The Roundup -

Paddlefish Seasons Beginning Soon


April 25, 2018 | View PDF

John Garden of Wyoming snagged the biggest of last year's harvest season which was 108 lbs at the Sidney bridge. (Photo submitted)

The annual Montana and North Dakota paddlefish season begins soon, with the Missouri River harvest starting on May 1 and ending on June 15, and the Yellowstone River harvest starting on May 15 and ending on June 30. Depending upon harvest numbers, however, the season is subject to immediate early closure by announcement of the Montana or North Dakota Game and Fish departments, respective to the area to be closed. paddlefish anglers must obtain a paddlefish tag, a conservation license and state fishing license, which must all be in possesion of the angler while trying to snag the paddlefish.

The paddlefish, or by its lesser-known biological name, polyodon sapthula, is a relative of the more-prolific sturgeon, and has a long, paddle-like snout, smooth and nearly scaleless body and rigid backbone and tail fin. Research and monitoring is necessary to prevent over-harvest of the fish. Harvest numbers have been reduced from two fish per person annually to one per person in both Montana and North Dakota, which is a policy designed to stabilize the number of paddlefish in the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. A one-thousand fish limit is set, and once that number is met, the state Game and Fish departments will announce the season closure.

When the closure is announced in North Dakota, an extended snag-and-release period will be allowed for up to four days immediately following the early closure, but not to extend beyond May 21. When the early closure is announced in Montana, a catch-and-release will be allowed for ten consecutive days at the Intake Fishing Access Site north of Glendive, but not to extend beyond June 30.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays there is a mandatory harvest of all paddlefish snagged on the river, meaning that they must be kept and immediately tagged. On Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, snag-and-release is required. Anglers on these days of the season still need to have in their possession an unused paddlefish snagging tag. During catch-and-release days, a gaffing tool may not be used, and fish must remain partially submerged in the water to lessen the chances of irreversible harm to the fish.

The North Dakota daily fishing hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and fish must be removed from the river access points or river bank by 7 p.m. In Montana, the daily fishing hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with fish needing to be removed from the river access points or river bank by 9 p.m..

The Roundup spoke to local game warden, Ryan Karren, about expectations for this year's season.

Karren told the Roundup, "They have a one thousand number quota, but they'll shut it down at Intake well before that. They will shut it down when numbers indicate that about 850 have been caught so far, because there will be others elsewhere on the river who will make up the rest of the thousand. We'll shut it down at Intake so that it won't exceed the total limit of fish allowed."

Knowing precisely how many fish are caught is pivotal to knowing how to manage the season, according to Karren.

"When people get their license," Karren explained, "they should get a little green card that requires everyone who catches a paddlefish to take it in unless it's taken at Intake, in which it will be counted there. That's how they're tracking these numbers properly to make sure they don't exceed the quota."

At Intake, Karren explained, there are Game and Fish agents and biologists counting and tracking what is caught, which makes the numbers from that location more accurate than elsewhere on the river.

Karren also expected the season to be brief, saying, "It went really quickly last year, and it will probably be quick this year. We have a ton of water and not a lot has melted so if it warms up it should go quickly. Those fish move upstream based upon water movement, and when it starts rolling that's their signal to start moving. It all depends on that river flow."


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