MISSOURI-YELLOWSTONE CONFLUENCE — Two days of North Dakota’s catch and keep paddlefishing season are on the books, but the harvest is at just 255 fish so far. That leaves plenty of room for more weekend paddlefishing, as the 2017 season continues.

The Confluence and Sundheim Park are the main hubs of paddlefishing activity, and each have become more populated as the weekend nears.

Thursday was a catch and release day, and for many of the fishermen that meant time to refresh gear and tired muscles for the next catch and keep opportunity Friday and Saturday. Many of them said they would head home thereafter, with or without a catch.

For others, the catch and release day was a chance to get limbered up and ready and learn the rules of the game. Tim and Dorene Jacobson and their son Chase were among these.  Tim and Dorene are from the Fargo area and left at midnight to arrive at the Confluence Thursday morning. 

As it was Chase and Dorene’s first time out, the catch and release day was a good chance for them to practice and get used to their over-sized poles, extra heavy weights and large hooks that would grapple with rocks on the bottom as readily as a fish.

Chase and his friend Zach were both surprised at how quickly the casting became tiring, Tim Jacobson said, and at how quickly a lull in the pulling would result in a line hooked on the river bottom.

Meanwhile, the sun had them all feeling a little bit “medium-cooked,” Dorene added.

“We’re going to have dinner now and rest up for tomorrow,” Tim said. 

While they didn’t catch any paddlefish, they did see three or four come in, giving them high hopes that they will be among the lucky with fish and a story to tell from Friday or Saturday’s catch and keep day.

Their battle plan includes an early rise in camp to make breakfast and to take chairs and equipment out to stake a claim on what they hope will be a nice honey hole for paddlefish. 

Tim Jacobson and his brothers started paddlefishing when they were in their 20s and have made it a tradition ever since.

“We had always wanted to try it and one year just decided to go for it,” Tim said.

Paddlefishing season runs through May 31, or when the harvest reaches 1,000 fish, whichever comes first. The harvest is part of biological studies tracking the fish and has some particular rules to follow. 

Mandatory catch and release days are Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. All fish snagged these days must be released.

Mandatory harvest days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. All fish snagged on these days must be kept, tagged and removed from the river by 9 p.m. 

Legal snagging hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and may be conducted in all areas of the Yellowstone River in North Dakota, and in the area of the Missouri River lying 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 Wildlife Management Area (river mile 1,565).  The Confluence and Sundheim Park are generally the most popular areas to paddlefish in North Dakota.

Typically, the paddlefishing season doesn’t last long. Last year was just four days and the year before that just seven. If the season closes early, there is a four-day, snag-and-release period afterward for those with current season, unused paddlefishing tags and a valid fishing license. 

The Montana season follows North Dakota’s in May, and also requires a valid fishing license and paddlefishing tag.

More details about the rules  are available on the respective state’s Fish and Game website.

Fish cleaning in North Dakota this year is being provided courtesy of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, so that the biological study data can be collected as usual. 

North Star Caviar could not afford to offer the service this time, due to a glut of caviar on the market that caused lagging sales. 

Area stores where paddlefishing tags are sold reported selling close to 3,000 tags already as of Monday, and more are being sold as the season goes along.

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