The Pumphouse - GPS: 48 04 19 N - 103 43 05 W
The Pumphouse has always been one of the most popular spots for us local paddlefishermen as it is totally on public land managed by the North Dakota Game & Fish. The Missouri River makes an aggressive turn to the north at this point and has a deep hole that holds all sorts of fish including walleye, sauger, catfish and of course paddlefish. This is the first easily accessible larger fishing area that the spawning paddlefish have to go through as they move into the river system to spawn. Although lots of the biggest paddlefish will be caught here in late season and it will be one the best early, it does not get quite as much attention from the out of the area folks as the more published Confluence. This area can be easily accessed by taking Highway 85 four miles west of Williston south to the Lewis & Clark bridge, where legal paddlefishing starts then watch for the second right and stay on that until it curves south and watch for the parking lot and then the actual Pumphouse on the right. It is the biggest area that is open to the public as far as the amount of fishable area of shoreline in one stretch. It also has some fishable area on both sides of the river but the road side on the east has a lot more room and stable bank. The road to the Pumphouse follows along the river just a stones throw away making for one of the most enjoyable stretches to watch paddlefishermen test their luck and equipment. It is public you are welcome, but pick up your garbage as this is our little sportsmen's paradise where we get away for lots of recreating and we are proud of this area of public land. If the road is closed in wet weather the back road is almost always open and follows along the cliffs on the south side of the Williston Recreation Area, west and then turn north to get access to the Pumphouse.
West Hole - GPS: 48 05 62 N - 103 44 21 W
While you will occasionally here about West Hole it is very hard to get to if not impossible by anything less that a boat. It is west of the Lewis & Clark bridge about one mile and is real close to where the river makes its turn back to the east after the Pumphouse. Driving across the bridge in the dead of winter you can always see an ice shack or two with chimneys smoking at the West Hole. I am not sure even the game warden wants to try to get to the West Hole that time of the year. It got its name when a deep hole formed where the river hit the rip rap that was put in to save the railroads tracks from a hard turning river. A lot of history with the local fishermen, I I caught an eleven pound eleven ounce walleye from that spot to many years ago to mention. At times it can be as deep as the Pumphouse, well over twenty five feet. Not much room there but paddlefishermen scatter along both sides and around the curve to the south.
Big Timber or the West Jungle - GPS: 48 04 29 N - 103 43 56 W
This area is across the river from the Pumphouse and back downstream to the north toward the curve and West Hole. To get there you have to use a boat or go toward Trenton and then take the gravel east through the Trenton bottoms till you hit the river. It is a very small area heavily wooded with a bank that changes year to year. Most of the time there will be someone there and there is only room for a few fishermen at best.
The Pipeline Crossing - GPS: 48 02 45 N - 103 43 55 W
I know this area from top to bottom as I was doing some commercial diving when the pipeline was put in. If you snag some scuba gear here it belongs to Scott who lost it about thirty years ago when the pipeline was put in. This is also a smaller area with room for maybe five fishermen while snagging. Another spot that got its fame from the walleye fishermen. The structure here, short of that scuba gear is not great but it is one of the more narrow spots after the Missouri and Yellowstone have united to form the "Mighty Mo". To get there you would have to pass the turn to the Pumphouse on the backroad along the cliffs and go straight where the gravel hooks left on a hill. About a quarter mile up hill on the right and a hike down the hill will put you at the Pipeline Crossing. This spot can be overlooked and may be worth checking out when other areas are busy.
Camp Budweiser - GPS: 48 01 39 N - 103 47 19 W
I believe this was named after one of our customers who drank a little more than he fished. Almost impossible to tell anyone how to get there short of following the beer cans but like break crumbs they don't tend to disappear. The backroad to the Pumphouse don't turn north and going west as far as you can go without turning south you may accidentally end up at Camp Budweiser. Just up stream from Tibbit"s a popular archery hunting spot and across the river from Bauste's this is getting to the farthest west edge of the Williston Bottoms and close to the closed area where paddlefishing is not allowed.
Ryder's Point - GPS: 47 57 28 N - 103 55 12 W
Now we have jumped over the closed area and are east of the Confluence a few miles. Another pipeline is to the east of here within sight and that is where the west boundary of the closed area is. To get to Ryder's Point you have to cross private land so access is limited to this area. Across from Ryder's is also an area we called "The Cabbage Patch", named because of the vegetation that would be on your snagging hook while fishing this area. Another spot accessible by water but this is close to the closed area so be careful not to end up into the closed area to the east, and be familiar with the maps.
The Confluence - GPS: 47 59 09 N - 103 58 55 W
Everyone knows where the Confluence is, Lewis & Clark discovered it about two hundred years ago and it has not been a secret since. About the first place I ever paddlefished in 1976 and there was a grand total of about four of us pounding the water that day. Now you will find four people in twenty five feet of bank. Both sides are fishable but on the North side there is a lot of private land and at times their land is not very private se be kind and understanding if you are allowed to cross it to access the shore line to the east. The south shore is what is called Neu's and was made public about ten years ago. If you litter on private land you will make the landowner give you and everyone else the boot but if you litter on public land you just make everyone hate you so "pack it in and pack out" and you will have a nice place to fish. The channel can really move and depending on water levels casting access to the deeper water can be limited from some places on the bank. Generally when paddlefishing we are trying to pull fish from the deeper water so some spots will be better than others. While the Confluence is where the crowd will be some like the crowd and others find it exciting to be where the action is. North Star Caviar is located at the Confluence and is a joint effort of the Friends of Fort Union and the Williston Chamber of Commerce. I was fortunate to be one of two people to have the original two meetings with the North Dakota Game & Fish with Nancy Bakewell. Her efforts made all of this happen and the Friends and Chamber have dedicated tons of time to make this available to the sportsmen and clean up the mess that it once was. They have made a lot of improvements with the money from this project and many that are a direct benefit to the sportsmen. Greg Hennessy of the Friends of Fort Union is now the old timer in charge and keeps this project moving forward. Scott Sundheim who has been the manager in the past has also been a great contact for the fishermen trying to find there way around. I know Scott has talked about bowing out but hopefully he will be there this year!
The Yellowstone River
This is where most of the paddlefish are heading and once they make the turn up the Yellowstone they are in only about half as much water, at least until the June rise hits. The Yellowstone starts to rise about mid May and then it can swell fast. A rise in the Yellowstone is what the paddlefish appear to be waiting for and that will send them up river. If you are a fish chaser after the 15th of May the Yellowstone is where the action is but remember the big girls show up last so it does not hurt to work the downstream areas if you want to focus on big fish. The banks of the Yellowstone are public for the first few miles but after that they are bordered by private land. Access is limited but there are a few spots that I will get into next.
Sundheim Park - GPS: 47 51 32 N - 103 58 08 W
Just to the south of the Highway 200 Bridge is a nice little park with public access that has become a popular paddlefishing destination for later in the season. Located about ten miles up the Yellowstone there is camping area there but if you fish this area remember no gaffs are allowed because in this area there is a lot of pallid sturgeon activity which are quite rare and very protected. This is a very popular destination for the Montana guys who fish the North Dakota season.
The State Line - GPS: 47 48 30 N - 104 02 31 W
This is where the Yellowstone crosses into Montana south of Fairview Montana which is a border town. If you go south on Highway 58 across the Mon-Dak Bridge then cross 200 and keep going south a dirt/gravel road will end up, dead ended at the river. Surprise you are there, don't expect anything fancy but there again it can be good the later days of our quick season. While I have never seen a marker the warden knows where the line is so be careful to stay in North Dakota if it is before Montana opener on the 15th of May. A Montana license would also be necessary to cross that invisible line!