BISMARCK, North Dakota — The number of anglers who want a crack at the abundant fish in North Dakota's plentiful waters continues to set records, despite a hike in the price of a license.
License sales for 2014-15 set a record for a third straight year, according to the state Game and Fish Department. More than 222,000 licenses were sold for the season from April 1, 2014, to March 31 of this year, an increase of 3,000 from the previous year.
Resident license sales were down slightly from last year's record, while the number of licenses issued to out-of-state anglers grew by 5,000 to a high of nearly 65,000.
Game and Fish attributes the record sales to an aggressive fish stocking program and to a record number of fishable lakes in North Dakota. There are about 425 fishable lakes in the state, 2 ½ times the number 25 years ago.
"We now have 59 new lakes over 200 acres that support walleye — 63,000 acres of water that didn't exist 10 years ago," Fisheries Chief Greg Power said Tuesday.
Out-of-state anglers are attracted by the good fishing opportunities and North Dakota's cheap licenses. The Legislature in 2013 approved fee increases that took effect in 2014 — a resident license went from $10 to $16, and a nonresident license went from $35 to $4 — but they are still less expensive than elsewhere. A resident fishing license in South Dakota costs $28.
"We still are by far the cheapest fishing license you will find among neighboring states, and among the lowest in the nation," Power said.
Game and Fish has stocked about 20 million walleye in North Dakota lakes in the past two years. An improvement in habitat and forage since the 2011 Missouri River flood also boosted the condition of walleye in the river and its Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe reservoirs, and benefited salmon in Lake Oahe, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. A 24 pound, 8 ounce chinook salmon caught earlier this month on Oahe in South Dakota set a state record.
Not everyone who buys a fishing license actually uses it, but there were more than 201,000 active anglers last year, down slightly from the record of about 203,000 set a couple of years ago. The number is determined through a questionnaire sent to anglers. About 75 percent of those who fished last season did so on open water, with ice fishing accounting for the other 25 percent.
Lake Sakakawea, Devils Lake and the Lake Oahe-Missouri River system remain the top three fishing destinations in the state, hosting about half of the annual angling action.