It’s early to be proclaiming safe ice all across Devils Lake, but the walkers are venturing out…and catching fish. Nick Fautsch from Nick’s Guide Service said, “Wear cleats, carry a rope and have a set of ice picks around your neck, just in case.”
Nick concentrates on the west end where 7 to 9 inches of solid ice runs out at least half a mile; less in some areas. “Nobody is heading out to the flats yet, but with colder weather, that will happen soon. Always check with bait shops or guides for the latest conditions. “Do it every morning you plan on heading out,” he urged, “And, go with a partner.”
Guide Ross Sensiba has been walking out on five inches of ice wherever he’s been in the East Bay area, Lake Irvin and south of Graham’s Island. “It’s just starting, but us crazies need to get out there,” he said. Guide, Cody Roswick has been guiding by walking out on 6 to 8 inches of ice. All three men have been chasing perch and some walleyes, and fishing where they can safely walk.
They each favor specific tactics and shared a few Devils Lake, North Dakota tricks and secrets. Nick has two main set-ups ready to go. He calls perch and walleyes in by frantically pumping a Rippin’ Rap in firetiger or natural perch colors. If they don’t hit, but can be seen with electronics, he pulls a switcheroo, and drops a Buckshot rattle spoon tipped with a minnow head. “One of these will catch perch or walleyes,” he said. Best colors are orange glow, pink glow, gold or wonderbread.
Ross has found perch at 28 feet in the East Bay area. His go-to lure most of the season is the Northland Buckshot rattle spoon tipped with wax worms or minnow heads. He moves up and down sizes depending on what the fish tell him. Note: Most guides have a telepathic connection to the fish swimming under the ice. Just ask them!
Cody prefers to use 1/16 ounce (or smaller) Tungsten jigs in the early shallow water. Best bait so far has been maggots or a single perch eyeball on the jig. As the ice thickens, he goes heavier so the jig reaches the schooling perch quicker. “More bites, the school stays active and they stick around longer when you can constantly have a bait in front of them,” he has learned over the years.
His Number One spoon is the Buckshot Rattler or the Forage Minnow. He also switches up to a flutter spoon as the fish dictate, especially in 15 feet or less. His array of colors include gold, white, silver, firetiger, purple and pink. “I like one side of my spoons to be flashy (gold, silver, brass) and the other with colors.
After being in the fishing industry wearing many hats and now guiding full-time, Cody offered a tip that might result in a few more fish for those heading to Devils Lake for the first time. “I usually switch hooks on my spoons. I remove the treble that comes standard and replace it with a quality (sharp and strong) treble that is one size larger. This causes more hook-ups on the hookset and a much higher catch rate of fish coming topside,” he said.
All three guides still have openings on their calendars, and now is the time to book outings. The mid-December period is when most guides traditionally begin their Devils Lake winter guiding season. By Christmas, they are in top gear. Guides provide the equipment and travel. With SnoBears, guides transport clients in heated comfort where trhey may remain inside and fish together. Snowmobiles, side-by-sides or ATVs are also common forms of guide travel. As snow piles up as it usually does later in the season, these motorized go-anywhere rigs take anglers to the fish.
Book guides (even for the first day at the lake) and lodging ASAP. Excellent guide services, lodging, restaurants, casino, bait shops, resorts and much more info can be learned at devilslakend.com.