WILLISTON, N.D. — Anglers looking to tangle with the biggest fish in the Missouri River are lining the shorelines in northwest North Dakota this week for paddlefish season.
“It’s a rush,” said Randy Baxstrom of Colorado, who was among those to snag a paddlefish on Tuesday, May 2, the first harvest day of the year.
The season is scheduled to run through May, but will close early if the 1,000-harvest cap is reached.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, participants had harvested more than 40 paddlefish, with the largest one weighing 105 pounds.
Curtis Pankowski of Fargo caught a 78-pound paddlefish Tuesday and needed help from his friend, Brandon Warnke of Grand Forks, to carry it to the cleaning station.
“You get worn out. It’s a workout,” Pankowski said.
Shayla Heine of Ludden snagged a paddlefish Tuesday while fishing with her father, Warren Moe, for their fifth year in a row.
“We just decided to try it once and we’ve been hooked on it ever since,” Heine said. “It’s an adrenaline rush once you get one hooked.”
This year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is offering a free cleaning service at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence, about 35 miles southwest of Williston.
North Star Caviar had cleaned fish for free since 1993 in exchange for harvesting the eggs from the females, but is taking this year off due to an oversupply of caviar on the market.
Anglers were glad to see the Game and Fish Department continue offering the cleaning service.
“There’s definitely a technique involved with cleaning them,” Moe said.
Cleaning is offered from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on harvest days.
That allows the department to monitor the harvest and also collect data on the fish including length, weight and age.
Aaron Slominski, fisheries technician with the Game and Fish Department, said paddlefish can live more than 50 years, with the age determined by the jaw bone. A 70-pound paddlefish is considered a whopper, with several caught each year that weigh more than 100 pounds, Slominski said. Last season, a new North Dakota record was set with a 131-pound paddlefish.
Hunter Nice, 18, of Sidney, Mont., has gone paddlefishing every year since he was 9 and snagged a fish each year.
“The fight of the fish when you hook it is unlike anything else,” Nice said.
Last year, the paddlefish season closed after four harvest days when the cap was reached, Slominski said. The department will give a 24-hour notice if the season is closing early.
More information about the North Dakota paddlefish season is available at www.gf.nd.gov.