Until the ice gently recedes, shore fishermen are setting their hooks on walleyes and northern pike.  Devils Lake has more shore fishing opportunities than perhaps any other inland lake.  As ice pulls back and bridge and culvert current areas attract walleyes like a magnet.  Fishermen take advantage of the year-round open season.


Open water should arrive in earnest by the end of April, maybe earlier.  When it does, boats take anglers to their early season hotspots.  Hint:  These spots will be shallow.  They will be the warmest water.  Fish will be lethargic in mornings, with activity picking up with sunshine.


Local North Dakota guides feel the walleye action will be even better this season than last year.  Big John Adams said, “The 13-inchers last year will be 15 inches now.  The big class of 19 to 21 inch fish will grow.  We caught lots of mid-20 inch fish last year and they will be even bigger this open-water season.”


He feels the growth spurt seen in walleyes is due to the huge numbers of fresh water shrimp swimming throughout the lake.  Perch pig out on these tiny and nutritious critters.  So do white bass.  Devils Lake pike eat everything that feeds on the shrimp.


Big John noted that no moving water exists due to drought conditions last fall and a strange “no snow” year in the lake’s watershed.  Water manager Jeff Frith said, “We’re at 1449, about half a foot lower than last year at this time.”  He added, “No run-off is expected.”  The immediate Devils Lake area is in a moderate drought condition; the land to the north is classified as a severe drought.  “Water comes from the north, but not this year, unless a significant rain event occurs, but that is not predicted,” he said.  Frith figured the lake would maintain its current level, then start dropping in June.  Last year, with run-off, the lake rose two feet.  “That’s not in the cards this year,” he continued.


When Big John’s guide season kicks off May 17, he has rods rigged for three presentations.  First, is a simple slip bobber rig.  He uses a 2-foot leader with a sinker above the swivel.  That allows the leech to swim in a wide circle on a plain hook.  Second, is casting jigs with plastic paddle tails.  “With all the debris, branches, rocks and weeds on the bottom, these jigs are retrieved slowly just above bottom,” he said.  White is his favorite color with perch and firetiger second choices.  Mostly he will use Northland Eye Candy plastics, 3 or 4 inches long, casting towards shorelines.


Third, he casts Rapala Countdown crankbaits or Flicker Shads or Shad Raps that run 3 to 4 feet under the surface.  Free guide advice from Big John, “I always have the best results casting wind-swept shorelines.”  Big John’s Guide Service 701-381-2599.


Guide Nick Fautsch, 701-739-3346, can’t wait for warmer water with a little color for his go-to early season spots.  His slip bobbering set-up is a 36 inch mono leader of 17 or 20 pound test.  He ties the leader to a swivel on a weight system, with his main line to the other swivel.  This in-line weight adds casting distance.  It also pulls the 1/32 or 1/16 ounce jigs and leeches through the bobber and down to the fish quicker.


Spring afternoons with meadow larks broadcasting their lovely melodies also produce a bump in water temps.  That’s when he casts Berkley Flicker Shads or Rapala Countdown minnows.  “Someone in the boat always has a 3 ½ inch paddle tail jig tied on.  Favorites colors are white, glow and firetiger,” he said.


Ancil Reynolds, 701-230-0367, is undergoing a guide’s worse nightmare – healing from a recent knee replacement.  The other knee is set for the same procedure later this month.  “My guiding season won’t start until early June,” he said.  “Despite my condition, I had to shake some dust off, so I went shore fishing.  Caught 10, kept 4, released 6 from 22 to 26 inches. They were a rod length away, right on the rocks at my feet,” he said.  He bases each new season on last year’s results and what he experienced while ice guiding.  “It was fantastic.  One ice client caught a 21-inch walleye that had escaped a Devils Lake monster.  The teeth of that pike’s bite marks were 12 inches across.  That’s the one I want to catch someday,” he said.


His tactics are similar to those of Nick and Big John, with a few wrinkles.  When pitching plastics (water hits mid-40’s) the 1/4 and 3/8 ounce jigs are fitted with 2 ½ to 3 inch paddle tails.  “Shapes and action are a personal confidence thing, so check them all out,” he advised.  He said he moves up to 6-inch plastic tails in June.