There have never been as many walleyes captured in Devils Lake fisheries nets as this season. Biologist Todd Caspers recorded 35.3 walleyes per net. The average is 21.5 per net. Walleye populations are at all-time highs.
Since studying this North Dakota lake with the same methodology for the past 31 years, Caspers said the 15 to 20 inch “keepers,” the fish people prefer for the table, also set a record at 12.3 per net, double the average of 6 per net. These will grow, as will the 10 to 15 inchers, which averaged 16.4 per net, above the average of 10 per net. The trophy sized walleyes, 20 to 30 inches showed up at average counts.
These amazing records coincide with reports from fishing guides Ancil Reynolds and Ross Sensiba. In the year-round guiding business for 24 years, Sensiba said since Covid, the past couple years have been his busiest ever. “Clients like the generous limits, no size restrictions, and they can catch walleyes with so many different tactics,” he said.
As summer draws to a close, he is primarily trolling lead core on the old shorelines in 20 to 26 feet. Devils Lake increased from about 40,000 acres in the early 1990’s to approximately 165,000 acres today (that’s 150,000 football fields covered by water). He also trolls smaller crankbaits on Pelican on the north end of the main lake in 12 to 15 feet of water,
Interesting, and an “Action Alert” for the upcoming ice season, is that Sensiba and his clients are now targeting and catching jumbo perch. “Ha. We’re fishing over the side with 4 and 5 foot ultra-light ice rods rigged with typical ice tackle. Clients like this nice break from catching walleyes,” he said. Fall tactics include trolling old road beds. When the October winds blow, he positions the boat so guests can fish slip-bobbers over the roads.
Earlier, Reynolds pitched crankbaits at shorelines. “Many days, my clients rang up 100 walleyes by 1 pm. That’s two people fishing for six hours. Limits of great eating 17 to 20 inch were boxed, with all over 20 inches released,” he said. July and August found him targeting the mid-lake humps with slip bobbers. He recently switched to lead core trolling old road beds. “We had a 4-man limit the other days in two hours, all pushing 20 inches,” he added.
After Labor Day, Reynolds plans on trolling until mid-October. Last year was his best walleye October ever, saying, “We really have fun with Jigging Rapalas over deep rock piles and by bridges for quality walleyes. One of my best methods late in the season is casting Rippin’ Raps in six feet of water. The walleyes smoke ‘em.” He is already discovering schools of 11 to 13 inch perch, similar to Sensiba.
Winter is as popular as open water, with most fishermen chasing perch. They spend the first hour or two hunting walleyes; perch are daytime feeders. According to net surveys, perch were at 15.3 per net compared to the average of 12. “The numbers of keepers are doing well,” Caspers said. The 10 to 12 inch perch were at 4.1 per net (average 2.4); with the 8 to 10 inchers at 5.7 per net (average 3.2) and the jumbos were at .9 (average .7).
White bass were also above average at 7.8 per net (average 5.6). The line stretchers from 15 to 18 inches were at 2.6 per net (average .7). Caspers said the most under-utilized lake fish is the northern pike. The 28 to 44 inch pike are at average. The 21 to 28 inch pike were 1.1 per net compared to an average of 2 per net.
The area’s residents and the many resorts cater to fishermen. They share where fish are being caught; as do the local bait shops. The many guide services ply the waters 12 months of the year. They know the “what, where, how, when and why.” Travelers to Devils Lake enjoy the expertise of local guides like Reynolds (701-230-0367) and Sensiba (701-740-3868).
Many other guide services, resorts, businesses, lodging, casino, access and fish-cleaning stations, community activities, and more are all featured on the website: devilslakend.com. Caspers concluded by saying, “Our perch and walleyes are doing well. Very well.”