Devils Lake fishing seasons never close. The calendar pages flip, and when the month of March appears, perch, pike and walleyes are triggered. “Hands-down, March is my favorite month to fish Devils Lake,” said long time ice and open water guide Ancil Reynolds.
Before describing specific late ice tactics, Ancil wanted to issue two special cautionary words, “Be safe!” When fishing current areas near bridges, he augers in. Starts with safe ice, and drills holes progressively closer to the current running under the ice. Keeps checking, and has found on some days ice may shrink from 12 inches to 8 inches in a couple hours.
His safety equipment also required of guide clients: Be aware. String a set of ice-picks around neck. Always have a throwable buoy with a rope attached nearby. Consider a float coat style of ice fishing clothing. Optional – a CO2 activated PFD. “These giant fish and days where numbers are through the roof are not worth drowning for,” he said. That’s why he is such a safety conscious warden. Most of his late season guide trips are walking from truck to fishing spots. Go with a guide or a buddy; never alone.
With 2 to 3 feet of ice, he targets late season walleyes in 2 to 6 feet under the ice. If he has 20 rods rigged and ready, half are equipped with his favorite aggressive lures – Jigging Raps. Walleyes during January and February are early and late day adventures. In March and into April, they can feed all day. His last on-ice day in 2023 was April 14. The big lake opened a few days later.
“Perch are where the chow is,” Ancil said. Last March, he guided clients to a massive school in 7-feet of water under the ice. The school remained for nearly two weeks. Then, they moved. But, from that school quite a few 2-pound perch were landed. The two largest were 15 1/8 and 15 ½ inches. They preferred Tungsten jigs with a single wax worm. He has gone as deep as 47 feet in search of late-season perch, but keeps returning to shallower water. Best perch lure in his arsenal is a quarter ounce Buckshot spoon.
He did offer some suggestions since walleyes and perch are heading to spawning territory. “You will be catching lots of fish. Please release the spawning females (those over 20 inches long). Same goes with the giant perch. Keep one or two for the wall. Keep your limit of eaters, 9 to 11 inches.” Devils Lake is blessed with record numbers of walleyes and perch according to the fisheries biologist’s netting surveys last summer. Fishermen are allowed to keep 20 perch daily with a 40 fish possession limit. Walleyes are 5 daily/10 in possession.
Mike Anderson, A & H Guiding, also loves late Devils Lake ice. “It’s back to early-ice tactics. With warmer water, more oxygen, flowing current, we move shallow,” he said. His guides fish perch in deep basin areas (36 to 40 feet), but also find them shallow with walleyes.
“Aggressive is how we catch them under the last month of ice,” he said. For walleyes, spoons are upped to one-quarter ounce. Number 7 Jigging Raps and number 5 Rippin’ Raps are the lures of choice. Drilling many holes and finding the feeding walleyes is key. Spending minutes at a hole, the clients move until locating the “biters.” Mike put it this way, “We make big moves to find fish. Once located, we make smaller moves.” Or, he said, “Find fish; sit on them."
When talking with guides on their days off, tips and secrets seem to flow with the coffee. Ancil’s recollections took a sudden jog as he shared his special March and April ice fishing passion – northern pike. “This isn’t your dad’s tip-up with a hot dog style of fishing. Not even close. It’s hand-to-hand combat. It’s in two feet of water under two feet of ice. Sometimes a foot of water,” he said.
He figures pike spawn under the ice when conditions dictate. “Most fish in the 35-inch range well into the 40’s can be caught now,” Ancil said. His gear is a stout rod, 80 to 100 pound dacron line, a wire leader and a “cheap Dardevle” type lure. Rattle baits also work. His advice, “Fish fast. Be aggressive. Snap, pop, keep the lures dancing. These pike streak in and slam the lure. Fighting them is thrilling. They spin and roll and often cut dacron on the ice. Landing them for a photo is great. I urge they be returned. There are always 28 to 35 inch pike for the dinner table.”
He learned pike spots from years of exploring. Back bays with weeds and a rock and rubble bottom become late-season pike magnets. “I can’t get enough of this excitement,” he said. “Neither can my clients.”
Many excellent guide services, lodging, resorts, restaurants, casino, bait shops, and much more information about one of the best ice fishing destinations in North America can be found at devilslakend.com.