Fishing Regulations Guide (2020-22)
Table of Contents
- New for 2020-22 Fishing Seasons
- General Regulations
- Bait Definitions and Regulations
- Manner of Taking
- Hook and Line Fishing
- Darkhouse Spearfishing
- Archery and Spearfishing
- Underwater Spearfishing
- Aquatic Nuisance Species Rules and Q/A
- Boating Information
- Fishing Waters
These regulations are in effect for two years from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2022. A fishing year is defined as April 1 of one calendar year through March 31 of the following calendar year. NOTE: In the event of emergency changes to the 2020-22 proclamation, Game and Fish will alert the media and public and post new information on the Department’s website.
Licenses are valid for one year starting April 1 and ending March 31 of the following year. An angler must possess a valid fishing license for the respective season.
Residents and nonresidents age 16 and older need valid licenses. Residents under age 16 may take and possess a limit of fish without a fishing license. Any nonresident under age 16 may take and possess a limit of fish without a nonresident fishing license if accompanied by an individual possessing a valid fishing license.
Residency qualifications and a waiver of residency form are available on the Department’s website. Call 701-328-6300 for more information. North Dakota residents who are on leave while on active duty with the United States military can fish without a license. Contact the Department for details.
Nonresident full-time students living in North Dakota, who are attending a state or tribal college, or a private institution of higher education, may qualify for purchasing resident fishing licenses. Contact the Department for details.
The fishing license (paper or electronic form) must be in possession of the licensee at all times while fishing and available for inspection.
Free Fishing Days – Residents of North Dakota may fish without a resident fishing license on June 6-7, 2020, December 26-27, 2020; June 5-6, 2021 and December 25-26, 2021.
|Resident Fishing, Hunting and Furbearer Certificate||$1|
|Resident Married Couple*||$24|
|Resident, 65 years or older||$5|
|Resident, Totally or Permanently Disabled**||$5|
|Resident, 50 percent or more Disabled Veteran**||$5|
|Resident Combination License (16 years or older – includes fishing, small game, general game and habitat, and furbearer licenses)*||$52|
|Nonresident Fishing, Hunting and Furbearer Certificate||$2|
|Nonresident Married Couple*||$63|
|Nonresident 10 Days*||$38|
|Nonresident 3 Days*||$28|
|All paddlefish snaggers must possess a valid paddlefish tag in addition to required licensing. A resident paddlefish tag is $10, a nonresident paddlefish tag is $25.50.
*Fees include license costs and ANS surcharge.
**Available only from the Department’s Bismarck office.
New for 2020-22 Fishing Seasons
Lake Ashtabula and Whitman Dam are added to the list of waters where darkhouse spearfishing is not allowed.
The State Fair Pond will be open to fishing year round except for the 2-3 weeks immediately prior to the State Fair. Fish can be harvested at the State Fair Pond year round except from April 1-July 31.
The smallmouth bass daily limit is increased from 3 to 5 in the Missouri River and lakes Sakakawea, Oahe, Audubon, Darling, Ashtabula and Heart Butte.
For fish hooked by a lure with multiple hooks, the fish is not considered foul-hooked if at least one of the hooks is embedded from gill covers forward.
Area and time for paddlefish extended snag/release days is expanded.
Individuals who are not required to possess a valid fishing license (e.g. less than 16 years old) do not need to register prior to participating in darkhouse spearfishing.
Game fish are bluegill, burbot, channel catfish, chinook salmon, crappie (black and white), largemouth bass, muskellunge (pure and hybrid), northern pike, paddlefish, sauger, saugeye, smallmouth bass, sturgeon (pallid, shovelnose and lake), trout (brown, lake, rainbow and cutthroat), walleye, white bass, yellow perch and zander.
Legal live baitfish are fathead minnows, creek chubs, sticklebacks, white suckers and rainbow smelt. See Section 4 for use and possession.
Nongame fish are all species that inhabit and reproduce in the state’s waters that are not listed above as game fish or legal live baitfish.
Wanton Waste – no individual possessing any game fish species may waste, destroy or abandon the edible flesh (fillets).
It is illegal to deposit, or cause to be deposited, any fish or parts thereof, upon the ice, in the water, or upon the shore of any water body in North Dakota.
Depositing or leaving any litter (including refuse, bottles, cans, etc.) or other waste material in the water, on shore or on the ice is illegal.
It is illegal to introduce anything into waters of the state for the purpose of attempting to attract fish (e.g. chumming, artificial light, acoustic equipment, etc.) that is not attached or applied to a lure as defined on page 12. Decoys used while darkhouse spearfishing are excluded.
Other than landing a fish caught on hook and line equipment, netting or trapping fish is illegal except for legal live bait as defined on page 8.
No individual or entity may conduct a fishing contest on any public waters without first obtaining a permit issued by the Game and Fish director.
Stocking of any live fish, live fish eggs, live amphibians, or other live aquatic organisms into any waters of the state is illegal except with the appropriate license or permit issued by the Game and Fish director.
Transportation of any live fish, live fish eggs, live amphibians or other live aquatic organisms is illegal except for:
- Anglers transporting legal live baitfish and legal live aquatic bait (see following sections).
- Dealers and buyers of tropical fish species for the pet trade sold at commercial outlets.
The director may make reasonable accommodations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
No individual shall sell, or take for the purpose of sale, any fish (including baitfish) except as allowed in bait or commercial fishing laws.
No fish species may be transported in water away from the water body from which they were taken. Ice in a cooler or other container may be used in transporting fish.
It is illegal to remove more than gills, entrails and scales from fish species harvested in waters that are subject to a size limit while on the water or actively engaged in fishing. It is illegal to remove more than the gills and entrails (head, fillets and tail must be attached) from channel catfish east of ND Highway 1 while on the water, actively engaged in fishing, transporting or until the fish are at the license holder’s residence.
Fish may be filleted for transport, unless size limits apply, under the following conditions:
- Each individual portion of the meat removed from a fish is considered a fillet*,
- Two fillets are counted as one fish, and
- The packaging of fish must be done in a manner so that the fillets can be readily separated and counted. If fillets are frozen, they must be packaged so that the fillets are separated and thus can be easily counted without thawing.
*Fish cheeks and pectoral girdles (wings) are not considered as fillets and are legal to transport.
Any fish (whole and/or fillets) may be given (gifted) to another individual, but the fish must be counted in the donor’s daily limit. Individuals who receive gifted fish may not exceed the possession limit while the fish are being transported.
Gifted fish, including packages of fish, must be accompanied with the following information from the individual gifting the fish: name, fishing license number, phone number, date, species and number of fish gifted.
Except for legally gifted fish, it is illegal to possess or transport another individual’s game fish or parts thereof without the license holder accompanying or as otherwise permitted.
Commercial processors, common carriers and common storage areas may possess any individual’s legally taken possession limit of fish. Each package must be labeled with the owner’s name and address.
The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality has issued advisories for the consumption of fish from certain North Dakota lakes and rivers. These fish contain levels of mercury which may be harmful to women of childbearing age and young children if they are eaten too often. Information listing current consumption advice is available from the Department of Environmental Quality website at Fish Consumption Advisory or by calling 701-328-5150.
Bait Definitions and Regulations
Legal live aquatic bait are leeches; native frog, salamander and crayfish species; and the following legal live baitfish species: fathead minnows, creek chubs and sticklebacks. In addition, live white suckers are legal aquatic baitfish in the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers only. Live rainbow smelt are legal aquatic baitfish when captured and used in the Missouri River System only with a dip net, minnow trap or by hand.
All other species of live aquatic bait are illegal.
The use of game fish and parts thereof is illegal, except for yellow perch eyes, and trout and salmon eggs.
All aquatic bait noted in this section, and nongame fish, which have been frozen, salted, preserved or cut into pieces (to include heads, entrails, etc.) are legal bait.
All terrestrial bait (live or dead) such as nightcrawlers and waxworms are legal.
Products manufactured as edible fishing bait and other inert biodegradable substances are legal bait.
No live baitfish (e.g. fathead minnows) may be used or possessed on the waters listed below. All other legal live bait (e.g. nightcrawlers, leeches, etc.) can be used.
|Bylin Dam/Dougherty Dam||Walsh|
|Camels Hump Lake||Golden Valley|
|Custer Mine Pond||McLean|
|North Lemmon Dam||Adams|
|Ryan Park Pond||Grand Forks|
|Sheep Creek Dam||Grant|
|Velva Sportsmen’s Pond||Ward|
For the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers up to the first vehicular bridge or crossing on any of their tributaries: legal live baitfish are fathead minnows, creek chubs, sticklebacks and white suckers.
Statewide – in all other water bodies of North Dakota (not listed on page 7), the only legal live baitfish are fathead minnows,creek chubs and sticklebacks.
Exception – rainbow smelt may be taken on the Missouri River System; however, all smelt taken must be dead when transported.
All legal live aquatic bait used by anglers, including legal baitfish, must have been purchased or trapped in North Dakota. No live aquatic bait may be imported into the state by anglers. This includes live baitfish and leeches.
Anglers may not transport water, including that used for bait (e.g., bait buckets, etc.), away from waters of the state designated as infested with Class 1: Prohibited Aquatic Nuisance Species; currently, this ncludes the Red River, Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne River downstream of Lake Ashtabula. See the ANS Infested Waters page for current list of lakes. All water must be drained from bait buckets as anglers leave the shore or remove their boat from the water. Anglers must properly dispose of unused bait away from the river, as dumping bait in the water or on shore is illegal.
In all other waters of the state, legal live baitfish and other legal live aquatic bait may be transported in water but only in containers of five gallons or less. Any container (e.g. bait bucket) used to hold bait must be free of aquatic vegetation.
The transportation of live white suckers, other than in Richland, Cass, Traill, Grand Forks, Walsh and Pembina counties, is illegal.
It is illegal to possess more than an aggregate of 150 legal live baitfish. See page 11 for list of limits.
All individuals selling live aquatic bait must possess a bait vendors license.
Licensed anglers may trap their bait but may not use more than one minnow trap and/or one dip net for taking smelt or legal live aquatic bait. The trap may not exceed 12 inches in diameter and 30 inches in length, with a throat opening not to exceed 1-1/4 inches. Dip nets may not exceed 24 inches in diameter or 36 inches in depth. All other nets (e.g. cast) are illegal.
Legal live bait and legal live baitfish may be taken in all public waters of the state except for the following:
- Those water bodies listed on page 7 as “no live baitfish” lakes.
- Recent water bodies that may have been designated as infested with pohibited or regulated aquatic nuisance species – current list of lakes.
- James River between Jamestown Dam and the South Dakota border.
- Sheyenne River downstream of Lake Ashtabula to the Red River.
- Red River and Bois de Sioux rivers.
- Missouri and Yellowstone rivers*.
- Lake Sakakawea*.
- Lake Oahe*.
- Lake Audubon.
- Lake Metigoshe.
- McClusky Canal including New Johns, Heckers, East Park and West Park lakes.
- McDowell Dam.
- Raleigh Reservoir.
*Exception – rainbow smelt may be taken on the Missouri River System; however, all smelt taken must be dead when transported.
It is illegal to use live rainbow smelt for bait anywhere except for the Missouri River System.
It is illegal to possess, or possess with intent to sell, or to use as live baitfish, any species other than fathead minnows, creek chubs, sticklebacks and white suckers. The penalty for fishing with or possession of an illegal live baitfish is $250.
Manner of Taking
Each angler must take his or her own fish. Party fishing is illegal.
The daily creel limit is defined as the maximum number of legally taken fish (by species) that may be harvested from midnight to midnight. No individual may harvest or possess more than North Dakota’s daily limit of fish while on the water, ice or actively engaged in any manner of fishing.
The possession limit is defined as the maximum number of legally taken fish (by species) that an individual may have in their actual possession during any phase of any single fishing trip of more than one day. At no time may an individual transport more than a possession limit without written approval of the Game and Fish director.
The storage limit at one’s residence is unlimited. It is illegal to take, possess or transport any of the following species of fish in North Dakota (they must be immediately released back into the water from which they were caught): pallid sturgeon, shovelnose sturgeon and lake sturgeon.
It is illegal to take paddlefish at any time except as provided on pages 19-21.
Turtles may not be taken commercially in North Dakota.
The season on clams (freshwater mussels) remains closed in North Dakota.
Taking or attempting to take fish from North Dakota waters is limited to the following methods only: Hook and Line Fishing, Darkhouse Spearfishing, Archery (Bow) and Spearfishing, Underwater Spearfishing and Paddlefish Snagging. All other manners of taking (e.g. “jugging,” “noodling,” and use of trot [set] lines, etc.) are illegal. The following pages provide detailed manner of taking regulations.
Hook and Line Fishing
Open Areas and Season Dates
|ALL WATERS of the state are open to fishing year-round except below.
|OWLS Pond; State Fair Pond||Closed to fishing at night (sunset to sunrise).|
|Lightning Lake; McDowell Dam||Closed to all ice fishing. Open to all open-water fishing.|
|State Fair Pond||Closed July 4 to July 16, 2020, and July 4 to July 22, 2021.|
|Portions or all of the following waterfowl rest areas: North Golden Lake, Sheyenne Lake||Closed to all fishing September 20 through November 30, or when conditions allow for ice fishing (whichever comes first). Open to all fishing all other times.|
|All national wildlife refuges and easement national wildlife refuges are closed to fishing except the following (contact refuge headquarters for designated open areas and special restrictions):|
|Arrowwood, J. Clark Salyer, Lake Darling (and all waters within the Upper Souris refuge boundary), Lake Ilo, Long Lake and Tewaukon national wildlife refuges||Open to shore and/or ice fishing April 1 through March 31 in designated areas. Open to boat fishing May 1 through September 30 in designated areas. Closed to all boating October 1 through April 30.|
|Lake Alice and Lake Audubon (southern half of lake) national wildlife refuges||Open to ice fishing only. Closed to all other fishing and all boating.|
|Dakota Lake, Hobart Lake and Sibley Lake (Griggs County) easement national wildlife refuges||Open to all fishing April 1 through September 30 and December 1 through March 31. Closed to all fishing and boating October 1 through November 30.|
|Lake Ardoch, Rose Lake, and Silver Lake (Benson County) easement national wildlife refuges||Open to shore and/or ice fishing from April 1 through March 31. Contact refuges for specific areas and times open to boat fishing.|
Statewide Daily and Possession Limits and Exceptions
|Species||Daily Limit||Possession Limit|
|Walleye, Sauger, Saugeye or Combination (a)||5||10|
|Channel Catfish - East of ND Hwy. 1 (b)||5||5|
|Channel Catfish - West of ND Hwy. 1||no limit||no limit|
|Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass or Combination||3||6|
|Muskellunge (pure or hybrid)||1||1|
|Paddlefish||See pages 19-21|
|Nongame Fish (other than legal live baitfish)||no limit||no limit|
|Legal Live Baitfish (c)||150||150|
|Smelt||5 gallons||5 gallons|
|Snapping Turtle (d)||One annually|
|a–Zander are included as part of the walleye, sauger, saugeye combination in Spiritwood and Alkali Lakes (Stutsman Co.).
b–In the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers, the limit is 5 catfish regardless of the number of state or provincial licenses purchased by the angler.
c–Aggregate of all legal species (see Section 4).
d–Harvest legal only between July 1 and November 15.
|Red and Bois de Sioux rivers up to the first vehicular bridge or crossing on any of their tributaries||NORTHERN PIKE – Daily 3, Possession 3
WALLEYE, SAUGER, SAUGEYE OR COMBINATION – Daily 3, Possession 3
|Lightning Lake||TROUT – Catch and release only from April 1 through June 30|
|OWLS Pond||ALL SPECIES – Catch and release only|
|State Fair Pond||ALL SPECIES – Catch and release only from April 1 through July 31|
|Kraft Slough||YELLOW PERCH – Daily 10, Possession 20|
|Missouri River, lakes Sakakawea, Oahe, Ashtabula, Audubon, Darling and Tschida||SMALLMOUTH BASS – Daily 5, Possession 10|
|Fish size restrictions|
Specific Regulation Information
With the exceptions noted immediately below, legal hook and line equipment for each angler shall consist of not more than two poles, each equipped with one line, in the water at any one time. Each line in the water may have zero, one or two lures attached.
- Only one pole is legal at the Garrison Dam Tailrace (Missouri River) while fishing from the piers and wing walls.
- Only one pole is legal at the Drayton Dam (Red River) while shore-fishing between the boat ramp and area designated “closed to fishing.”
- Four poles are legal while ice fishing.
Note: When fishing a water body where both open water and ice fishing occur at the same time, an angler is allowed a maximum of four poles, of which no more than two poles can be used in open water. See page 15 for additional ice fishing regulations.
A lure is defined as any man-made object comprised of metal, plastic, wood and/or other nonedible materials made or used to catch fish. A lure may not contain more than three hooks and the maximum distance between any hooks on a lure may not exceed 10 inches. A single hook may not include more than three points, barbed or otherwise. Spinners and other live bait rigs and harnesses are considered a lure and are legal. Hookless dodgers or attractors used ahead of a lure or bait or attached to a downrigger ball are legal.
Fishing poles must be easily visible and within a maximum distance of 150 feet of the participating angler. Fishing poles must be checked at least once per hour while fishing.
Any device directly connected to the fishing rod that sets the hook is legal as long as it does not reel in (retrieve) fish. The use of any device to automatically hook or retrieve fish is illegal.
After a fish is caught on hook and line, it is legal to return all fish to the water at the site of capture if done in no longer than the time needed to unhook, measure and/or photograph the fish immediately after being caught. Fish returned to the water should show no evidence of bleeding, be handled carefully, and not thrown or dropped. All fish released from bridges and wing walls (e.g. Garrison Dam Tailrace) must be done immediately after being placed in a fish basket/open container to ensure fish survival.
High-grading or culling of fish is illegal. No fish may be returned to the water after being held on a stringer or confined by or in any type of holding structure, except in the case of approved live-release fishing tournaments and only with written permission from the Game and Fish director. No fish may be released into any waters other than the one from which it was originally caught.
A foul-hooked or snagged fish is defined as any fish hooked or caught in any area from behind the gill covers to the tail. For fish hooked by a lure with multiple hooks, the fish is not considered foul-hooked, if at least one of the hooks is embedded from the gill covers forward. Any foul-hooked or snagged fish must immediately be returned to the water regardless of condition. Possession of foul-hooked fish is illegal.
Attempting to snag fish is illegal.
Landing a fish caught on hook and line equipment with aid of a gaff is legal except for sturgeon, paddlefish, muskellunge and species in waters in which there are size limits. No gaffed fish may be returned to the water.
It is illegal to tag or mark any fish prior to release.
Lake specific rules may exist and may be displayed by Department signage at access areas and bridges.
Fish Size Restrictions
|Water Areas||It is Illegal to Take or Possess|
|Anywhere in the state||Muskellunge Less than 48 inches in total length|
|Lake Elsie (Richland Co.)||Walleye/Sauger Less than 14 inches in total length|
|Buffalo Lake (Sargent Co.) – including connected waters north to Sargent Co. Rd. 1|
|Jamestown and Pipestem reservoirs (Stutsman Co.) – upstream to and including the first bridge crossing|
|All waters east of ND Highway 1 including the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers||More than 1 Channel Catfish greater than 24 inches in total length|
All undersized or oversized fish caught where there is a size limit, must be returned to the water immediately regardless of condition and must be handled carefully to avoid injury.
Page 14 North Dakota Fishing Guide – 2020-22 It is illegal to remove more than gills, entrails and scales from fish species harvested in waters that are subject to a size limit while on the water or actively engaged in fishing.
It is illegal to remove more than the gills and entrails from channel catfish east of North Dakota Highway 1 while on the water, actively engaged in fishing, transporting or until the fish is at the license holder’s residence. Head, fillets and tail must be attached.
How to Measure the Length of a Fish
To determine the “total length” of a fish, lay it flat on its side with its mouth closed and measure from the nose to the tip of the tail when the tail lobes are pressed together.
Red and Bois de Sioux Rivers
Individuals fishing the Red River and/or the Bois de Sioux River in a boat or on the ice who possess a valid fishing license from either North Dakota or Minnesota may fish the river(s) between the banks separating North Dakota and Minnesota. Individuals fishing the Red River and/or the Bois de Sioux River on the shoreline must have a valid fishing license from the state in which they are fishing. Those individuals possessing the correct, valid license may transport caught fish by the most convenient and direct route to the state in which they are licensed. While on the water or ice, anglers must comply with the regulations of the state for which they are licensed. Upon leaving the water, all anglers and boaters are required to comply with aquatic nuisance/ invasive species, fish and bait transport regulations of the state they are in. (NOTE: this includes those who are not required to have a license).
For anglers fishing the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers (as well as all waters east of ND Highway 1), some daily and length limits differ from statewide regulations (see page 11). Also, due to the presence of zebra mussels, all water must be completely drained from (bait) containers, including bait buckets, upon leaving the Red River. This is in addition to the statewide aquatic nuisance species rules (pages 21-23).
Ice Fishing Regulations
Ice fishing is defined as hook and line fishing that occurs while on the ice. See page 10 for waters open to hook and line fishing.
A maximum of four poles is legal for ice fishing. However, when fishing a water body where both open water and ice occur at the same time, an angler is allowed a maximum of four poles, of which no more than two poles can be used in open water.
Fishing poles must be easily visible and within a maximum distance of 150 feet of the participating angler.
Tip-ups are legal for ice fishing. Each tip-up is considered a single pole.
There is no restriction on the size of the hole in the ice while ice fishing. When a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is left in the ice, the area in the immediate vicinity of the hole must be adequately marked with a natural object or a brightly painted or colored wooden lath. Markers must be in possession of the angler as soon as a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is made. Markers must be visible from a minimum of 150 feet.
Fishing holes outside a fish house may be placed no closer than 10 feet from the house without consent of the fish house occupant.
As a guideline, anglers should consider the following as the minimum thickness for safe loads on ice:
Please note: The Game and Fish Department does not monitor ice thickness
Northern pike and nongame fish are the only legal species for darkhouse spearfishing. Daily and possession limits are the same as listed on page 11.
Darkhouse spearfishing is legal from ice-up through March 15 of each fishing year.
All waters open to hook and line fishing are open to darkhouse spearfishing, except the following fishing waters, which are closed:
- East Park Lake – McLean Co.
- Heckers Lake – Sheridan Co.
- Lake Ashtabula – Barnes and Griggs Cos.
- Lake Audubon – McLean Co.
- Larimore Dam – Grand Forks Co.
- McClusky Canal
- New Johns Lake – Burleigh Co.
- Red Willow Lake – Griggs Co.
- West Park Lake – McLean Co.
- Whitman Dam – Nelson Co.
- Wood Lake – Benson Co.
Individuals who are required to possess the needed valid fishing license to participate in darkhouse spearfishing must first register online prior to participating.
It is illegal to return fish to the water after they are speared. Possession of a spear is counted as a hook-and-line fishing pole while darkhouse spearfishing. Legal darkhouse spear equipment shall be any manually powered shaft with barbed points. The spear head shall not exceed 12 inches in width. Pneumatic or rubber band powered spear guns may not be used. Artificials and all legal bait, with the exception of live white sucker and rainbow smelt, may be used as decoys. (Note: it is legal to use live white suckers as decoys on the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers up to the first vehicular bridge or crossing on any of their tributaries). Any line used for a decoy will be considered a hook-and-line fishing pole.
There is no restriction on the size of the ice hole while actively engaged in darkhouse spearfishing. When a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is left in the ice when a darkhouse is moved, the area in the immediate vicinity of the hole must be adequately marked by the spearer with a natural object or a brightly painted or colored wooden lath. Markers must be in the possession of the angler as soon as a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is made. Markers must be visible from a minimum of 150 feet.
Archery and Spearfishing
Game fish may not be taken with bow/arrows or spears.
It is illegal to return fish to the water after they are shot or speared. All fish must be used and/or disposed of properly and not left in the water or on land.
Archery fishing is legal from April 1 through March 31 of each fishing year.
Spearfishing is legal from May 1 through November 30 of each fishing year.
Archery and spearfishing are open in all waters as specified on page 10, except for the following area which is closed:
- That portion of the Missouri River from the Garrison Damdownstream to the southern boundary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Downstream Recreation Area.
Legal archery equipment is any hand-drawn and released long bow, recurve bow, compound bow or rubberband-assisted (sling) bow to which an arrow is attached by a line and equipped with a harpoon- style point or wire-barbed point. The use of night vision equipment or electronically enhanced light-gathering optics, including all lights used for locating and shooting at fish, is legal. Crossbows are prohibited except with a special director’s permit that may be issued if an individual is permanently disabled.
Legal spear equipment is any manually powered shaft with barbed points. The spear head shall not exceed 12 inches in width.
The following fish may not be taken with underwater spearfishing gear: muskellunge, paddlefish, smallmouth bass and sturgeon. All other species are legal. Daily and possession limits for legal fish are the same as listed on page 11.
Underwater spearfishing is legal only from May 1 through November 30 of each fishing year.
Underwater spearfishing is open only in the following waters:
- The Missouri River except that portion from the Garrison Dam downstream to the southern boundary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Downstream Recreation Area.
- Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakawea (except those areas posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near the intake and spillway structures) and open fishing areas of Lake Audubon.
- Devils Lake.
- Stump Lake.
- Spiritwood Lake.
Legal underwater spear equipment is a rubber band powered or pneumatic powered spear gun with the spear attached to the gun with a lanyard not to exceed 20 feet. Underwater spears may be discharged only when the operator and equipment are entirely under the surface of the water.
Underwater spearfishing is illegal within 150 feet of any individuals engaged in fishing, designated swimming or water ski areas, boat docks or spillways.
The Diver’s Down Flag must be displayed on a float or buoy during any underwater spearfishing. Underwater spearers must stay within 100 feet of the vertical position of their Diver’s Down Flag. Individuals who underwater spearfish between sunset and sunrise must display a lighted Diver’s Down Flag and must carry a handheld light that is visible from a distance of 150 feet. The handheld light must be displayed when the diver is at the surface.
Snagging of paddlefish is legal May 1 through May 21 for those with a valid paddlefish tag. Only paddlefish may be taken while snagging; all other species must be returned immediately to the water regardless of condition. The open area includes the Yellowstone River in North Dakota, and the Missouri River 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 WMA (river mile 1,565). Paddlefish snagging is legal only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Central Time) during each day of the paddlefish snagging season. Select days are set aside for harvest and release only.
A paddlefish snagger must obtain and have in their possession a valid paddlefish tag, in addition to a valid fishing license that may be required. Only one tag per snagger will be issued and the tag is not transferable to another individual. Any paddlefish tag that is locked shut prior to attachment, altered or modified shall be voided and will not be replaced.
It is illegal for an individual to use fish snagging equipment in the paddlefish area if that individual does not possess his/her own unused paddlefish tag. Each paddlefish snagger must cast for, hook and reel in (retrieve) his/her own fish. The use of more than one snag hook per line is illegal. Snagging from a boat is illegal. It is illegal to gaff any species other than paddlefish, and paddlefish may only be gaffed on “snag and harvest days.”
The sale, barter, trade or purchase of paddlefish eggs is legal only for one qualified and properly permitted Confluence fish cleaning operation (the permitted paddlefish caviar processing site). No individuals may take any paddlefish eggs from other snaggers for any reason including in exchange for cleaning their fish.
All fish delivered to, and/or processed fish transported away from, the Confluence fish cleaning operation must be done so by either the individual who snagged the fish or an approved individual working for the permitted Confluence fish cleaning operation. Any fish left at the Confluence fish cleaning operation after 8 p.m. the day they were caught will be considered abandoned and the snagger is subject to a fine.
All paddlefish snagged and tagged must be removed from the river by 7 p.m. of each snagging day.
Depending on overall harvest, an “in-season” closure may occur, with a 24-hour notice issued by the Game and Fish director. If this occurs, there will be no refunds for unused tags. If there is an early closure, snag-and-release-only will still be allowed for a seven-day period immediately following the harvest closure, but not to extend beyond May 21. Notice of an early closure and subsequent days set aside for snag-and-release-only will be announced by the Department. Once a snagger harvests a paddlefish, they can no longer snag for paddlefish at any subsequent time during the current season (including snag-and release-only and extended snag-and-release only days).
HARVEST-ONLY DAYS are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays
On these days, all paddlefish caught must be tagged immediately with one’s own tag. Season creel limit is one paddlefish. The release of paddlefish after snagging is illegal. If a fish is cut up, the tag must accompany the dressed fish either by attachment to the bag containing the dressed fish or by placement within the bag. The snagger must keep that portion of the back and dorsal fin (back fin) necessary to maintain the tag sealed to the fish.
SNAG-AND-RELEASE-ONLY DAYS are Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays
If snaggers have in possession their own unused and current year’s paddlefish tag, they can snag but must release immediately any and all paddlefish snagged on each Sunday, Monday and Thursday throughout the open season. No harvest of any paddlefish is allowed during these days. There is no limit on the number of fish that can be snagged during the day. The use or possession of a gaff on snag-and-release days is illegal.
EXTENDED SNAG-AND-RELEASE-ONLY DAYS
If the harvest season closes early, snag-and-release will be allowed for up to seven days immediately following the harvest closure, but not to extend beyond May 21. If snaggers have in possession their own unused and current year’s paddlefish tag, they can snag but must release immediately any and all paddlefish snagged during the extended season. Snag-and-release will be open only in that area of the Missouri River starting on the north shore from the Confluence boat ramp then east (downstream) to the pipeline crossing (river mile 1577), and on the south shore from the Confluence with the Yellowstone River then east (downstream) to the pipeline crossing (river mile 1577). No harvest of any paddlefish will be allowed during these days and all snagged fish must be released immediately. There is no limit on the number of fish that can be snagged during the day. The use or possession of a gaff on snag-and-release days is illegal. For the extended snag-and-release days only, hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. CT.
Aquatic Nuisance Species Rules and Q/A
Aquatic nuisance species are animals, plants and even diseases that are not native to North Dakota, can cause some impact, and have the likelihood to become established if introduced. They can negatively impact fishing, displace native plants and animals, and cause serious economic and ecological damage. North Dakota has adopted rules designed to minimize the transport of ANS:
- All water must be drained from boats and other equipment, including bilges, livewells and motors before leaving a water body or entering the state. This regulation means that harvested fish, legal live baitfish and other live aquatic baits may not be transported in a livewell containing water after leaving a water body. Transportation of fish in or on ice is allowed. Potable (drinking) water and a boat’s sewage water are excluded from this regulation.
- 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 of same.
- All aquatic vegetation must be removed from boats, personal watercraft, trailers and associated equipment, such as fishing poles/lures, before leaving a body of water or prior to entering the state. That means “vegetation free” when transporting watercraft and equipment, including bait buckets, away from a boat ramp, landing area or shoreline.
- Live aquatic bait or aquatic vegetation may not be transported into North Dakota. It is in North Dakota’s best interest that anglers, boaters and hunters understand and comply with these important regulations. Except for waters containing Class 1: Prohibited Aquatic Nuisance Species (see page 8), water used for in-state transportation of legal live bait is allowed but only in bait buckets (containers) no larger than five gallons.
The following questions and answers are intended to provide additional insight into ANS matters.
Where do I find out more information about ANS in North Dakota, especially which water bodies are infested and what species are considered ANS?
Can the spread of ANS be stopped?
If precautions are taken and everyone follows the regulations, the spread can be controlled.
What happens if I catch an ANS fish species?
Class III ANS, such as common carp, silver carp or the newly discovered bighead carp, can be kept for consumption if legally harvested. However, the Department does not recommend releasing any Class III ANS back into a waterbody. If kept, a Class III ANS should be killed and the carcass disposed of properly. All other ANS are illegal to possess and should be left where found. If you find something you believe to be an ANS, report it to the Department through the online reporting form on the Department’s website, or by emailing or calling the Department.
Do I have to run my motor dry before I leave a lake?
No. As you exit a lake, lower the motor to let gravity drain the lower unit, then raise to transport. The intake screen should also be inspected and free of aquatic vegetation.
Can I drain water from my boat anywhere?
No, you must drain the water (pull all plugs, etc.) back into the water from which it originated. This must be done at the access site before you leave.
What if I observe boats, trailers, jet skis, etc., that have weeds hanging from them away from a lake?
The best thing you can do is spread the word on the risk of ANS. If the boat owner/operator is present and willing, ask that they clean the boat and trailer. If the owner/operator is not cooperative, call the RAP line at 701-328-9921.
Do I need to dispose of the weeds in a trash container or can they be left on the ground/parking lot?
Dispose of weeds back into the water from which they originated, to keep parking lots and access areas clean.
Can I cross the state line to purchase live aquatic bait and transport it back into North Dakota?
No. Live aquatic bait, including fathead minnows and leeches, may not be imported into North Dakota.
What else can I do to help prevent the spread of ANS?
The single most important step all anglers and boaters can take to prevent the spread of ANS is to be in full compliance of ANS rules and regulations. In addition, boaters are encouraged to thoroughly wash their watercraft down after each outing with hot water (120-140 degrees Fahrenheit at the point of contact) and pressure washing equipment. Between outings, boaters are also encouraged to thoroughly dry their watercraft, fishing gear or other equipment.
Is there anything new for 2020-2022?
Legislation was approved in 2019 which provided additional staff and funding to enhance and increase ANS education, inspection and monitoring programs conducted by the Department. More North Dakota waters will be monitored annually for ANS. Education and inspection efforts will also increase for the multiple, high-risk pathways of ANS spread. Lastly, there will be more enforcement to enhance compliance with all ANS rules/ regulations. Funding will come from small surcharges on fishing licenses, nonresident waterfowl licenses and new fees on motorized watercraft. Also, zebra mussels were detected in Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne River between Lake Ashtabula and the Red River in 2019. Bighead carp were also found in the James River in 2019, which was the first time this fish was documented in the state. Although North Dakota is fortunate to have few species in only a few locations, keep up to date on ANS locations in the state by subscribing to the Department’s Facebook page and/or checking the Department’s website periodically.
Fish Length-Weight Table
The following table is intended to assist an angler with a weight estimate based on the fish’s length. The table shows the average weights of select fish statewide. The true weight of an individual fish may vary due to the sex of the fish, time of year (e.g. spawning) when it is caught, health of the fish and the water body from which it is caught.
Whopper/Catch and Release Requirements
Only species listed and meeting minimum weight requirements will qualify for a recognition sticker and certificate. Only one application may be made for each species in a lifetime.
An application card must be filled out, giving weight and length of fish, date and where caught, signature of applicant, and signature of person weighing the fish. Applications must be submitted within 90 days of when the fish was caught. Application cards can be found on the Department’s website and select bait shops around the state.
All fish entered must have been harvested by legal methods as described in the North Dakota fishing guide and come from North Dakota waters open to public fishing. Entries must be weighed on a scale used in trade.
Catch and Release Club
Entries must meet minimum length requirements and be released unharmed back to the water. Another angler must witness and verify the measurement and release.
Qualifying anglers will receive a recognition sticker and certificate. A maximum of five entries per year per species will be recognized. Applications must be submitted within 90 days of when the fish was caught.
Whopper and Catch and Release Minimums
|Minimum Catch and
|Northern Pike||20lbs.||36 inches|
|Yellow Perch||1lb. 12 oz.||13 inches|
|Bluegill||1lb. 4 oz.||10 inches|
|Crappie||1lb. 8 oz.||13 inches|
|White Bass||3lbs.||16 inches|
|Largemouth Bass||5lbs.||18 inches|
|Smallmouth Bass||3lbs.||18 inches|
|Tiger Muskie||30lbs.||40 inches|
|Muskellunge (Pure)||30lbs.||40 inches|
|Channel Catfish||12lbs.||30 inches|
|Burbot (Ling)||8lbs.||28 inches|
|Rainbow Trout||5lbs.||21 inches|
|Brown Trout||5lbs.||21 inches|
|Cutthroat Trout||5lbs.||21 inches|
|*This includes zander in Spiritwood/Alkali Lakes.|
|Cisco||1lb. 12 oz.|
North Dakota State Record Fish Requirements
- All recognized fish must be harvested by a legal manner of taking for recreational fishing, originate from North Dakota waters that are open for public fishing, and must have been caught by the angler seeking “state record” recognition.
- All new state record fish must be weighed on a scale used commercially and certified by the North Dakota Public Service Commission, or an equivalent authoritative agency in other states or Canadian provinces. All weights must be rounded to the nearest ounce.
- Angler must thoroughly complete and submit to the Department a “Whopper” card application or a hand-written or typed note with all similar information. The angler’s signature must be included in the submitted documentation.
- At least one witness must verify the weight and provide their signature.
- The actual fish (not pictures) must be visually verified by an employee of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department within 30 days of the catch.
- A recognizable photo of the fish must be furnished to the Department.
- The Department may –
- Further investigate whether a fish was legally taken including interviews with the applicant and/or witnesses,
- Use some/all of the fish for genetic analysis and/or a thorough physical examination of the fish, and
- Reject any applications which are questionable.
- After a waiting period of at least four weeks and when all conditions above are met, the Department will recognize a fish as a state record.
North Dakota Record Fish
|Northern Pike||37 lbs.8 oz.||Lake Sakakawea||1968|
|Walleye||15 lbs.13 oz.||Missouri River||2018|
|Saugeye||12 lbs.0 oz.||Yellowstone River||2013|
|Sauger||8 lbs.12 oz.||Lake Sakakawea||1971|
|Yellow Perch||2 lbs.15 oz.||Devils Lake||1982|
|Bluegill||2 lbs.12 oz.||Strawberry Lake||1963|
|Crappie||3 lbs.4 oz.||Lake Oahe||1998|
|Crappie||3 lbs.4 oz.||Jamestown Reservoir||2013|
|White Bass||4 lbs.10 oz.||Devils Lake||2012|
|Largemouth Bass||8 lbs.8 oz.||Nelson Lake||1983|
|Smallmouth Bass||6 lbs.13 oz.||Lake Darling||2007|
|Tiger Muskie||40 lbs.||Gravel Lake||1975|
|Muskellunge||46 lbs.8 oz.||New Johns Lake||2007|
|Channel Catfish||42 lbs.1 oz.||Moon Lake||2009|
|Burbot (Ling)||18 lbs.4 oz.||Knife River||1984|
|Rainbow Trout||21 lbs.4 oz.||Garrison Tailrace||1998|
|Brown Trout||31 lbs.11 oz.||Garrison Tailrace||2005|
|Cutthroat Trout||10 lbs.1 oz.||Garrison Tailrace||2003|
|Lake Trout||16 lbs.6 oz.||Garrison Tailrace||2012|
|Chinook Salmon||31 lbs.2 oz.||Garrison Tailrace||1986|
|Paddlefish*||131 lbs.0 oz||Upper Missouri River||2016|
|Whitefish||8 lbs. 11 oz.||Garrison Tailrace||1984|
|Cisco||2 lbs. 9 oz.||Lake Oahe||2015|
|Bullhead||4 lbs. 1 oz.||Devils Lake||1988|
|Drum||26 lbs. 2 oz.||Lake Sakakawea||1988|
|Buffalo||54 lbs.||Heart Butte Tailrace||2011|
|Buffalo**||57 lbs. 8 oz.||Heart Butte Reservoir||2017|
|Carp||31 lbs.||Sheyenne River||2003|
|Carp**||31 lbs. 9 oz.||Etta-Alkaline||2017|
|Goldeye||4 lbs. 3 oz.||Lake Audubon||2014|
Method of take is by hook and line fishing unless marked with * which indicates paddlefish snagging or ** which indicates archery (bow)
Reporting Tagged Fish
Anglers can help ﬁsheries managers by reporting information from any tagged ﬁsh they catch.
Most tagged fish in North Dakota, except salmon, will have either a small metal tag attached near the dorsal ﬁn, or a metal tag on their jaw bone (see below). Tagged salmon have their adipose ﬁn removed and also have a microscopic coded wire tag embedded in their head. If you catch a salmon that’s missing its adipose ﬁn, you can drop off the entire head at Game and Fish ofﬁces or at bait shops in Riverdale and Pick City.
Please treat tagged fish like any other fish – you are not required to release the fish (except where a harvest regulation requires you to do so). If you release the fish, do not remove the tag, but do record the information from the tag to report it later. Important information to report includes species, length (inches), when and where the ﬁsh was caught, and the tag number/color. Anglers who include their name and address will receive a brief history of the ﬁsh they caught from the local ﬁsheries biologist.
There are various means to report a tagged ﬁsh. Some tags include a phone number that you can call to report a tag. Other options include a tag reporting online, sending in a tag reporting card, or simply calling any Department office to report the information over the phone.
Please check for signs at access points or call the Game and Fish Department. “Idle speed only” is defined as operating a boat at the slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage (i.e., trolling – with no wake).
Electric Motors Only: (Note: Boats may be propelled manually or with an electric motor. No combustion motor may be operated on these waters): Casselton Reservoir, Davis Dam, Dickinson Dike, Heinrich-Martin Dam, J. Clark Salyer, Kettle Lake, Larimore Dam, Leland Dam, Lightning Lake, McDowell Dam, Mooreton Pond, Sather Dam, Spring Lake Park Ponds and Strawberry Lake (Turtle Mountains).
Idle Speed Only:
- Arroda Lakes
- Arrowwood Wildlife Refuge
- Lake Audubon (north arm)
- Baukol-Noonan Dam
- Baukol-Noonan East Mine Pond
- Belfield Pond
- Boundary Lake
- Brewer Lake
- Camels Hump Dam
- Carbury Dam
- Clausen Springs Lake
- Coal Mine Lake
- Crown Butte
- Davis WPA
- Dion Lake
- Epping-Springbrook Dam
- Fish Creek Dam
- Fordville Dam
- Gravel Lake
- Harmon Lake
- Harmony Lake
- Heart Butte (Lake Tschida) – designated areas only
- Hooker Lake
- Lake Ilo
- Indian Creek Dam
- Jensen Lake
- Jim Lake Wildlife Refuge
- Kota-Ray Dam
- Kraft Slough
- Long Lake Wildlife Refuge
- McClusky Canal proper
- McGregor Dam
- Mirror Lake
- North Golden Lake
- Pelican Lake
- Raleigh Reservoir
- Sheep Creek Dam
- South Carlson Lake
- Sweet Briar Dam
- and along the Missouri River at the mouths of the Heart River, Lakewood, Marina Bay, Misty Waters and Square Butte Creek
Where signed at Devils Lake, boats used for fishing may not obstruct normal boat traffic underneath bridges.
See page 10 for federal refuge boating closures.
Any watercraft propelled by motors must have valid registration. Watercraft that is legally registered in a state other than North Dakota, must be registered in North Dakota if the owner has kept the boat in North Dakota for more than 90 days.
- If your address changes, boat ownership changes, boat is destroyed, abandoned, stolen or recovered – you are required to notify the Department within 15 days.
- The certificate of number is not transferable. Anyone purchasing a boat must register the boat in his/her name.
- The Department can issue a new certificate of number to replace one that is lost. The cost is the same as for a new one.
- No person under 12 years of age may operate a motorboat (includes personal watercraft, jetskis, etc.) propelled by a motor of more than 10 horsepower unless the operator is accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older.
- No person 12 through 15 years of age may operate a motorboat or personal watercraft propelled by a motor of more than 10 horsepower unless the operator is accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older, or the operator has taken and passed a Department approved boating course.
- All boats must have a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD) for each occupant, and those boats over 16 feet in length must also have a Coast Guard approved PFD. Boat occupants age 10 and under must wear their PFD.
- No person may operate any vessel in a reckless or negligent manner such as: » Endangering the life or property of another. » Use of excessive speed during periods of reduced visibility or while in close proximity to other vessels. » Operating in overloaded condition. » Operating within swimming areas designated by markers or by the presence of swimmers. » Operating near dams and other hazardous waters. » Operating in such a manner as to cause a dangerous or damaging wake. » Operation in such a manner as to molest or annoy a person lawfully engaged in fishing.
- No person may operate a motorboat (includes personal watercraft) within 100 feet of a person fishing from a shoreline, a swimmer, swimming/diving raft, or an occupied, anchored or nonmotorized vessel, or within 250 feet of a reduced speed or slow or no-wake sign at greater than slow or no-wake speed.
- No person may operate any motorboat or vessel while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic drug, barbiturate or marijuana.
- No person may operate or permit operation of a personal watercraft (jetskis, etc.) without each person on board wearing a Coast Guard approved PFD.
- All boats operating between sunset and sunrise must display legal lights.
- The owner/operator of a vessel is required to file a report in writing whenever an accident results in loss of life or disappearance from a vessel, an injury which requires medical treatment beyond first aid, or property damage in excess of $2,000 or complete loss of the vessel.
- Reports in death and injury cases must be submitted within 48 hours.
- Reports in other cases must be submitted within five days. See a complete list of boating regulations online.