Early ice fishing is happening on Devils Lake and the surrounding lakes. But, caution is strongly advised. Experts warn about ice all winter long. It’s the reason so many people prefer going with area guides.
On this ice fishing mecca in north-central North Dakota, ice happens. With it come thousands of avid (and novice) ice fishermen wanting to experience some of the best perch and walleye action anywhere in North America. A couple of long-time and passionate perch-jerkers are Clint Devier and Ross Sensiba. They offered their take on current Devils Lake ice conditions.
Devier said, “Yes, the guys are out already. Walking. Mainly East Devils Lake, the south end of Black Tiger bay and the north end of Six Mile bay all with about three inches of ice.” Lakes to the north like Irvin and Pelican have seven to nine inches where walleyes are biting. “Three to five inches of ice cover most of the main lake, with a few patches of open water,” he cautioned.
Sensiba, owner of Rush Valley Guide Service, found main lake ice in spots to six inches with eight on the northern lakes and bays. His official first guide party will hit the ice Dec. 8. Most guides book trips starting mid-December. “We will fish Pelican and expect walleyes, perch and pike to be biting,” he said.
Sensiba targets perch early each day. About noon he moves to walleye haunts for the afternoon to dark bite. Tactics don’t change much over the decades. Northland Buckshot and Forage Minnow spoons work for perch and walleyes. “I prefer single hooks on my lures baited with a minnow head. I also have rods rigged with tungsten jigs and wax worms,” he explained.
Devils Lake guides cooperate with each other. “We all get along. Our goal is to take care of out-of-town guests,” he said proudly.
Devier is anxious to hit the ice after the excellent perch fall bite. “When we experience a great fall open water bite, it has always translated into an even greater winter bite,” he said. The September, October and November perch tactics were simple. An ultralight rod, four or six pound line, a split shot and size 12 hook baited with a small minnow. When the line moved, set the hook. “This out-fished everything else,” he said. Most perch were 11 to 12 inches with some 14 inch jumbos in the mix.
His early season tactics are similar to Sensiba’s – Buckshot spoons and tungsten jigs. A spoon with no hooks and a jig dropper is one of his preferred “go-to” methods. On Devils Lake, Devier always has a dead rod baited with a minnow. “Sometimes doing nothing is the best action,” he said.
Perch numbers in summer net surveys exceeded averages with 15.3 perch per net, above the average of 12. The 10 to 12 inch perch showed up at 4.1 of this desired size per net; the average is 2.4 per net.
Fisheries biologists recorded 35.3 walleyes per net this summer, an all-time high. The average is 21.5 per net. They have been conducting and utilizing the same methodology for 31 years. The 15 to 20 inch walleyes also posted a record of 12.3 per net, double the average of six per net.
Devils Lake ice fishing is a fun family adventure. The community with many restaurants, guide services, resort and motel lodging, a casino, and much more is a destination. The best source of fishing information, lake access points, guide services and activities is devilslakend.com. The city even has a conveniently located, free heated fish cleaning station. Several resorts and motels also provide fish cleaning stations for guests.