Doug Leier: What You Need To Know About Ice Fishing Rules And Regulations

ice fishing

This year winter has kind of softly tiptoed into the Midwest, to the joy of pheasants and deer and somewhat to the dismay of ice anglers and everyone else who likes or needs snow.

However, it’s late December and we’re finally getting some better ice fishing conditions, so it’s a good time for a refresher on the rules and regulations.

My first suggestion for anyone going fishing in North Dakota is to refer to the 2014-16 North Dakota Fishing Guide or the State Game and Fish Department’s website for winter fishing regulations. Anglers can also check out the website,, for an extensive list of fishing questions and answers.

Some winter fishing regulations include:

  • A maximum of four poles is legal for ice fishing.
  • Tip-ups are legal, and each tip-up is considered a single pole.
  • There is no restriction on the size of the hole in the ice while fishing. When a hole larger than 10 inches in diameter is left in the ice, the area in the immediate vicinity must be marked with a natural object or a brightly colored wooden lathe. See regulations for more information.
  • It is only legal to release fish back into the water immediately after they are caught. Once a fish is held in a bucket or on a stringer, they can no longer be legally released in any water.
  • It is illegal to catch fish and transport them in water.
  • It is illegal to leave fish, including bait, behind on the ice.
  • Depositing or leaving any litter or other waste material on the ice or shore is illegal.
  • Any dressed fish to be transported, if frozen, must be packaged individually. Anglers are not allowed to freeze fillets together in one large block. Two fillets count as one fish.
  • The daily limit is a limit of fish taken from midnight to midnight. No person may possess more than one day’s limit of fish while on the ice or actively engaged in fishing. If a situation occurs when an angler engages in fishing overnight, the first daily limit must be removed from the ice by midnight prior to continuing to fish.
  • The possession limit is the maximum number of fish that an angler may have in his or her possession during a fishing trip of more than one day.

Game and Fish also gets a lot of questions about what types of rods and reels designed to automatically set the hook or reel in fish are legal. The regulations state: “It’s illegal to fish with any spring, lever, chemically, electrically, or mechanically actuated hook at any time. The use of any mechanical device to automatically retrieve the fish is also illegal.”

What that means is that any fishing device that sets the hook for the angler is legal, but any device that reels in the fish is not. Anglers have to reel in their own fish.

Some states also allow lights in the water and some don’t. North Dakota does not allow lights in the water, so you can’t put a light stick or any other kind of light in the water to attract fish. The fishing guide states: “It is illegal to introduce anything into the water for the purpose of attracting fish that is not attached or applied to a lure. Decoys used for darkhouse spearfishing are excluded.

In addition to all the rules and regulations, the Game and Fish website also has a wealth of information on North Dakota fishing lakes to check out if you’re looking for someplace new to go.