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Anglers Go To ND For Fish Instead Of Fuel

May 13, 2014, 6:15 PM by Kevin Woster

Anglers Go To ND For Fish Instead Of Fuel

The oil and gas boom near Williston has drawn thousands of workers and hopeful job hunters to northwest North Dakota.  There's a smaller rush to the area based on fish instead of fuel.

Anxious anglers pack the shoreline near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers in May for the opening of the paddlefish season.

"The fishing hasn't changed in the last seven years," Black Hawk, South Dakota, angler David Mergen said.  "Same river. Same water. Same fish."

They're big fish, sometimes topping 100 pounds. Since they don't take bait, they must be snagged with hefty fishing gear.  Four years ago, David Mergen's son, Alex, was just 16 when he snagged a 130 pounder to break the long-standing North Dakota state paddlefish record by 10 pounds.

"The first paddlefish I ever caught was a state record," Alex said. "I broke the record set before I was even born."

But while the fish and the river are the same, the oil boom has had an impact on those who come here to fish.  Because of soaring motel rates, the Mergens now camp or stay with friends.

"The one year we paid $25 for a hotel room," David said. "And the last time we checked it was like $195."

Getting here from South Dakota on Highway 85 is also a lot more complicated than it used to be.

"Now it's like bumper to bumper, it seems like," David said. "There's so many more people up here than they was seven years ago. It's just incredible."

Those people are here for more than fish.

David says it used to take about 5.5 hours to drive from his home in Black Hawk to Williston.  Now because of traffic congestion associated with the oil fields, it can take seven hours or more.

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