Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The major fish species originally found in the Missouri River were those that depended upon scent and touch to find their food. While coming upriver Lewis and Clark frequently referred to catching catfish, goldeye, suckers, and sauger. Although not mentioned in their journals, shovelnose sturgeon, pallid sturgeon, and paddlefish were undoubtedly common. Northern pike were probably abundant in the larger river systems and permanent lakes around the state. Between the 1930s and 1960s, six large dams were constructed on the Missouri River for the purpose of flood control. Clear water and deep reservoirs allowed a new assemblage of sight-feeding fish to thrive in the river system. Today native walleye, and introduced species such as Chinook salmon, trout, and bass are popular game fish in the Missouri River System.
Historically, pike were found in all major river systems and large permanent lakes throughout the state. Due to record high water and their adaptability to small reservoirs, we are currently enjoying a wealth of fishing opportunities with this species.
Paddlefish and Pallid Sturgeon
Once found throughout the murky waters of the free-flowing Missouri River, the distribution of these primeval fish in North Dakota is now generally confined to that portion of the Missouri River upstream from Lake Sakakawea, and the Yellowstone River. Paddlefish fishing is heavily restricted, and the pallid sturgeon is now federally listed as an endangered species.
Hickory Shad (Sauger and Walleye)
The sauger was frequently fished by members of Lewis and Clark's party as they passed through North Dakota. Walleye were probably present too, but at lower numbers. With the construction of mainstem reservoirs, walleye became increasingly abundant. Today Lake Oahe and Lake Sakakawea are nationally known as premier walleye fisheries.
Channel catfish historically were found in large river systems throughout the state, and are still found in good numbers. Although currently passed up by most anglers, this is an excellent food fish with commercial importance in other parts of the country.