EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — What it means for opening day turnout remains to be seen, but Minnesota fishing license sales as of the Friday a week before fishing opener were up 48% from the same time frame last year, statistics from the Department of Natural Resources show.

Minnesota’s statewide fishing opener is Saturday, May 9.

As of Friday, May 1, the DNR had sold 320,523 fishing licenses, compared with 217,100 licenses the Friday a week before fishing opener last year.

While North Dakota’s fishing season is continuous, April 1 marked the beginning of a new license year, and license sales are following a similar trend to Minnesota’s. As of Wednesday, April 29, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department had sold 59,500 resident fishing licenses, a 37% increase over last year and an equally substantial increase over the last few years, said Greg Power, fisheries chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck.

Greg Power, fisheries chief, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
Greg Power, fisheries chief, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

Nonresident fishing license sales, at 4,800, were similar to previous years and typically are “rather insignificant” this time of year, Power said.

Opening day shift?

In Minnesota, some 500,000 anglers typically wet a line for the annual spring fishing opener. As part of statewide stay-at-home orders, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and the DNR continue to urge anglers to fish close to home rather than venture long distances for this year’s opener to minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus.

That could shift traffic and fishing pressure from traditional walleye destinations in northern Minnesota to smaller lakes in the metro area and other parts of the state. But the appetite for getting out and wetting a line has rarely been stronger, if license sales are any indication.

“Based on the early license sales and people’s eagerness to be outdoors and do safe outdoor activities, I think we're going to see folks out fishing,” said Henry Drewes, Northwest Region fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji. “With any form of decent weather, I think the accesses are going to be busy, the bait shops are going to be busy, and I think we're going to see people” on opening day.

Henry Drewes, Northwest Region DNR fisheries supervisor, Bemidji. (Photo/ Minnesota DNR)
Henry Drewes, Northwest Region DNR fisheries supervisor, Bemidji. (Photo/ Minnesota DNR)

DNR employees continue to work from home during the pandemic, which forced the agency to cancel the traditional spring collecting of walleye eggs for stocking programs across Minnesota. Staffing issues and COVID-19 safety concerns also could mean docks won’t be in at some boat ramps for the opener, Drewes cautions. Ice was slow to go off some northern Minnesota lakes, which further hampered progress, he said.

Drewes recommends anglers check ahead to see whether docks are in place at the ramps they plan to use. The DNR’s Section of Parks and Trails is in charge of state-owned boat ramps.

“I always encourage people to throw some waders in the back of the truck, just in case the docks are not out,” Drewes said. “Don't show up at your favorite access and be bummed because there isn’t a dock out. Go prepared, just in case, and be flexible.”

As expected, all of Minnesota’s lakes will be ice-free for Saturday’s opener. Satellite imagery on Monday, while partially obscured by clouds, showed the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods was ice-free. Traditionally, Lake of the Woods is among the last of Minnesota’s lakes to lose its ice every spring.

The ice is out on Devils Lake in North Dakota, as well.

Fishing activity has been brisk in parts of North Dakota already this spring, and the Game and Fish Department on Monday sent out a reminder to anglers, asking them to continue practicing social distancing.

Enforcement operations supervisor Jackie Lundstrom offered these simple safety precautions:

  • Boat only with family members.

  • Maintain 6 feet between you and others.

  • Stay home if you are sick.

  • Keep occupants to a minimum.

  • Sustain proper distance at ramps and docks.

Snag-and-release paddlefish season begins May 15

COVID-19 prompted Game and Fish to cancel this year’s paddlefish snagging harvest season, but a weeklong snag-and-release season begins Friday, May 15, and continues through May 21, the department said Monday.

The season is open to anyone with a valid fishing license, but Game and Fish may close the snag-and-release season with a 24-hour notice if conditions warrant. The snag-and-release season is in line with North Dakota’s Smart Restart program as the state begins to loosen some of the restrictions that resulted from the pandemic, said Power, the department’s fisheries chief.

“Past history has shown that considerably fewer snaggers will participate, but this one-week season provides an opportunity for the avid snaggers,” Power said.

As with all outdoor activities, he said it is still important to follow physical distancing guidelines.

“We will have signs in place at popular snagging areas, but obviously a lot falls on the individual to be smart and considerate,” Power said.

Legal snagging hours for the snag-and-release season will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. CDT. Snagging is legal in the Yellowstone River, as well as 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).

With fewer dumpsters and functioning rest rooms in place this year, snaggers are reminded to plan accordingly and pack out all trash.

The use of more than one snag hook per line is illegal. Use or possession of gaffs is prohibited.

A paddlefish tag is not required.

Snaggers should be aware that Sundheim Park, located on the Yellowstone River, is open to day-use only activities.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department canceled this year's paddlefish snagging harvest season to minimize the potential for overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a weeklong snag-and-release season is scheduled to begin Friday, May 15. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department canceled this year's paddlefish snagging harvest season to minimize the potential for overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a weeklong snag-and-release season is scheduled to begin Friday, May 15. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)