By Doug Leier
May conjures up images of the first meadowlark on the prairie, stray migrating snow geese and spring turkey season wrapping up. We’ll also likely spot the first brood of Canada geese and find a few ticks to remove from you or your dog.
May 1 every year marks the start of North Dakota’s paddlefish snagging season, and one noteworthy regulation change involves the sale and distribution of paddlefish tags. Paddlefish tags are only available for purchase online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s website, gf.nd.gov, and during normal business hours at Game and Fish Department offices in Bismarck, Dickinson and Williston.
Snaggers buying tags online should plan accordingly and allow for a few days delivery through the mail.
If history is any indication, over the course of the season a few thousand people will buy a special tag and trek to 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 current state record tops 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.
Legal snagging hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Snaggers can only purchase 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 immediately following the early closure, but not to extend beyond May 21. Only a limited area at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers is open to this extended season snagging opportunity.
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 7 p.m. of each snagging day.
Snag-and-release of all paddlefish is required on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Participants 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.
Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.
Featured Photo: For those anglers wishing to participate in the 2022 snagging season, paddlefish tags will only be available for purchase online at gf.nd.gov or in person at the NDG&F Dept. offices in Bismarck, Dickinson or Williston. NDG&F Photo.