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Dick Ellis Blog:
3/8/2021
DICK ELLIS Are state population numbers far understated? Wisconsin hunters took just three days to harvest 216 wolves during the February hunt, reinforcing the belief of thousands of Wisconsin sportsmen that the official stated population of 1195 wolves is significantly below the actual count. The harvest of 216 wolves is 8 percent over the harvest quota of 200 wolves unanimously voted for by the Natural Resources Board on February 15. Headi...
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North Dakota Paddlefishing

By Wisconsin Professional Guide, Dave Hraychuck

April 27, 2012, I put aside the urge to fill my Wisconsin spring turkey tag and continued packing my truck to head out to Williston, North Dakota to visit my son and try my hand at filling a N.D. paddlefish tag. The paddlefish season runs from May 1 through May 31st. “Catch and release only” days are Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays in May and “catch and keep” days are the rest of the week. There is a one-fish-limit per year.

When I arrived in Williston, N.D., my son had my license, tag, and equipment all ready for me. The equipment consisted of a 12 foot rod, large capacity spinning reel, 5 ounce sinkers, and 5/0 treble hooks.  The large treble hooks are needed because paddlefish are filtration feeders, eating microscopic zooplankton and are snagged as opposed to being caught.

Paddlefish represent an ancient lineage of fish most closely related to the sturgeon. Paddlefish are found in 22 states of the United States, but the largest numbers of fish are in the Missouri and Mississippi River basins. Fossils of extinct paddlefish species from 60 million years ago have been found in the Missouri River basin.

An annual harvest of 2,000 fish is split equally between North Dakota and Montana.  Once the 1,000 quota per state is met, the remainder of the season is “catch and release only”.

At 7 a.m. on May 2nd, I arrived at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.  The season begins at 8 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. each day. Approximately 50 to 75 camping trailers were set up at the boat landing and 75 to 100 anglers were scattered along the shoreline waiting for the 8 a.m. opening.

At 8 a.m., I threw my first cast with the XL treble and 5 ounce sinker. The 50 to 75 yard casts were easy, but tightening the line and jerking the 12 foot rod repeatedly turned out to be rather labor intensive for this 60 year old angler! I called it a day at 3 p.m. with one fish, a 24” northern that got in the way of the big treble. Almost 200 fish were registered that first day.

At 7 a.m., on May 3rd, I arrived at the confluence for my second day of paddlefishing, and, to my surprise, I saw very few people and little activity.  At 8 a.m., I started “casting and jerking”. My first 10 casts, I had the sinker snag up and had to pull it loose.  This continued for the next 20 minutes, when I hit yet another snag and was just getting ready to pull it out when the “snag” ran off about 50 yards of line! I knew then that I was “hooked up” with my first paddlefish!

North Dakota Paddlefishing Paddlefishing North Dakota
Greg Schoneck’s daughter, Jessica Schoneck Greg Schoneck’s son, Jesse Schoneck

Ten to 15 minutes later, I had the fish in the shallows, grabbed it and brought it ashore. A great battle by a great fish! One could not help but note its striking prehistoric look. I tagged the fish, grabbed my 40 pound backpack, rod, camp stool and fish and made my way to the registration trailer located at the boat landing.

Upon arrival at the Fish and Game Department trailer, the fish was weighed, measured, sexed, and checked for radio transmitters.  My fish was 56 ½” long and weighed 43 pounds. A section of the jaw was removed for aging the fish.  Personnel at the registration trailer estimated that my fish was 20 to 25 years old.

After getting many pictures taken of my first paddlefish, I took it to the next trailer, which was the North Star Caviar Company, where they cleaned, filleted, and packaged my fish at no cost in exchange for the donation of its eggs, which are prized as caviar.  When the caviar is processed and sold, half of the proceeds are given back to the North Dakota Fish and Game Department for conservation projects.

While doing my research of paddlefish on the internet, I found that their bill is the trophy “part” of the fish and found a website called dakotaskulls.com.  I contacted the owner, Greg Schoneck, who said that he would be at the confluence shuttling fishermen and accepting paddlefish bills for mounting.

I met up with Greg at the confluence and made arrangements to get my first paddlefish trophy. Greg told me that he uses flesh-eating beetles to clean the fishes’ bills. This leaves the intricately-shaped, white bones of the bill for a great trophy mount.

The next day, I accompanied Greg down the river to check on the fishermen that he had transported along the river and to take his son, Jesse, to a likely paddlefish spot.  After dropping off Greg’s son, we returned to the landing.

While heading up river, Greg told me that this season is going very well, although the overall size of the paddlefish is down and the river is somewhat lower than last year. He said the record fish is 130 pounds and 74” long! I found out later that an hour after we had taken Greg’s son, Jesse, down river, he got a call that Jesse had landed a 51 pound paddlefish!

Paddlefishing North Dakota North Dakota Paddlefishing
The author and Wisconsin Professional Guide Dave Hraychuck with his North Dakota paddlefish. The largest paddlefish ever caught in ND, by 16 year old Alex Mergen from Rapid City, SD. He snagged a 130 pound paddlefish May 2, 2010.

If you are interested in getting your paddlefish bill mounted or need a shuttle ride at the confluence, contact Greg Schoneck at Dakota Skulls, 701-720-0447.

My first paddlefish season was a great adventure! Landing the prehistoric fish, combined with the carnival-type atmosphere and the North Dakota hospitality, I would highly recommend a paddlefish expedition to this great hunting and fishing state!

Contact Wisconsin Licensed Guide Dave Hraychuck for fabulous hunting and fishing opportunities in Polk County at hraychuck@centurytel.net, 715-485-3362 or (cell) 715-553-0578.  For information  on lodging, dining,  entertainment or more outdoors in Polk County for the entire family, contact Sue Mathews, Director of the Polk County Information Center at www.polkcountytourism.com or call 1-800-222-Polk.