WILLISTON, N.D. — The shores of the Upper Missouri River were dotted with hopeful fishermen who ventured to Williston for the opening of catch-and-keep paddlefishing season. By noon, many of the fishermen had already filled their tags which laid the groundwork for big fish stories and closing out the season within a week.
Near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, over 100 paddlefish lined the pavement by 1 p.m. awaiting measurement and cleaning. The speed in which tags were being filled surprised many who had participated in last year’s six-day season.
“I didn’t think a Tuesday would be as busy as it is,” said Northstar Caviar general manager Bekka Bishop. “It’s still just morning yet.”
Campers and tents were set up for the fishermen that arrived for opening catch-and-release day on Sunday.
Many of the fishermen that lined the banks of the river admitted their arms were already sore from the continuous casting and reeling in their weighted hooks. As soon as one of the freshwater giants were snagged and pulled ashore, it gave the fishermen the extra incentive to cast again.
Thousands of tags were sold at various outlets along western North Dakota, but Fish and Game allocated 1,000 paddlefish could be harvested before the season would close. The chance of reeling in the large prehistoric fish brought anglers from far and wide to take part.
Sitting along the craggy shore was a man who has attended every paddlefish season for the last 21 years. With a name suited for an avid angler, Gill Gigstead would be sitting this season out for the first time in two-decades.
Gigstead was advised by his doctor to skip this year, but that didn’t stop him from looking on and bringing fellow Minnesotans to fish in his stead. As he would tie on the three-pronged hook onto the heavy weighted line, he gladly told decades of big fish stories.
“I never dreamed on God’s green earth I’d get it in,” Gigstead said, after he told of one paddlefish that dragged him down the river.
Darlene Moskal stood near the slow-moving line as her family waited to have their paddlefish weighed, measured, and cleaned.
Moskal has been traditionally coming to Williston from Alberta, Canada since 1990 with her family, back when there was no catch limit. She admits the reduction of harvest numbers over the years and talk of going to a lottery system to receive a paddlefish tag has her worried.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they go to a lottery,” Moskal said.
Worry seemed to fall far from many of the fishermen’s mind as they compared fish stories from years prior and from each other.
“I’m amazed by how many people there are out here today,” Bishop said. “I didn’t expect to see this many fish already.”