Fishing: Why Don’t We Have a Closed Season?
by Doug Leier, NDGFD
Some anglers wonder if it would improve fisheries and save spawners, yet studies show that year-round fishing has not been detrimental to walleye and pike populations.
A few anglers have always questioned why North Dakota has year-round fishing. It’s not so much the opposition as it is the curiosity, because many North Dakotans are aware that Minnesota closes its season for game fish from February to May.
It’s a good thing anglers are concerned about protecting fish and making choices that benefit our fisheries. We couldn’t have conservation and effective fisheries management without that support.
North Dakota has had a year-round fishing season since 1993. Prior to that, the State Game and Fish Department closed fishing for walleye, pike, bass and trout from mid-March to early May. Except for the Missouri River System.
The primary reason for protecting game fish in spring is so they can go through their annual spawning ritual without risk of getting caught and kept. A female can not deposit her eggs if she’s in a freezer.
Many anglers, too, have become accustomed to releasing mature female walleyes and other fish, not just during the pre-spawn period, but through the rest of the year as well.
The primary reason for year-round fishing is simply to provide more opportunity without hurting the resource.
A year-round season also gives anglers a chance to pursue fish like pike in shallow water closer to shore. There’s no question some trophy fish are taken during this time when ice is just leaving the lakes.
What North Dakota has sacrificed the last 15 years is a traditional opening day that generates excitement and enthusiasm, and perhaps even license sales to angler who would only fish the opener as more of a social outing. An opening day might be the most popular fishing day of the year.
Some people think year-round fishing may create a need for increased enforcement activity. However, even states that have closed seasons for some fish allow fishing for panfish, so wardens would be on duty anyway, monitoring for illegal activity.
While the change in the way North Dakota’s fishing season is set up didn’t create much controversy, it did create a bit of confusion for a few years as anglers were accustomed to renewing their fishing license right before the opener. Without an opener, the Game and Fish Department set April 1st as the fishing license renewal date.
So, you can go fishing in North Dakota whenever the weather is right. Just don’t forget to buy a new fishing license. •