For many, the month of May conjures up images of the first tulips and perennial flowers emerging, spotting the first baby goose and even swatting a mosquito. Gardens are planned and planted, jigs and spinners sorted, and we look forward to a walk after supper and spending a little more time outdoors than indoors.
And while May doesn’t have a true statewide fishing opener in North Dakota, it does have a special season that attracts a lot of attention in the northwestern part of the state.
May 1 every year marks the start of North Dakota’s paddlefish snagging season. If history is any indication, over the course of the month, a few thousand people will buy a special tag and trek to the shoreline of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers for a chance to reel in the state’s largest fish.
Paddlefish commonly weigh well over 50 pounds, and the state record topped the scale at 130 pounds. They are as big as they are unique, and hooking one is not a sure thing, as roughly only one in three people who buy a tag actually get to put it on a paddlefish.
The 2016 season is scheduled to continue through the end of May, but depending on the overall harvest, an early in-season closure could occur with a 24-hour notice issued by the state Game and Fish Department. The season has closed early in nearly every year Game and Fish has had a harvest cap in place.
Snag-and-release of all paddlefish is required on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Therefore, the first two days of the 2016 season are snag-and-release only.
Mandatory harvest of all snagged paddlefish is required on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On these days, all paddlefish caught must be kept and tagged immediately.
All paddlefish snagged and tagged must be removed from the river by 9 p.m. of each snagging day.
Those planning to participate during snag-and-release-only days need to have in their possession a current-season unused paddlefish snagging tag. Use or possession of gaffs is prohibited on snag-and-release-only days and, if it occurs, during the snag-and-release extension period.
Legal snagging hours are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Participants can purchase only one tag per year. Snagging is legal in all areas of the Yellowstone River in North Dakota, and in the area of the Missouri River lying west of the U.S. Highway 85 bridge to the Montana border, excluding that portion from the pipeline crossing (river mile 1,577) downstream to the upper end of the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Management Area (river mile 1,565).
If the season closes early because the harvest cap is reached, an extended snag-and-release-only period will be allowed for up to four days after the early closure but not to extend beyond May 31. Only snaggers with a current unused paddlefish tag are eligible to participate. Only a limited area at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers is open to this extended season snagging opportunity.
In addition to a paddlefish tag, all snaggers age 16 and older also need a valid fishing license. Residents younger than 16 do not need a fishing license, and nonresidents younger than 16 are not required to have a license if they are accompanied by a licensed adult.
Cost of a paddlefish tag is $10 for residents and $25.50 for nonresidents. Last year, the state issued about 2,500 resident and 1,000 nonresident paddlefish tags.