When the winter freeze makes way for spring in North Dakota it is prime time for anglers to go after a variety of species including walleye, northern pike, trout, crappie, and bass. The diverse landscape in the state makes for some of the best spring fishing in North Dakota’s rivers and lakes. The topography of the state features lowland agriculture in the east, rolling hills in central and western North Dakota and evolves into a rugged landscape of Badlands.
Fish are spawning in the spring, usually in shallow water so fishing is generally great. While some of the best fishing spots for spring are well known, there are many smaller lakes and waterways that are hidden gems for anglers. If you aren’t sure where to go you can always plan your North Dakota fishing trip with an experienced local guide.
Start by purchasing a valid North Dakota fishing license and let’s get ready for spring!
The Missouri River has some of the earliest spring fishing opportunities as the flowing water breaks up the ice while other lakes remain ice covered. The Missouri River in spring is some of the best North Dakota walleye fishing you can find. Fishing by boat gives you lots of opportunities to work a jig and minnow combination or jig and plastic bait, either vertically or along the edge of sandbars. If you are new to fishing in the river, there are plenty of North Dakota fishing charters to help guide you. Bank fishing is great too if you want to cast jigs or crankbaits which are effective especially at sundown.
Lake Sakakawea fishing is some of the best in North Dakota as it is the state’s largest reservoir. It is a popular destination in the spring for North Dakota northern pike fishing, but anglers can also target walleye. Northern pike are active in the cold water, and it is not uncommon for anglers to catch trophy size fish right after the ice melts in the bays. Due to the size of the reservoir, water temperatures are slower to warm in the spring giving anglers a nice window to target larger fish which are fun to catch especially if you are doing some North Dakota fly fishing. Preferred spring baits are dead smelt or herring, either suspended under a bobber or fished on the bottom. You can also target large pre-spawn walleye as they move into the bays. Other species like smallmouth bass are found in the shallows in the spring and channel catfish that you can fish for from the shoreline.
Lake Oahe that extends up from the South Dakota border is generally more popular in the summer months for walleye, but spring fishing offers anglers opportunities to catch impressive northern pike and crappies. In recent years spring fishing on Lake Oahe has been more difficult due to drought conditions in the upper Missouri River Basin lowering the water levels and putting some boat ramps out of service. Anglers can still fish from the shoreline for a variety of species including channel catfish and smallmouth bass.
Devils Lake is North Dakota’s largest natural lake with healthy populations of walleye, northern pike, white bass, and yellow perch. There are lots of shoreline fishing opportunities at Devils Lake. Springtime access is heavily dependent on inflows, as runoff from snowmelt in the upper basin draws fish to the open water areas while the main basin of Devils Lake is still ice covered. Pike can be caught in shallow, open water shortly after the ice melts. Walleye become more active as the water warms and white bass are most active in the late spring months heading into summer.
Separated from Lake Sakakawea by the US Highway 83 causeway, Lake Audubon is a great spring lake to fish for northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass and even musky. You can fish by boat in Lake Audubon or from anywhere along its more than 100-miles of shoreline.
If you are not ready for big water like Lake Audubon, you can cast a line in some of the many smaller lakes in North Dakota where stocking programs have created hundreds of new fishing waters throughout the state in the last two decades. Kettle Lake in Williams County is nice for North Dakota trout fishing. Some other options include a concentration of lakes in McIntosh and Logan Counties, near the towns of Wishek and Lehr and some of the small ponds located in Stutsman and Barnes Counties around Jamestown and Valley City.