GRAND FORKS -- Certifying a state record fish of any species in North Dakota is a slower process than it once was, largely because of an April 2019 incident in which a 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye from the Heart River in Mandan was disqualified after investigation concluded the fish had been foul-hooked.
The Heart River is a tributary of the Missouri River.
“Initially, we did call it a state record, and then the public started coming to our law enforcement saying they saw otherwise, so then it became an issue,” said Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.
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Fish must be hooked in the mouth to be legally caught and qualify for state record status; anglers must immediately release foul-hooked fish.
Game and Fish now has a four-week waiting period before certifying a record catch, Power said. That gives department staff time to follow up on any questions or concerns they might receive from the public.
Jared Shypkoski of Dickinson, N.D., landed a 16-pound, 6-ounce walleye Saturday, March 13, on Lake Oahe that now is officially recognized as the state record for the species, topping the 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye Neal Leier of Bismarck caught in May 2018 on the Missouri River.
“We settled on four weeks of follow-up,” Power said. Considering a 15-pound, 12-ounce walleye from Wood Lake in Benson County stood as the record for nearly 60 years, “there’s no real rush,” Power said.
“You can wait a couple more weeks to make sure everything’s clean, and we don’t have any future controversy,” he said.
Eventually, Power said the department would like to age Shypkoski’s walleye, a process that would involve removing the otolith, a bone in the fish’s head, and counting the rings in a cross-section, similar to the process for aging a tree.
That could be arranged through whatever taxidermist Shypkoski uses to have the fish mounted.
“A lot of people have that question as a follow-up, ‘How old is that state record fish?’” Power said. “We never did get that information – at least not yet.”
Certifying a state record fish can take even longer if genetic testing is involved, Power said. Such was the case in February 2018, when Ryan Getz of Bismarck landed a 41-pound, 5-ounce muskie measuring 51 inches from New Johns Lake.
The big fish would have been a state record if it had been a tiger muskie, a hybrid cross between a muskie and a northern pike. Instead, genetic testing results that weren’t available until nearly three months later revealed the fish was a pure-strain muskie. New Johns Lake has both tiger and pure-strain muskies and produced the state record pure-strain muskie in July 2007. That fish, caught by a Mandan angler, weighed 46 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 54 inches.
A similar wait occurred in 2012, when the process of certifying North Dakota’s state record white bass took several weeks, Power said. Charlie Vang of Brooklyn Park, Minn., landed the 4-pound, 10-ounce white bass in June 2012 on Devils Lake but didn’t realize until he got home that he might have a state record.
“There was nothing illegal about the fish – it’s the current state record (white bass),” Power said. “That became a real process for us to sort out, to get it back to Fargo for a game warden or someone (from the department) to see the fish. It took weeks before we could verify that one.”
Border country brutes
Speaking of big fish, anglers have landed some absolutely humongous lake sturgeon again this spring on the Rainy River and adjacent Four-Mile Bay of Lake of the Woods.
I’ve seen a handful of photos making the rounds on social media of sturgeon measuring up to 73 inches. Depending on its girth, a sturgeon that size easily could weigh 100 pounds or more.
Minnesota’s state record lake sturgeon weighed 94 pounds, 4 ounces and measured 70 inches, records from the Department of Natural Resources show. The fish was caught Sept. 5, 1994, on the Kettle River in Pine County.
The DNR a few years ago established a catch-and-release category for flathead catfish, muskies, lake sturgeon and northern pike. Darren Troseth of Jordan, Minn., holds the catch-and-release record for lake sturgeon with a 78-inch fish he caught through the ice Feb. 9, 2019, on the St. Croix River in Washington County.
Anyone fortunate enough to hook into a sturgeon should be prepared for a battle.
Sturgeon fishing on Lake of the Woods, Rainy River and other Minnesota-Canada border waters is catch-and-release only through Friday, April 23. A limited harvest season opens Saturday, April 24, and continues through Friday, May 7; a sturgeon tag is required to harvest a sturgeon, and fish must be between 45 and 50 inches (inclusive) or more than 75 inches long to keep.
Fishing returns to catch and release only beginning Saturday, May 8, and continuing through Saturday, May 15, before closing until Thursday, July 1.
For more information on Minnesota sturgeon regulations, check out the 2021 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet, available at DNR licensing outlets or online at mndnr.gov.