The 5 Best Fish to Catch in North Dakota This Summer

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: October 10, 2022
© Maclane Parker/
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People come from all over the United States to see the wildlife in North Dakota. This state has beautiful lakes, one of the best national parks in the entire country, large state forests, and even mountainous regions. Not only is this state great for hunting big game, but it’s also a good place to reel in some big fish. Today, we’re going to show you five of the best fish to catch in North Dakota during the summertime. You’ll learn about some of the amazing catches awaiting you in the rivers, lakes, and streams around this incredible state.

What Are the Best Fish to Catch in North Dakota?

Although North Dakota is known for its inhospitable winters, the summer and autumn are quite nice. That gives anglers plenty of time to catch large fish for sport or to bring to the table. These five fish are among the best species to go after during this time of year.

We’ve tried to include a variety of fish that are challenging to some and easy for everyone. That way, anyone can see a fish within their skill range on this list.  

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1. Northern Pike

Northern pike is a popular fish in North Dakota.


The northern pike is one of the most popular fish to catch in the winter. Some people that catch them during those cold months pull 20-pound monsters from the water, and some have found even larger ones! Yet, you can still fish for northern pike in the summer.

Two of the best places to find them are along the Oahe River and the Missouri River. That means people in the state have options for catching these fish. Of course, the legendary Lake Sakakawea reservoir is another great spot to catch these fish.

You can even find lodging for camping along with plenty of fishing spots from the shore at Lake Sakakawea. Since you can turn the pursuit of this fish into a family excursion, the northern pike is one of the best fish to catch in North Dakota.  

Try going in the early morning and late evening during sunny days or midday when it’s overcast. They’ll lurk in deeper waters in summer, so you have to get the bait to them. They like bright soft plastic baits and live baits like alewives and yellow perch. They like bright colors, so use that against them.

2. Muskellunge

Fishing for muskellunge is common in the summer.

©M Huston/

The muskie is another member of the pike family that you can find in North Dakota, and it’s quite a catch. It can measure over four feet in length and weigh 20 to 30 pounds or more. Summer is a great time of year to find these fish, particularly in the middle of summer.

Part of the reason that people like fishing for muskies is that they’re not that common. They are not stocked in as great numbers as other fish in North Dakota. They are found in lakes and reservoirs with the deep, cool water this species prefers.

Some of the best fishing areas for muskies are Lake Ashtabula, New Johns Lake, Lake Audubon, and East Park Lake. Your best bet is to get on a boat to reach the deep waters and to use bucktails around dusk to catch them.

3. Largemouth Bass

Trophy Largemouth Bass
Largemouth bass is common and easy to reel in.

The largemouth bass is an exciting fish to catch, and it isn’t too difficult to obtain. These fish are commonly seen in spring, summer, and fall. They make this list of the best fish to catch in North Dakota because they’re common, simple to reel in, and satisfying to “lip” for a picture.

If you’ve ever fished for largemouth bass before, you know that they like to eat everything in sight. You can fish with live bait like minnows and shad or use artificial bait like a jitterbug to get their attention. It’s not difficult. You must simply find them first.

They like to live in the shallow areas of lakes with plenty of weeds or floating vegetation. They’re often found in Nelson Lake, Coal Lake, Lee Lake, Lake Oahe, Lake Audubon, and many others throughout the state. The best thing is that you can catch them from shore or spend the day in a boat. Be prepared to move around a little bit until you find them.

Just for reference, the biggest largemouth bass pulled from the waters of North Dakota was 8 pounds 7 ounces in Nelson Lake. You can beat that, right?

4. Chinook Salmon

A fisherman with a Chinook Salmon caught in Canada. They typically measure about 3 feet long and 30 pounds in weight.
The best place to catch chinnok salmon in North Dakota is Lake Sakakawea.

©Crystal Kirk/

The chinook salmon is not native to North Dakota. They were introduced here, so you can’t find them everywhere. Therefore, you can only catch them in some areas where they are stocked. Perhaps the best place in the state to catch salmon is Lake Sakakawea. They’re also found in Lake Oahe and the Garrison Dam Tailrace.

Getting these fish to bite requires the right bait. Many people who fish them insist on using salmon eggs. However, you can get away with using herring or tuna belly along with different lures like spinners and spoons. Most successful fishermen use a trolling technique to catch chinooks while using downriggers.

After all, these fish prefer deep water, so you need to put your bait where they’re hanging out. Also, keep in mind that they can be found throughout the day, but often in the early morning.  

5. Channel Catfish

Channel catfish
Channel catfish can weigh up to 30 pounds.

©Aleron Val/

You could ask five anglers and get five different answers to the same question. When should you catch catfish? In the grand scheme of things, late spring and early summer is a great time to catch fish. In terms of the time of day, well, that can be complicated.

Many people agree that from sunrise until midmorning is the best time. However, you can find catfish throughout the day, even if they are most active at certain times.  

Channel catfish can weigh up to 30 pounds, and they’re found in Lake Oahe, the Red River, and the Missouri River.

Now that we have looked at the best fish to catch in North Dakota this summer, you should be ready to break out the rods and go fishing. This state has many great places to find different fish in the warmer months. If you live in the state and want to go fishing in the fall and winter, you’ll be happy to know that many options exists at that time of year as well!

Just pay attention to local laws and rules about when, where, and how to fish, and have some fun reeling in the big ones!

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Largemouth Bass from Lake
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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