouri River System, which has never had a closed season.

The primary reason for protecting game fish in spring is so they can go through their annual spawning ritual without risk of getting caught. A fish caught and kept is one less fish in the population, and a female full of eggs can’t deposit those eggs if it’s in a freezer.

On the other hand, in North Dakota at least, studies have shown that year-round fishing has not been detrimental to walleye and pike populations. Fishing pressure, except on the Missouri River and a few other isolated areas, is generally light in the first weeks after ice out. In addition, walleye and pike do not naturally reproduce in many North Dakota lakes and reservoirs. Populations in these waters are maintained by stocking and as such there’s no need to protect fish during the spawning period.

Ice fishing can transition into open water fishing without missing any of the action

Ice fishing can transition into open water fishing without missing any of the action

Many anglers, too, have become accustomed to releasing mature female walleyes and other game fish, not just during the prespawn period, but over the rest of the year as well.

The primary reason for year-round fishing is simply more opportunity for North Dakota anglers. Add up the extra six weeks a year and over time that’s a significant amount of fishing for those who enjoy early spring angling.

A year-round season also gives anglers a chance to pursue fish like pike in shallow waters closer to shore. There’s no question some trophy fish are taken during this time when ice is just leaving our lakes. However, a recent study documented that year-round fishing on the Missouri River had no effect on walleye or pike reproduction success.

What North Dakota has sacrificed the last 14 years is a traditional opening day that generates excitement and enthusiasm, and perhaps even license sales to anglers who would only fish the opener as more of a social outing. An opening day might be the most popular fishing day of the year.

Some people think year-round fishing may create a need for increased enforcement activity. However, even states that have closed seasons for some species allow fishing for panfish, so wardens would be on duty anyway, monitoring for illegal activity.

While the change in the way North Dakota’s fishing season is set up didn’t create much controversy, it did create a bit of confusion for a few years as anglers were accustomed to renewing their fishing license right before the opener. Without an opener, the Game and Fish Department set April 1 as the fishing license renewal date.

So, from here on out you can go fishing in North Dakota whenever the weather is right. Just don’t forget to buy a new license.


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