North Dakota Fly Fishing 3 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in North Dakota

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

January 24, 2016

A land of valleys, rolling hills, and impressive buttes, the Peace Garden State indeed offers a peaceful environment full of beautiful, green landscape and expansive plains.

While you may not immediately think of fishing as one of the state’s main attractions, between the nearly a million acres of lakes and reservoirs and 5100 miles of rivers and streams there is plenty of water sport available to those who seek out aquatic adventure.

Grab your rod and head to the one of the many attractive fishing destinations throughout North Dakota.

North Dakota Fishing Map

map of places to fish in North Dakota

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish in North Dakota

The North Dakota Fish and Game Department puts a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources into stocking hundreds of thousands of fish each year into the lakes, rivers, and streams across the state. Choosing a fishing hole from among the multitude of beautiful waters in this state can be overwhelming, but here are a few great places to start.

Missouri River

The Missouri meanders through nearly 400 miles of North Dakota landscape. Along its leisurely trip there is plenty of great fishing to be done, along with the beautiful scenery to take in.

Cross Ranch State Park

This seven miles of natural beauty lies in the center of the state, along part of the last vestiges of free-flowing river. The surrounding land has been left in its primitive state, and the waters hold a variety of fish to enhance the angling experience. Pike, walleye, bass, and trout await, and there is a boat ramp if you wish to fly fish via floating.

The Garrison Tailrace

A bit further to the southwest you’ll find the Garrison Dam, which feed a tailrace famous for its trophy trout. For twenty miles below the dam you’ll find not only great trout fishing, but there are also walleye and salmon.

Turtle River

This tributary of the Red River of the North in northeastern ND is nearly 75 miles long and is accessible via Turtle River State Park about 22 miles west of Grand Forks. The park is located in a scenic valley, and the river here is home to stocked trout and pike.

Apple Creek

Located just a few miles from Lincoln, this little stream offers northern pike, catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, carp, and more.

Warmwater Fly Fishing Opportunities

While ND is not rife with the traditional trout streams favored by fly fishermen, there’s no reason not to hit up waters that hold other species. Virtually anywhere that a regular spinning reel fisherman goes, a fly fisherman can go as well. The state is known for its abundant walleye and northern pike, so try broadening your horizons and casting to a bit different kind of prey.

Lake Sakakawea – this reservoir of the Garrison dam is renowned for its pike, walleye, and Chinook salmon. It also contains smallmouth bass and paddlefish. The lake starts at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and has an astounding 1600 miles of shoreline. There’s plenty of good fishing opportunity for both shore anglers and floaters on this massive waterway.

Red River of the North – this river is unique in that it serves as the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota. It also serves as the home of more than 70 fish species, including huge channel catfish, walleye, and northern pike. There are access points at Pembina city campground, in Grand Forks, Belmont Park near Buxton, and at several locations throughout Fargo.

Best Time to Fish in North Dakota

North Dakota hosts year-round fishing. Devils Lake is a great place to be in May, when the walleye and pike are biting. The Garrison tailrace is also good in late spring, although the waters can muddy up at this time of year. That can work to your advantage as a fly fisherman, however, because murky waters can help to disguise your line and shadows.

Essential Fishing Gear

Start with the basics – waders, wading boots, brimmed hat, rain jacket, vest or pack, polarized sunglasses, nippers and forceps, sunscreen, insect repellant, and water and snacks.

If you’re trying your hand at walleye, you’ll want a 5-7 weight 8.5-9.5-foot rod with a 4X tippet. Use density compensated fly line and streamers, minnows, or even a smelt imitator.

For trout, the typical 4-6 weight rod with a 9-foot leader should do well. 

Best Flies for Fly Fishing in North Dakota

Keep a variety of flies on-hand, as there can be mayfly and midge hatches among others. Consult local fishing shops about native species so you can get as close a match as possible on your dry flies.

North Dakota Fishing Regulations

You will need to purchase a North Dakota fishing license in order to hit the waters there. For residents 16 and up a license costs $16, and those 65 and older $5.

People with disabilities may obtain a fishing license for $5 as well. All fishermen, including those below age 16, must acquire a paddlefish tag if snagging paddlefish. This is available for $10. Non-resident licenses are available for $45, and paddlefish tags for $25.50.

Planning Your North Dakota Fly Fishing Trip

Even though North Dakota isn’t a wellspring of classic trout fly fishing, the state does play host to a wide variety of fish species and offers anglers many different opportunities to catch some unusual fish on the fly. Don’t be afraid to try out something a little outside the ordinary by casting a line in one of the many waterways in this beautiful state.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.