THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: If you plan on ice fishing in North Dakota




by Doug Leier

In some years in mid-January, ice fishing is just getting into full swing.


But that’s certainly not the case this winter. Because of a prolonged cold spell that hit right after the deer opener, some folks have been on the ice since before Thanksgiving.


Courtesy of ND Game and Fish
Courtesy of ND Game and Fish

On the other hand, many hunters have just recently finished up with late-season small game or archery deer hunting, and are now switching targets to ice fishing.


So whether it’s your first time on the ice this winter, or the 50th, here’s a rundown of some of the more prominent regulations that relate to ice fishing. For a complete set of regulations, refer to the 2014-16 North Dakota Fishing Guide on the State Game and Fish Department’s website at


  • A maximum of four poles is legal for ice fishing. However, when fishing a water body where both open water and ice occur at the same time, an angler is allowed a maximum of four poles, of which no more than two poles can be used in open water.
  • Tip-ups are legal, and each tip-up is considered a single pole.
  • There is no restriction on the size of the hole in the ice while fishing. When a hole larger than 10 inches in diameter is left in the ice, the area in the immediate vicinity must be marked with a natural object. See regulations for more information.
  • It is only legal to release fish back into the water immediately after they are caught. Once a fish is held in a bucket or on a stringer, they can no longer be legally released in any water.
  • It is illegal to catch fish and transport them in water.
  • It is illegal to leave fish, including bait, behind on the ice.
  • Depositing or leaving any litter or other waste material on the ice or shore is illegal.
  • Any dressed fish to be transported, if frozen, must be packaged individually. Anglers are not allowed to freeze fillets together in one large block. Two fillets count as one fish.
  • The daily limit is a limit of fish taken from midnight to midnight.  No person may possess more than one day’s limit of fish while on the ice or actively engaged in fishing. If a situation occurs when an angler engages in fishing overnight, the first daily limit must be removed from the ice by midnight prior to continuing to fish.
  • The possession limit is the maximum number of fish that an angler may have in his or her possession during a fishing trip of more than one day.


And while fishing does not technically open or close, the darkhouse spearing season opened December 1 and will close March 15. It’s open to all residents with a valid fishing license and for residents under age 16. Nonresidents may darkhouse spearfish in North Dakota if they are from states that offer the same privilege for North Dakota residents.


While no specific license is need to spear, all individuals who participate in darkhouse spearfishing must registerwith the Game and Fish Department prior to participating. Registration is available at the department’s website,, or through any Game and Fish Department office.


Currently, all North Dakota waters open to hook-and-line fishing are open to darkhouse spearfishing, except:

Braun Lake – Logan County

East Park Lake, West Park Lake, Lake Audubon – McLean County

Heckers Lake – Sheridan County

McClusky Canal

New Johns Lake – Burleigh County

Red Willow Lake – Griggs County

Sweet Briar Dam – Morton County


Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department

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