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Doug Leier, Published July 17 2012

Leier: Fishing in North Dakota has a rich history


No matter the course in life, when we sit down and look at the details of the years it inevitably leads to some arguments on when and where an event took place, or if it even really actually happened.

Anglers are famous for embellishing stories of the one that got away (after fighting for 36 hours), the size (the perch was bigger than my bowling ball) or even how bad the weather was (the waves were big enough to surf).

But alas, there’s some facts that have stayed the same with time, which I think can help us better understand the rich history of fishing in North Dakota. Here’s a snapshot of some key moments in state fishing history, starting before North Dakota was even a state – and that’s no fish tale.

1881: First fish law, as the territorial legislature prohibited the use of nets in taking fish in certain waters at certain times.

1889: North Dakota became a state.

1893: First documented fish stocking – black (largemouth) bass into Lake Metigoshe, Bottineau County.

1909: The St. John fish hatchery between Gravel and Upsilon lakes in Bottineau County was built.

1923: The Spiritwood Lake fish hatchery in Stutsman County north of Jamestown was built at about the same time as the St. John hatchery closed.

1924: Authorized by the state legislature in 1923, fishing licenses were first required with total sales for the year at 274.

1934: About 14,000 resident and 10 nonresident fishing licenses sold.

1939: Lake Ilo in Dunn County is the state’s largest reservoir.

1949: North Dakota Game and Fish Department hires first fisheries biologist.

1953: Garrison Dam completed. Little to no fishing activity on the Missouri River System, and none on Devils Lake. Approximately 40-50 fishing waters statewide.

1954: Cost of fishing license increased to $1.

1960: First year of the Whopper Club and first year of mandatory boat registration.

1961: 815 fish houses licensed and Heart Butte Reservoir in Grant County acclaimed as the walleye capitol of North Dakota.

1964: Lake Ashtabula noted as “the” perch lake in the state.

1965: First time fishing license sales reached 100,000.

1966: Cost of fishing license increased to $3.

1969: By legislative resolution, the northern pike is named North Dakota’s state fish.

1971: Rainbow smelt stocked into Lake Sakakawea.

1975: Missouri River System opened to fishing year-round.

1976: First whopper catfish recorded from the Red River. Chinook salmon stocked into Lake Sakakawea.

1978: Fishing license increased to $5.

1980: 139 fishing waters managed.

1982: Record number of fishing licenses sold –184,000. Catch and Release program initiated.

1984: First year of trout and salmon stamp. Game and Fish provided cost-share with a local group on a poured cement ramp.

1987: The first fish cleaning station was built.

1989: First 10 of 40 new fish rearing ponds completed at Garrison fish hatchery. Fishing license increased to $9.

1993: Statewide year-round fishing season implemented.

1996: Fishing license increased to $10. Trout/salmon stamp eliminated. Four lines legal statewide for ice fishing.

2012: Fishing licenses still $10, but more than 350 fishing lakes statewide.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com