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Paddlefish snagging, spearfishing begins Thursday

Paddlefish snagging and spearfishing season begins Thursday. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department Photo)1 / 2
csnagging and spearfishing season begins Thursday. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department Photo)2 / 2

Paddlefish snagging and spearfishing seasons start Thursday, both expected to gain even more traction as the Bakken oil boom draws more fishing aficionados to the area.

Fisheries management section leader Scott Gangl said interest will continue to grow, reflected by subtle, new rule changes this year.

According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, paddlefish snagging rule changes include:

  • Daily snagging hours will now last from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • There will be a 24-hour notice to close the season, rather than a 36-hour notice.
  • After the season officially ends, the snag-and-release period will last four days, down from seven days previously.
  • All paddlefish snagged and tagged must be removed from the river by 9 p.m.
  • Snagging harvest days will be Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Other days will be set aside for snag-and-release.

The spearfishing season will be extended through Nov. 30, representing the most significant change.

Gangl emphasized safety while spearfishing, one of the oldest fishing methods, as well as focusing on rough fish like carp and buffalo only.

“The number one thing is to know what your target is,” Gangl said. “You don’t want to shoot a spear at a game fish.”

Paddlefish navigate the Missouri River and Yellowstone River, where Gangl said the stream seems higher this year. When waters have been low in the past, seasons were more abbreviated, lasting from between a few days to a little more than a week, he said.

The snagging season ends when 1,000 fish are caught, and some are hoping for a bountiful harvest.

In Williston, a paddlefish snagging hub, one of the state’s most notable caviar vendors thrives.

Non-profit North Star Caviar offers to clean and fillet all paddlefish caught — male or female — in exchange for any fish eggs. Profits from caviar sold goes back to Game and Fish research and community businesses within a 100-mile radius of Williston, said North Star Caviar manager June Sheaks.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s been going on for 20 years now, and we want to keep it going,” Sheaks said.

Between $70,000 and $100,000 in profits are generated every year, she said. The company will have trucks at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone to transport fish to be filleted.

John Shunk, fishing department manager at Williston’s Scenic Sports and Liquor, said he has already seen “quite a few” paddlefish surfacing. He said Williston has become a popular vacation getaway because of the snagging season.

“It’s almost like a tradition as much as deer camp,” Shunk said. “It’s just nice to get out and be on the water around so many people.”