LEIER: Early spring brings along noteworthy changes for fishing

BISMARCK -- The early arrival of spring and ice out on lakes this year is providing some additional days for open-water fishing in North Dakota this year. Along with a new license that is needed starting April 1, a new two-year fishing proclamati...

BISMARCK - The early arrival of spring and ice out on lakes this year is providing some additional days for open-water fishing in North Dakota this year.
Along with a new license that is needed starting April 1, a new two-year fishing proclamation also kicks in April 1, with a few noteworthy changes from the last two years.

- Free winter fishing weekend: A free fishing weekend was added for North Dakota residents during the ice fishing season, to complement the longstanding open water free fishing weekend in June. In the coming winter, the free fishing days are Dec.31 and Jan. 1.

“We wanted to allow family and friends to experience ice fishing without purchasing a fishing license on a weekend during the holiday,” said Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries chief. “Five other states have a free ice fishing weekend, but North Dakota will be the only state to offer a free fishing weekend over the Christmas holiday.”
-   Panfish possession limit: The statewide possession limit for bluegill, yellow perch and white bass was reduced from 80 to 40 each.
“The statewide standard for possession limits are twice the respective daily limits. However, perch, bluegill and white bass possession limits were four times the daily limit,” Power said. “Reducing their respective possession limits to 40 will normalize possession limits with the statewide ‘double the daily’ standard for other species, as well as address the desires of many resident anglers fishing rural lakes.”
- Drain plugs: All drain plugs that hold back water must be removed, and all draining devices must be open on all watercraft and recreational bilges and confined spaces, during any out-of-water transport.
“We’re trying to be consistent. ... Many surrounding states and current rules already require all water to be drained when leaving a water body,” Power said. “So keeping the drain plug out is not an inconvenience to the vast majority of watercraft owners.”
- Bait containers: All water must be completely drained from bait containers, including bait buckets, upon leaving the Red River, or any other waters designated as infested with Class 1 prohibited aquatic nuisance species. “The concern is that by not by draining bait buckets, anglers could transport microscopic zebra mussels from the Red River to other waters,” Power said.
- Darkhouse spearing: Sweet Briar Dam and Braun Lake are open to darkhouse spearfishing, and Larimore Dam and Wood Lake are closed to darkhouse spearfishing.
- Marking spearing holes: Anglers and/or spearers must have markers in their possession as soon as a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is made in the ice. “This measure will be a good reminder to spearers and anglers to think and plan in advance and ensure markers are readily available, versus realizing after-the-fact and then scrambling to find something legal to use as a marker,” Power said.
- Bass and pike length limits removed: Largemouth bass and northern pike length restrictions are eliminated on Red Willow Lake and largemouth bass length restrictions removed on North and South Golden lakes.
- Visible rods: Fishing rods must be easily visible and within a maximum distance of 150 feet of participating anglers.
- Snappers: One snapping turtle may be harvested annually between July 1 and November 15. “There is some evidence that snapping turtle populations are declining,” Power said. “This rule provides some reasonable safeguards, preventing excessive harvest, including closing harvest during their breeding season.”
A full copy of the new fishing regulations is available at license vendor locations around the state, and at the Game and Fish website at
And then, realize you don’t have to wait for fishing season to open, get your new license, and go fish!

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. His blog is at


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