Devil’s Lake, N.D., walleyes and perch

Devil’s Lake in North Dakota has been on my “to do” list for
years, so a buddy and I decided to skip the Super Bowl (good
thinking, huh?) and spend two days chasing perch and walleyes on
huge Devil’s Lake.

The last time I fished this body of water, it was a small
fraction of what it has become. High water and heavy rains has
created an incredible mass of fishing potential that now exceeds
122,000 acres.

Swallowed up under this massive lake are family farms, highways,
fenceposts, woodlots, and telephone poles. Instead of maps with
fishing hotspots, the maps you’ll find highlight hazards to avoid
because of the incredible changes and underlying debris.

We pulled into the town of Devil’s Lake and immediately realized
that fishing fuels the town. Every vehicle in town had five-gallon
pails complete with rods and reels like antennas protruding from
the pickup beds.

After our six-hour drive, we hit a couple of fishing haunts and
found a lot of “long” faces that indicated our timing wasn’t
exactly perfect. Quick, two-day “red-eye” runs are always a
crap-shoot, especially in the winter, so we had little expectations
of really getting on fish.

We spent our first day drilling holes and exploring the eastern
side of the huge lake. Occasionally, we got stuck, and we had very
few fish in the bucket. We managed some walleyes the first evening
and felt lucky to head back to the resort with fish.

Every hole we drilled, from the eastern sections to the western
basin, produced freshwater shrimp erupting from the fresh
drillings. These little critters are key to the prolific perch and
walleye populations. Sometimes the erupting shrimp were so thick we
had to clear our transducers because they would adhere to the face.
It didn’t seem to matter what depths we probed; we found shrimp as
deep as 32 feet and as shallow as 7 feet.

The second day we spent a lot of time working the exposed
treelines around an old farmstead on the western side. We jigged
spoons, bobber-fished with tiny wax worms and bare hooks, and tried
just about everything in our playbooks. Still, we only managed a
few perch.

The perch would “bump” our baits periodically, and we marked
fish almost full time on every spot. They obviously had plenty of
food with the proliferation of shrimp. The walleyes we did trick
into biting fell victim to jigging spoons with tiny crappie
minnows. The perch and walleyes I cleaned were stuffed with
digested shrimp, and I couldn’t believe they were still interested
in hitting our baits. Bummed out on the lack of perch action, we
came away with just enough walleyes during the two days to salvage
our dignity.

Devil’s Lake is really a remarkable, off-the-wall place to fish.
It’s a real haul from the Twin Cities, so I would recommend
spending at least three days instead of two. Learning the lake
takes an immense amount of time.

I definitely will return during the summer and hit those same
flooded farms, roadbeds, and treelines with crankbaits and pluck
some of those shrimp-gorged walleyes and perch. That’s assuming the
lake doesn’t expand once again and recreate itself before I
return!

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