Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

National Campaign Focuses on Boating Under Influence

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will again participate in Operation Dry Water as part of a nationally coordinated effort to increase knowledge about the dangers of boating under the influence. The goal is to reduce the number of accidents and deaths associated with alcohol and drug use on our waterways.


Operation Dry Water weekend, June 29-July 1, is the national weekend of heightened enforcement effort directed at boating under the influence laws and recreational boater outreach.


While informing and educating boaters about the hazards and negative outcomes associated with boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a year-round effort, on ODW weekend the Game and Fish Department’s game wardens will be focused on the water informing boaters about safe boating practices, and removing impaired operators from the water.


Last year during ODW weekend in North Dakota, wardens checked 3,905 boaters and 1,428 vessels, and issued 222 citations. Of that, 175 were boating citations.


“Last year was our second year for participating in Operation Dry Water,” said Jackie Lundstrom, the Game and Fish Department’s enforcement operations supervisor. “A lot of boaters our officers checked had heard about the program and were glad we were out.”


Tips to staying safe on the water:

  • Boat sober – alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Alcohol and drugs use impairs a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.
  • Wear your life jacket – 85 percent of drowning victims nationwide were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Take a boating safety education course - 71 percent of deaths nationwide occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.

Spring Duck Numbers Tallied

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s 71st annual spring breeding duck survey conducted in May showed an index of 2.8 million birds, down 5 percent from last year.


Migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said even though the index is below 3 million for the second consecutive year, it still stands 16 percent above the long-term average (1948-2017) and is the 25th highest on record.


“Duck numbers are still hanging on, but are certainly better in some local areas,” Szymanski said.


Survey results indicate only shovelers (up 10 percent) and wigeon (up 7 percent) increased from their 2017 estimates. Mallards were stable (down 1 percent), while green-winged teal showed the largest decrease (down 20 percent). All other ducks were 3-17 percent below last year’s numbers. However, most species, with the exception of pintails, blue-winged teal and ruddy ducks, were well-above the 70-year average.


An interesting observation during the survey, Szymanski noted, was the lack of breeding effort for Canada geese. “We can attribute that to the late spring and overall dry conditions,” he said.


The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was down from last year, as figures show the spring water index is down 34 percent.


“That was mostly felt in the shallow waters,” Szymanski said. “Similar to last year, there were a lot of wetlands that weren’t in good shape and were close to drying up.”


However, Szymanski said rainfall over the last couple weeks has improved wetland conditions since the survey. “If rain continues over the next month, wetland conditions in some regions will be conducive to raising broods,” he said.


Szymanski said concerns about habitat remain, as overall conditions weren’t very good with expiring Conservation Reserve Program acres, and habitat conversion to other uses.


The water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented.


The July brood survey provides a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall, Szymanski said, though hunting success is also influenced by bird movements before and during hunting seasons, and weather patterns during the fall migration.

Traveling Boaters Take Note of ANS Regulations

Traveling Boaters Take Note of ANS Regulations

North Dakota boaters who are traveling to or through other states or Canadian provinces, are reminded to check the aquatic nuisance species regulations of their destination, to make sure they are in compliance.


Mandatory boat inspections may be required along highways or at lakes based on destination or route taken. In general, to ensure compliance boaters are encouraged to clean, drain and dry equipment.

  • Clean: remove plants, animals and excessive mud from trailers, hulls, motors and other equipment such as fishing rods.
  • Drain: drain all water, including bilges, livewells and bait buckets.
  • Dry: allow all equipment to dry completely, as an inspection might be failed in a neighboring state if any standing water is present. If necessary, use sponges or towels to remove excess water and leave compartments dry.

More information on bordering state and provincial ANS regulations is available at the following web addresses.

A summary of North Dakota ANS regulations include:

  • All aquatic vegetation must be removed from all equipment before leaving a body of water. In addition, it is illegal to import any aquatic vegetation into the state.
  • All water must be drained from boats and other watercraft, including bilges, livewells, baitwells and motors before leaving a water body.
  • All drain plugs that may hold back water must be removed, and water draining devices must be open, on all equipment during any out-of-water transport. This includes livewells.
  • Transportation of fish in or on ice is allowed.
  • All legal live aquatic bait, including legal baitfish and leeches, must be purchased and/or trapped in North Dakota and may not be imported. Anglers should also check bait regulations in other states, as many have rules similar to North Dakota’s.
  • In North Dakota waters not infested with Class I ANS species, anglers can transport live bait in water in containers of five gallons or less in volume.
  • Live bait may not be transported in water away from the Red River (Class I ANS infested waters). Drain water from bait buckets before leaving the water, and properly dispose of unused bait away from the river, as dumping bait in the water or on shore is illegal.


2017 Upland Game Seasons Summarized

Drought conditions, and not as many hunters in the field last fall meant fewer pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in the bag, according to statistics compiled by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.


Last year, more than 58,300 pheasant hunters (down 24 percent) harvested 309,400 roosters (down 38 percent), compared to 76,600 hunters and 501,100 roosters in 2016.


Counties with the highest percentage of pheasants taken by resident hunters in 2017 were McLean, 6.7; Burleigh, 6.6; Williams, 5.9; Sargent, 5.6; and Divide, 5.5.


Top counties for nonresident hunters were Hettinger, 18.2 percent; Bowman, 10.2; Divide, 7.1; Emmons, 5.6; and Dickey, 5.5.


In 2017, 13,600 grouse hunters (down 28 percent) harvested 46,900 sharp-tailed grouse (down 28 percent). In 2016, nearly 18,900 hunters took 65,500 sharptails.


Counties with the highest percentage of sharptails taken by resident hunters in 2017 were Slope, 8.6; Walsh, 6.6; Mountrail, 6.4; Kidder, 6.3; and Benson, 4.8.


Top counties for nonresident hunters were Bowman, 11.3; Hettinger, 7.4; Divide, 7; Mountrail, 6.8; and Ward, 6.4.


Last year, nearly 13,800 hunters (down 18 percent) harvested 32,800 Hungarian partridge (down 40 percent). In 2016, 16,900 hunters harvested 54,200 Huns.


Counties with the highest percentage of Huns taken by resident hunters in 2017 were Mountrail, 10.8; Ward, 8.3; Stark, 5.8; Williams, 5.4; and Adams, 4.4.


Top counties for nonresident hunters were Divide, 15; McLean, 12.3; Golden Valley, 7.3; Stutsman, 7.3; and Grant, 6.3.

Deer Application Deadline is June 6

Deer hunters are reminded the deadline for submitting applications for the 2018 gun season is Wednesday, June 6.


Applicants for regular deer gun, youth and muzzleloader can apply online through the Game and Fish Department’s website at gf.nd.gov, or call 800-406-6409. A service fee is charged for applications made through the 800 number.


Gratis applicants must apply online – the toll-free licensing telephone number is not set up to receive gratis applications. In addition, paper applications are no longer available for any lottery or gratis licenses.


Applicants who do not have access to a computer can submit the application at a public service location such as a public library, stop at a Game and Fish office, or request help from a friend, relative or neighbor.


Gratis applications received on or before the regular deer gun lottery application deadline will qualify for an any-legal-deer license. As per state law, gratis applications received after the deadline will be processed based on licenses remaining after the lottery – generally only antlerless licenses remain.

Watchable Wildlife Photo Contest

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual Watchable Wildlife Photo Contest is now open, and the deadline for submissions is Oct. 1.

The contest has categories for nongame and game species, as well as plants/insects. An overall winning photograph will be chosen, with the number of place winners in each category determined by the number of qualified entries.

Contest entries are limited to digital files submitted via email only. Contestants are limited to no more than five entries. Photos must have been taken in North Dakota.

By submitting an entry, photographers grant permission to Game and Fish to publish winning photographs in North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine, and on the Department’s website, gf.nd.gov.

Photographers can send emailed digital photos to photocontest@nd.gov, with individual photo file sizes limited to 5 MB or less. Game and Fish may contact photographers for original full resolution images if needed for publication.

All entries must be accompanied by the photographer’s name, address, phone number and email address. Other information such as photo site location and month taken are also useful.

For more information contact contest coordinator Pat Isaakson at 701-328-6300, or email Pat at ndgf@nd.gov.

Anglers May Not Bring Aquatic Bait into North Dakota

Anglers are reminded that it is illegal to import all forms of live aquatic bait into North Dakota. This includes minnows, suckers, leeches, waterdogs (salamanders) and frogs.


Anglers should buy bait from a licensed North Dakota retail bait vendor. Bait vendors can properly identify species and have taken steps to ensure all bait is clean of any aquatic nuisance species.


For more information, refer to the 2018-20 North Dakota Fishing Guide, available at license vendors or online at the state Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov.

Be Courteous at Boat Ramps

North Dakota boaters are reminded to exercise patience and plan accordingly when heading to a lake or river this summer.


The state Game and Fish Department receives a number of complaints every year about overly aggressive behavior at boat ramps. A few simple reminders will help ensure a fluent transition when launching and loading a boat.



  • Don’t pull onto the ramp until your boat is ready to launch.
  • Prepare for launching in the parking area. Remove covers, load equipment, remove tie downs, attach lines and put in drain plug, before backing onto the ramp.
  • When ready, pull into line to launch. Wait your turn. Be courteous.
  • It takes at least two people to efficiently and courteously launch a boat: one to handle the boat and one to take care of the tow vehicle.



  • Don’t block the loading area with your boat until your tow vehicle is ready to load. Wait until you are clear of the launch area to unload gear.
  • As soon as your trailer is in the water, load and secure your boat to the trailer.
  • Remove boat and trailer from the water as quickly as possible.
  • Get clear of the ramp. Pull into the parking area to finish securing your boat, unloading gear, draining all water and inspecting for and removing any vegetation. Remember to leave plugs out when transporting boat.

Fishing for Free June 2-3

North Dakotans who want to give fishing a try are reminded they can fish for free June 2-3.


That is the state’s Free Fishing Weekend, when all residents age 16 and over can fish any North Dakota water without a license. Residents age 15 and under do not need a fishing license at any time of year.


“Most North Dakotans fish with family or friends, so it’s a great time for anglers to take someone new who otherwise might not have the chance,” said Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “And you don’t have to travel far, as our state continues to offer real quality fishing opportunities in all corners of the state.”


Fishing regulations and information on fishing waters is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, and in the current regulations guide available at license vendor locations.