Snagging Paddlefish With The Fishing Women Of North Dakota

If you’ve ever wanted to catch a huge, vaguely pre-historic looking fish, get yourself to western North Dakota immediately. It’s paddlefish season, people!

And when I say immediately, I mean right this very second, since the season for these babies runs from May 1 to May 31 or until 1,000 fish have been caught in the state — whichever comes first.

Snagging paddlefish, by Sabrina Ramey

I’m not super into fishing (although I’ve put a line in the lake plenty of times, like any good Minnesota kid), but I sat up and took notice when a bunch of paddlefish photos (both current and throwbacks) started popping up in my Instagram feed this week. Nearly all of them were posted by or featured women who looked they were having a fabulous time, like this one by Visit Williston’s Sabrina Ramey, who went out fishing for a few days at the very start of the 2017 season.

“My family and friends have been going paddlefish snagging for about seven years,” says Kayli Fadness, a North Dakota oilfield mama and outdoor and fishing enthusiast who shares photos like the ones shown here on Instagram as huntingmama_kaykay. “We all travel up near Williston, at the confluence of the Missouri River and the Yellowstone River, where the paddlefish migrate to spawn.”

Here’s Kayli in her element (Photo provided by Kayli Fadness)

This plethora of super tough women fishing interested me for a couple reasons. 1.) I’ve been trying to write about paddlefish for a few years now, but I’m a woman infinitely more qualified to write about beer, art, shopping and hiking (almost anything, really), than fishing and I don’t want to look like a complete poser. 2.) Traditionally, women in North Dakota have been just as outdoorsy, active and independent as their male counterparts, we just don’t always see photos of them in action. And 3.) Landing a paddlefish can’t possibly be easy.

For starters, these things are huge. The females are usually bigger than the males and their vaguely shark-like bodies (they’re actually similar to sturgeon) and long snouts can be four or five feet long and often weigh between 40 and 60 pounds. (The largest on record was 198 pounds, which is kind of nuts.) Some of the fish live to be 60+ years old.

Photo provided by Kayli Fadness

“Paddlefish snagging is a lot of hard work but if you happen to snag one of these monsters it makes it worth it,” says Kayli.

Case in point? This photo is of Kayli with what she calls a small paddlefish — a 25 pound male. A more typical paddlefish would be the 42-pound one that Kayli and her friend Johnny are showing off below. Kayli’s friend Andrea (shown at the bottom of this post, topped that. She caught a 78 pounder. Yikes.

Paddlefish are native to North America, but they’re only found in certain river systems in 22 states, so be prepared for plenty of competition if you’re looking for a big catch. These fish attract attention from all over the world.

I’ve caught a couple big fish in my life, but holy…Kayli, Sabrina, Andrea and their crews are making me look like an absolute wimp! This would probably be a bad time to mention that I once caught an absurd number of sunfish off a dock using a spilled bag of Cheetos as bait, huh?! 😉

Kayli and Johnny with a 42-pound paddlefish (Photo provided by Kayli Fadness)

If you want to try to snag your own paddlefish like the super tough ladies in this post, you’ll need to obtain your paddlefishing tag (one tag per angler) at one of these Bismarck, Williston and Dickinson locations.

It’s legal to fish for paddlefish in the Yellowstone River and in the Missouri River west of the U.S. Highway 85 bridge to the Montana border, except for where the pipeline crosses into the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Management Area between river mile 1,577 and river mile 1,565. Fishing is allowed from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, while the season lasts.

The North Dakota Game and Fish folks will post the end of the season on their website, so check the link listed above before you head out. (The fishing window after the season closes is very short — like, hours.) They also offer fish cleaning at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Just a heads up, some days are strictly catch and release and some are harvest days, so check the website for all the details.

And if you need tips, be sure to follow huntingmama_kaykay and VisitWilliston on Instagram for tips, fishing spots and more photos from western North Dakota. Good luck!

Andrea with her catch, a 78 pound paddlefish. My brain seriously cannot comprehend that this came out of a river!
Photo provided by Kayli Fadness

What about you?
What do you think about these crazy paddlefish?
Would you try (or have you tried!) to snag a paddlefish?
Where do you fish in North Dakota?
Where do you go fishing in your neck of the woods?
What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?

Photo by Sabrina Ramey

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