Last year’s historic flooding conditions caused a slight decline in fishing license sales, but it didn’t keep anglers from wetting a line.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual angler survey revealed 137,000 resident licenses were sold last year, down 2 percent from 2010-11. However, angler participation and effort actually increased.
Greg Power, fisheries chief, said the small drop in license sales comes as no surprise as many of the state’s water bodies were affected by high water in 2011.
“Access was limited on many waters during peak fishing months,” Power said. “Furthermore, residents of Burleigh and Ward counties were hit hard by Missouri and Mouse River flooding, and these two counties historically are by far the highest in terms of license sales.”
The survey indicated 111,000 (up 9,000 from previous year) resident anglers fished open water, while 48,000 (up 15,000) residents fished through the ice. “Access was the key for the big increase in winter anglers,” Power said. “We didn’t have the severe winters like we had the previous three years.”
The number of nonresidents coming to North Dakota to fish has stabilized at 23 percent of total license sales the past decade. A total of 41,000 (1,000 fewer) nonresident licenses were sold in 2011-12, but the number of nonresidents who actually fished increased from the previous year. In addition, Power said there has been a notable shift toward nonresidents purchasing annual instead of short-term licenses.
Nonresident license sales in the rapidly growing counties of Stark, Williams and Ward nearly doubled the past two years.
While Lake Sakakawea, Devils Lake and the Missouri River/Lake Oahe are the three major fisheries in North Dakota, numerous small lakes and rivers play a large role for anglers as well. “More than 300 small lakes, reservoirs and rivers account for nearly 50 percent of all fishing effort and are very important locally,” Power said.
The state has a strong tradition and heritage of fishing, and statistics reveal this will continue. “We have decent water levels across most of the state and fantastic fish populations,” Power added. “Unless North Dakota experiences a severe and prolonged drought, fishing should remain good to very good at least for the next few years.”