WILLISTON, N.D. – A Williston man likely set a new state record over the weekend after reeling in a 131-pound paddlefish.
Grant Werkmeister described the experience like this: “It’s like hooking a log that wants you to go with it.”
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department still needs to verify the scale to confirm that the fish broke the existing record of 130 pounds.
“They’ve been highly accurate in the past,” Fisheries Division Chief Greg Power said Monday. “I’m guessing it certainly is a state record.”
North Dakota’s paddlefish season was closing early at 9 pm. Monday after anglers reached the 1,000-fish cap, Power said.
Werkmeister said this year’s season was especially strong for anglers, who seemed to be snagging a paddlefish every 10 minutes.
“If you put a line in the water, your chances were better than 50-50,” he said.
Werkmeister, 28, had a lot of practice leading up to his brag-worthy fish. He’s gone paddlefishing in northwest North Dakota every year for at least 20 years.
“I enjoy the thrill of hooking them and reeling them in. I’m not big on keeping them anymore,” he said. “I just like to fight, take a picture and let them go.”
On Saturday morning, Werkmeister caught his whopper about 1½ miles away from the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. He hooked it in the head, which he said makes it easier to reel them in, and had it on the shore in about 10 minutes.
Werkmeister brought the fish to the confluence, where North Star Caviar cleans and processes paddlefish for free in exchange for the eggs. He ended up with 27 pounds of meat he has in his freezer and plans to smoke.
On Monday, Werkmeister was joking around at Williston’s Scenic Sports to “make way for the king.”
“It’s really more or less exhilarating,” Werkmeister said.
Power said there will likely be analysis done on the fish’s jaw bone to determine its age.
There was a strong class of paddlefish from 1995, Power said, so the fish could be 21 years old. It’s also possible the paddlefish is as old as 50, Power said.
“You can’t base it on size alone,” Power said.
North Dakota’s paddlefish season runs throughout May, but it’s ended early in 13 of the last 15 years, Power said.
North Star Caviar reported processing 924 paddlefish at the end of Saturday, the fourth and final day of harvesting. Power estimates the cap of 1,000 was likely exceeded because 10 percent to 20 percent of anglers don’t take their fish to be processed.
Four more days of snag and release will be permitted Tuesday through Friday from the confluence area only.
Last year, the harvest season ended after about six or seven days, Power said.
A strong population of fish, low flows on the Yellowstone River and unusually warm May weather that attracted more anglers all contributed to making this a strong season, Power said.
“Put them all together, it’s a recipe for harvest,” he said.