08 2015 »

Waiting for Good Ice!

It’s that time of year when ice fishermen become antsy. They have their rods rigged, new tackle purchased, the shelter ready to go, and vacation plans made. The only ingredient missing is ice, but standby, a solid covering of ice has never missed a year at Devils Lake, North Dakota.

The average ice cover forms on the west end and northern bays first, usually in early December. Guide Jason Feldner thinks it will be a couple weeks later this year. Resort owner and guide Aaron McQuoid agreed. These guys have an eye on water and ice conditions every day of the year.

As soon as “walking-ice” forms, anglers begin the trek. They drive to water’s edge (with landowner’s permission), park and hike out. ATV travel occurs a week or so later. The reason to get out early, “The walleye fishing will be great,” Feldner said. He based his prediction on one of the best open-water walleye fishing seasons in recent history.

Winter fishing can best be judged by the summer and fall. McQuoid said, “The whole summer was fun-filled with lots of 13 to 17 inch walleyes.” There’s also good news for Devils Lake perch. This summer each fisheries survey net had 16 perch per net, compared to last year with nine perch per net. Perch draw the biggest winter crowds. Perhaps it’s because of the famed 12-inch plus jumbo perch, designated by their hump backs and fat bellies.

Jason Mitchell runs a large Guide Service and hosts Jason Mitchell Outdoors TV. He said, “This was a really good summer and fall, which means walleyes under the ice will be just as active. Where we find them in fall is where we start at first ice.” He will concentrate on rocky shorelines and road beds. “When the lake drops like it did this year, ice fishing is better because the shrimp don’t explode like when water levels are rising,” he predicted.

Mitchell (www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com) likes early ice because perch and walleyes are generally together in water 9 to 21 feet deep. “Best areas have a mix of sand, rock and flooded timber,” he said. He recommended fishing aggressively and covering water with Chubby Darters or small spoons with minnow heads or wax worms. “I hope the perch are like they were two years ago when we had the best bite in 15 years. They’re out there, but be mobile and keep searching,” he said.

Tactics for perch and walleyes are simple for Feldner (www.percheyes.com).  He attacks gravel shorelines in 4 to 10 feet of water, and also humps that top out at those depths. He jigs almost exclusively with Lindy Little Joe Rattling Flyer spoons with a minnow head on one of the treble points.

McQuoid (www.mcquoidguides.com) said, “Early ice is all about moving to find active fish for my clients. I use spoons, Jigging Raps and jigs.” He also places tip-ups baited with minnows, but keeps moving to locate the hottest bite. “We can have four lines in the winter, so it can be very busy out here. Bring some kids and share the experience with them,” he said. Both guides felt the white bass had an excellent hatch this year, and suggested lure colors that match young-of-the-year bass.

Biologists want this winter’s fishermen to target northern pike. They bite every day of the year-long North Dakota season. Summer survey nets showed increased sizes, especially the 28 to 34 inchers. “Don’t be shy about keeping pike for the table,” said Todd Caspers, area fisheries biologist. “Based on our surveys, I expect fishing should be good again this winter.”

For those who depend on GPS mapping when searching for the best ice spots, Jeff Frith, Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resources Board manager said the lake level is 1450.10, which is about two feet lower than spring. With pumps running May thru early November, approximately 175,000 acre/feet of water was pumped out. Devils Lake has no natural outlet. This equates to about 10 inches of depth for the sprawling lake of about 147,000 acres for the main body and about 16,000 acres for the connected bays and lakes.

Ice travel demands caution all season. All the current Devils Lake ice conditions, fishing reports and information is at devilslakend.com. This site features the latest details on the outdoor scene with complete listings of guide services, resort, motel and casino accommodations, a lake map, cleaning stations (including the indoor, modern facility south of Ed’s Bait Shop on Hwy 20), plus regional activities for all ages and all interests. The phone is 701-662-4903.


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