You won’t find my name in the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s Whopper or Catch and Release clubs.
Try as I might since my younger days growing up fishing Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne River near Valley City, and many other areas around the state since then, I’ve never really come close to catching a “qualifier.”
While most anglers pursue whoppers in the more preferred categories of perch, pike and walleye, I always figured it would be easier to get my name on the list for something like the bullhead, which few people pursue on purpose. Even if they did catch one of 2 pounds or greater, they might not want enter it anyway.
I’m here to tell you that seeking, finding and catching a whopper bullhead isn’t as easy as you’d think. I can attest that catching a 1-pound bullhead isn’t difficult, but landing a whopper bullhead is a target I have yet to hit.
Without spending much time on research, the last bullhead entered in the Whopper Club was in 2015. For comparison, last year there were enough whopper walleye and perch to fill five pages of computer printouts.
The Game and Fish Department started the Whopper Club in 1960 as a way to drum up more interest in fishing and to get anglers to report their catches of big fish.
At the time, North Dakota featured 50 managed fishing waters — about 400 fewer than exist today.
Surprisingly, in 1960, the total tally for whoppers was 170, with nearly a third of those being northern pike, which were mostly taken from Garrison Reservoir, which is now Lake Sakakawea, or Lake Ashtabula.
Of the 25 whopper walleyes registered that first year, 24 came from Heart Butte Reservoir, which is Lake Tschida today. The qualifying weight for walleyes back then was 10 pounds; today, it is 8 pounds.
The Catch and Release Club entered the picture later as a way to allow anglers to earn recognition for landing big fish without having to keep them.
For anyone catching a big fish today, here’s a rundown on how to qualify for the Whopper or Catch and Release clubs:
• All fish entered must have been harvested by legal methods and come from North Dakota waters open to public fishing.
• Entries must be weighed on scale used in trade.
• An application card must be filled out, giving weight and length of fish, date and where caught, signature of applicant and signature of person weighing the fish. Only one application may be made for each species in a lifetime. Applications must be submitted within 90 days of when the fish was caught.
Catch and Release Club
• Entries must meet minimum length requirements and be released unharmed back to the water. Another angler must witness and verify the measurement and release.
• A maximum of five entries per year per species will be recognized. A qualifying angler will receive a recognition sticker and certificate. Applications must be submitted within 90 days of when the fish was caught.
More information on species and qualifying lengths or weights is available on the Game and Fish website at https://gf.nd.gov/fishing/clubs.