Leier Column: Now Is A Good Time To Pursue North Dakota's State Fish


I’ve always enjoyed my own little internal debates, like would I rather have a 12-ounce hamburger steak for a little less price than an 8-ounce ribeye?

And the same concept applies to the outdoors. Would you rather catch 15 decent perch, or three big pike during a few hours of ice fishing?

The beauty of those choices is that right now, they are legitimate options in North Dakota’s outdoors. And I know for many anglers, the choice can change depending on the hour or day.

Ask most fisheries biologists or veteran anglers and they’ll likely acknowledge that never before have overall pike and perch fishing in North Dakota been as good as they are right now. Maybe not near every town in the state, but certainly in every region there are lakes that have good pike and perch populations that are attracting attention.

These same biologist are quick to give credit where it’s due. Booming pike populations coincide with a wet cycle that began 20 years ago, which filled many lake basins and inundated vegetation that provides ideal spawning habitat for pike and perch alike.

North Dakota now has more than 425 designated fishing waters, compared to about 165 in 1990.

Over 200 of those lakes have grown pike weighing 8 to 10 pounds, and pike weighing 20 pounds or more can be found in larger bodies of water such as Lake Sakakawea, Lake Darling, Lake Audubon and Devils Lake.

While northern pike are North Dakota’s state fish, they’ve had sort of a resurgence in popularity, and that has further generated interest in a rather new outdoor activity in the state – darkhouse spearfishing.

Winter darkhouse spearfishing was first authorized in 2001, with only a few waters open and less than 1,000 people participating. As fisheries managers collected more data, they gradually expanded the available options for spearing, and more anglers became interested.

Last year, Game and Fish opened most state waters to darkhouse spearing for pike. The result was more than 10,000 days of effort and a record spearing harvest of about 18,000 pike.

The season extends through March 15. All residents with a valid fishing license, and residents under age 16 are eligible to spear at no additional cost, but participants are required to register with Game and Fish for survey purposes. Registration is available at the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or at any Game and Fish office.

Licensed nonresidents may spear in North Dakota if they are from states that allow North Dakota residents to spear.

The only legal fish are northern pike and nongame species. Walleye and other game fish are off limits.

The bottom line is that whether angling or spearing, now is a good time to pursue North Dakota’s state fish.