I bought a fishing license this year, just like I have every year since I turned 16. I bought a license for my wife, and my kids still aren’t old enough to need one (16 or older), but we all fished in the past year, just like we do every year.
Statistics compiled by the state Game and Fish Department revealed more than 222,000 fishing licenses were sold last year, an increase of 3,000 from 2013-14.
I stopped for a moment and did some basic math and contemplated the fact North Dakota’s entire state population is now just under 740,000 from what Wikipedia told me. The license numbers indicate just about one out of every four North Dakota residents age 16 and older bought a fishing license last year.
In addition, nearly 65,000 nonresidents bought fishing licenses, which was also a new record.
All about water
License sales records are closely tied to a record number of fishing lakes in North Dakota and aggressive fish management. It’s no secret Lake Sakakawea, Devils Lake and Lake Oahe/Missouri River remain the top three fisheries in the state, as has been the case for decades. But since the return of water to the prairies after 1993, we’ve seen more and more sloughs, ponds and lakes thrive as fisheries.
As a comparison, let’s look at fishing license sales from that last year since water started to return. During the 1992-93 license year, Game and Fish issued about 94,500 resident licenses and 14,300 nonresident licenses, for a total of 108,800. That’s about half the number of anglers we have today.
Surely, some of that increase is related to the state’s increased population in the past decade, but it also means more beginners and infrequent anglers are buying a license more often because of improved fishing opportunities in more areas.
Places where people played softball and hunted pheasants now are producing walleyes and perch in summer and winter. In addition, Game and Fish biologists have stocked more than 48 million walleye fingerlings in the past five years, along with salmon, trout, pike, bass and panfish.
While stocking is one part of the equation, ample water and accompanying fisheries management strategies have worked to help make fishing in North Dakota continue to flourish. Several times in the past two decades, we’ve thought the realities of natural weather cycles would turn the improving fishing scene around. So far, that has not happened in the long term, and no one knows how long the wet cycle will continue.
So, while September means our focus shifts to hunting, there’s still plenty of time to fish. If you are hunting, there’s a good chance you probably spent some time this past year casting a line. And if you’re like me, stop for a minute and smile because you were part of another record.
Who knows, maybe next year we’ll do it again.