The 12 Largest Fish Ever Caught in North Dakota

West of the Mississippi River, North Dakota offers some of the most thrilling fishing options with over 400 lakes and rivers to outfit your rod and reel on. There’s always a challenge waiting for local fisherman in the water with northern pike, catfish, and other game fish species. Ice fishing is one of the most popular winter hobbies to try if the weather gets cold enough. If you have fishing gear and are over 16, you can break the record for the largest fish ever caught in North Dakota, but you must have a license.

There are many of opportunities for leisure fishing, which makes it ideal for breaking records. Despite the fact that numerous endemic species inhabit the waters of North Dakota, many of the river systems are heavily stocked with invasive species. Take a time to obtain all necessary documents if you believe you have caught a fish of note in order to be taken into consideration.

North Dakota’s Requirements to Establish a Record-Breaking Fish

In North Dakota, there are several limitations and prerequisites for fishing. Even though they frequently capture fish that break records, each fish must fulfill all requirements in order to break the record. Each fish entered into the record must have been obtained by legitimate fishing techniques, and the catch must be measured on a commercial basis. The North Dakota Public Service Commission must certify the scale, and for accuracy, all catches are rounded to the closest ounce.

After the fish has been weighed, they must fill out a Whopper card application with all of the fish’s information. They require another witness to the measurement and their signature to be added to the documentation in addition to the angler’s signature. A picture of the fish must be included in each of these applications.

Taking into account this data, North Dakota Game and Fish keeps track of every record-breaking fish ever captured in the state. They must receive any submissions for new records. Let’s examine North Dakota’s prize fish over the past few decades.

Biggest Fish Caught in North Dakota – Paddlefish – 131 lbs

The paddlefish, at 131 pounds, was the largest fish ever caught by a resident of North Dakota. Grant Werkmeister caught the 71-inch-long fish in the Upper Missouri River. In a West Central Tribune news piece from May 2016, Werkmeister likened the action of bringing in a paddlefish to “hooking a log that wants you to go with it.”

Paddlefish and lake sturgeons belong to the same family. Among the first fish species, ray-finned fish can be found in fossils dating back 300 million years. The largest known to exist in China measured 23 feet in length and many thousand pounds in weight. Nonetheless, less than half of the state record is typically seen in the United States, where their typical size is about 60 pounds and 5 feet in length.

Bigmouth Buffalo – 60.5 lbs

Mitch Estabrook’s bigmouth buffalo catch on May 16, 2022, set the next record fish in North Dakota history. The weight of this specific capture was 60.5 pounds. Although the length of the bigmouth buffalo was not noted by officials, Estabrook captured it in the Heart Butte Reservoir. He utilized a bow and arrow instead of a fishing line for his target. Estabrook had originally intended to report to work that day, but he chose to take some paid leave in order to explore what the ocean had in store for him. He beat the previous bigmouth buffalo high record, which was held by Keith Huschka in 2011 when he caught a 54-pound, 42-inch paddlefish along Heart River.

Although they rarely weigh more than 70 pounds, bigmouth buffalo typically reach weights of around 50 pounds. Their preference for freshwater lakes and ponds explains why the Minnesota, Mississippi, and Missouri river systems are home to a large number of them. Bigmouth buffalo like warm, murky water, whereas other fish need greater clarity to swim in.

Pure Muskellunge – 46.5 lbs

With his 46.5-pound muskellunge, Cory Bosch owns the third-highest record for a fish captured in North Dakota. Bosch informed a local news outlet that it took him roughly thirty minutes to reel it in at New Johns Lake, where it was caught on July 3, 2007.

The Muskellunge, sometimes known as “muskies,” are freshwater-only predatory fish that belong to the pike family. Their long bodies and flat heads give them a similar appearance to the northern pike and American pickerel. Given that their typical length is between 28 to 48 inches, Bosch’s 54-inch musky capture is even more remarkable. A few captures worldwide have weighed more over 70 pounds, despite their usual weight of 15–36 pounds.

Channel Catfish – 42.06 lbs

The largest channel catfish ever captured in North Dakota belongs to Tina Willis of West Fargo. At Moon Lake on July 25, 2009, Willis caught the record-breaking 42 pounds, 1 ounce fish by using a frog as bait. They were out to capture a couple big catfish, but when they brought it in, they got more than they had anticipated. When questioned about the encounter, Willis remarked that she felt as though she had “hooked into a log” and that she thought it would break the previous record.

The whole hook is swallowed by the catfish when they accept the bait. They are typically found in rivers, lakes, and ponds, making them easy to catch. At their heaviest, they can weigh between forty and fifty pounds. Though the world record was set by a fish caught in South Carolina that weighed 58 pounds, anything over 20 pounds is really spectacular.

Tiger Muskellunge – 40 lbs

Marvin Lee went fishing at Gravel Lake by himself in order to break the record in North Dakota. In 1975, he managed to catch a forty-pound tiger muskellunge, which was 45 inches long. Although some fishermen have reported catching larger tiger musky catches, none of these catches meet the requirements to surpass it.

By crossing northern pike and real muskellunge genetically, tiger muskies—which are carnivores—create a hybrid species. It grows 1.5 times faster than its parent species and requires fresh water to live. Around 10 pounds is the weight of some of the best catches, which makes Lee’s catch even more remarkable nationwide.

Northern Pike – 37.5 lbs

Lake Sakakawea, which is home to one of North Dakota’s largest marinas today, produced the largest northern pike. This 4-foot-long, 37.5-pound northern pike was captured in 1968 by Melvin Slind. They have been known to weigh over 60 pounds and reach lengths of up to 5 feet at their biggest proportions. 46 pounds was the largest northern pike ever recorded in the United States, and it was captured in New York.

No matter which rivers they inhabit, northern pike are known for their tremendous growth. As juveniles, they begin feeding on any fish smaller than themselves once they reach a length of 3 inches. They don’t have a particular diet; when accessible, they will occasionally consume crayfish, insects, and leeches.

Brown Trout – 31.68 lbs

Tommy Johansen threw his line into the Missouri River to set the record for brown trout. Johansen pulled in a three-foot-long, 31-pound, 11-ounce trout on February 1, 2005. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department regularly stocks brown trout in the Missouri River System so they can flourish in the warmer weather.

Brown trout have a long body and a narrow head. They might have a body that is silvery or reddish-brown, depending on the type of water they are in. In large rivers, a typical brown trout weighs approximately 44 pounds. They might only reach a weight of one to three pounds in small rivers. They prefer to hunt and swim at night, consuming food that consists of frogs, other fish, insects, and invertebrates that are near the surface. The majority of fishermen target them as sport fish.

Common Carp – 31.56 lbs

Derek Barrick holds the North Dakota record for the largest common carp, weighing 31 pounds, 9 ounces. On April 21, 2017, Barrick went to the Etta-Alkaline Complex and pulled in the three-foot fish. His catch of common carp exceeds the previous record by an even thirty-one pounds. When Austin Loberg of Thompson caught his common carp on the Sheyenne River in 2003, he broke the record.

Per the IUCN, common carp are in danger of going extinct. Their growth relies on how much they consume and how much space they have to spread out, even though at their peak weight they typically weigh more than 88 pounds. The biggest common carp ever measured was taken in France in 2013 by a British angler and weighed little over 100 pounds.

Chinook Salmon – 31.13 lbs

The next catch, a 31-pound, 2-ounce chinook salmon, was recorded by Thomas Schwartz. in June 10, 1986, a 41-inch-long fish was taken in the Missouri River. The state records for the biggest cutthroat trout (10.13 pounds) and lake trout (14.25 pounds) are both located in the same place.

Chinook salmon are prized by sport fishermen. It is a highly sought-after fish, even when captured for food, because of the amazing omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Chinook fish can reach lengths of nearly five feet and weight over 100 pounds in certain regions. Although there is an abundance of them at Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota, the local environment lacks the necessary nutrients for their reproduction.

Freshwater Drum – 26.13 lbs

Larry Harris went fishing in Lake Sakakawea in 1988 in order to set this record. His trip to this well-known body of water paid off, as he was able to bring in a catch of 26 pounds, 2 ounces. It was captured on a leisure fishing trip and measured 37 inches in length. Being a resident of Montana, he maintains his records as one of the few fisherman outside of North Dakota.

Because freshwater drums have a blunt front to their face and a deep body, some anglers confuse them for carp or buffalo. Though most fisherman use a rod and reel and live bait, they are rather easy to catch. Considering that they typically weigh no more than fifteen pounds, the North Dakota record is rather remarkable.

Rainbow Trout – 21.25 lbs

Wade Weltz of Anamoose caught the 21 pounds, 4 ounce rainbow trout on this list in 1998 while fishing the Missouri River. It measured thirty-two inches when taken by officials. This is an amazing accomplishment because rainbow trout typically weigh between one and five pounds on average.

Aside from their size, these fish are easily recognized by the red stripes that run the length of either side of their bodies, beginning at the gills. Males have much brighter colors along the entire strip, which extends to the termination of the tail. They are a dangerous predator for surrounding fish since they devour nearly anything. For fisherman, they are game fish because they will battle harder than any other trout to escape.

Burbot – 19.5 lbs

The burbot is the last fish in North Dakota to break records. On January 3, 2023, Shane Johnson caught this 19-pound, 8-ounce, 41-inch fish while fishing near the Missouri River. Johnson revealed in a Field & Stream story that he was fishing idly when he felt the tug on the line. He first believed he had caught a paddlefish, but after using his headlamp to examine the fish’s length and shape, he realized it was actually a burbot.

Because they only have one whisker on the bottom of their chin, the name “burbot” is derived from the Latin word for beard. Although this ray-finned fish resembles a cross between a catfish and an eel, its true ancestry is more in line with salmon and cod. They weigh between two and twenty-six pounds and may be twelve to forty-seven inches long.