Ice is Nice and so is the Fishing on Devils Lake!
The lake and town with the same name, Devils Lake, North Dakota, seem to have been made with one purpose in mind – fishing. With seasons open 12 months of the year, the open water transition to ice seems to be just a shrug of the shoulders. Anglers park their boats, hook-up ice houses and continue fishing. The community with numerous modern lodging units with their own heated fish-cleaning facilities, several bait shops, a host of fishing guides (many with full-service accommodations, meals, ice travel, ice shelters and gear), a Casino and many great eateries caters to anglers.
The town of about 7,200 people is less than one percent of the state’s total population. Yet, an amazing 25 percent of the non-resident 3-day and 10-day fishing licenses are sold in Devils Lake. Estimates are that fishing guides escort more than 15,000 clients on the lake’s 200,000-plus acres during the open water season and the same number during the much shorter three to four month ice season.
Interesting statistics from creel surveys show 18 percent of winter anglers primarily seek walleyes, 28 percent said “perch,” while 27 percent said “walleyes and perch.” A quarter of survey respondents said, “Anything.” Adding all the answers together that mention walleyes, 70 percent of anglers would just as soon catch walleyes.
Devils Lake walleye populations are rated one of the best in the Midwest, and this past summer netting surveys proved that, “All size groups had a bump in catch rates,” according to area biologist Todd Caspers. The total number of walleyes caught per net this year was 24, compared to 18 last season, a 33 percent increase. He continued, “The above average catch of big fish indicates these year-classes are doing pretty good.”
Thousands of out-of-state fishermen flock to Devils Lake to chase fish under the ice. Many professional anglers prefer this special North Dakota lake. When Dave Genz speaks ice fishing — people listen. In fact, the entire ice fishing fraternity of anglers, plus tackle, auger, electronics and shelter manufacturers take notice. From his first visit to Devils Lake in the 1970’s, Genz said, “I go there and so do thousands of visitors to catch the biggest perch of their lives. And, the walleye fishery is amazing.”
Genz is widely respected as the Godfather of ice fishing. He may be the single person most responsible for dragging ice fishing from the “stone age” to the “modern, technological age.” Much of the early lessons occurred on Devils Lake. He has visited Devils Lake each of the last 30-plus years due to the quality of the perch. Many of the everyday ice fishing tactics and gear most anglers use today were developed by Genz during those trips to central North Dakota.
“I remember when there was no limit on perch. People loaded coolers. Today, with 20 daily and 40 in possession, and with the tremendous size, anglers can still take home what I think are extra-tasty perch fillets,” he said.
Genz is the Godfather of ice fishing, and Brian “Bro” Brosdahl is the Heavyweight Champion. Bro contacts an average of 20,000 people directly each winter (seminars, appearances, in stores, on the ice, etc.), and loves fishing Devils Lake. “We film TV show segments and shoot photos for ads on Devils Lake because something is always biting,” he said. “This is one place I know where a number of species of true trophies can be caught in a day – monster perch, walleyes no matter where you go, big pike and white bass.”
Bro lives in northern Minnesota surrounded by several fabled perch lakes. “Anywhere in the Midwest, it’s rare to find a 2-pound perch. The panfisherman in me is attracted to perch, and every year at Devils Lake, the bar is raised,” Bro said. On a calibrated scale, his largest perch weighed 2.62 pounds during a filming session. “I keep going back because my quest is a 17-inch Devils Lake perch that will tip the scales at 2.75 pounds. I know that fish is swimming there,” he said.
Fishing wherever water freezes has taken Bro to lakes in dozens of states and provinces. He said, “The friendly atmosphere in this small town exists because most people are sportsmen. Everybody wants you to catch fish and they go out of their way to make it happen.” He feels it is one place where folks who have never fished before can be successful.
Devils Lake allows four ice lines per person. Those fishing pike with tip-ups will be rewarded. Pike populations are peaking with many in the 28 to 34 inch class, and the chances of a true 15-pound porker (or bigger) are realistic. The pike limit is five per day with 10 in possession. They provide some of the best tasting fillets in the fishy world.
Visitors often hire guides for the first day or the entire trip. The package “deals” are super attractive. But, the DYI anglers are in for a treat with many places to fish. Tactics don’t change on Devils Lake compared to “home” waters. Perch, walleyes, white bass and northern pike are the four game fish swimming in the lake, along with a few crappies in recent years. Devils Lake has space for all and everybody smiles and says, “Hi,” or more likely, “Howdy,” when they meet visitors.
The website devilslakend.com features up-to-date reports with emphasis on the current fishing activity and ice conditions. Also, the site contains a new pike de-boning video, plus contact info for fishing guides, resorts, lodging and restaurants. In addition, learn about ramps, fish-cleaning stations, ice tournaments and community events. A helpful map serves as a great reference tool. For personal assistance, call 701-662-4903, and talk to a friendly and knowledgeable North Dakotan who was probably on Devils Lake yesterday.