Fishing Opener

February 23, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

There has been a lot of studies and walleye fisheries arent that affected by spring fishing

There has been a lot of studies and walleye fisheries aren't that affected by spring fishing

I  might miss the North Dakota fishing opener this year, but I will have my own first day of open water fishing. It may come earlier than last year or a few days later, depending on how spring arrives, but it will be here soon and I can’t wait.

If you’re a bit confused, I apologize. But North Dakota fishing is open year around, and anglers get to choose when and where their first open-water cast of 2008 occurs.

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.

While fishing is open every day of the year – with a few exceptions – April 1 is the start of a new year of sorts, as that’s when a new 2008 fishing license is required. Probably since that date is fast approaching, and across the border the Minnesota legislature is debating a change for the Minnesota fishing opener, I’ve been fielding more than the normal amount of questions about North Dakota’s year-round season.

The questions are more curiosity than anything else, because many North Dakotans are aware that Minnesota closes its season for game fish from late February to mid-May. South Dakota is similar to North Dakota, as most or its waters are also open to fishing for game species year-round.

The philosophic reason for a closed season in spring is to protect game fish 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.

Springtime a lot of research and nettings are done across the state

Springtime a lot of research and nettings are done across the state

Studies in North Dakota, however, 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.

Changing angler philosophy also plays a role. Over the last 20 years or so many North Dakota anglers have become accustomed to releasing mature female fish, not just during the prespawn period, but over the rest of the year as well.

So why do North Dakota fisheries managers and anglers embrace year round fishing? The primary reason 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. Some people find the early spring is their best chance to enjoy a few days of fishing. In May, farmers may not have the time to sneak out and wet a line, but in April, prior to spring field work, it’s a nice option to have available.

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

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 remember, after April 1 a new license is required.


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