Devils Lake Walleye
The star of North Dakota’s outdoor world is Devils Lake in the state’s north-central region. It’s famous for walleyes, ducks, perch and geese. It’s also renowned for friendly residents who welcome visitors with open arms.
The walleye component of Devils Lake can be summed up simply: Walleyes live in this 165,000 acre lake in record numbers, with tremendous opportunities to catch them on any walleye presentation ever invented. What’s more, the walleye season is open 365 days each year. Catch walleyes in summer, fall, under winter’s ice and in spring.
The record numbers of walleyes are known by fishermen and guides. Area fisheries biologist Todd Caspers summer 2022 test nets held 35.3 walleyes per net. The long-term average over 31 years of netting is 21.5 per net. The 15 to 20 inch “keepers” also set a record at 12.3 per net, double the average. The future looks bright with 10 to 15 inch walleyes netted at 16.4 per net compared to the average of 10.
This was not an anomaly. The 2021 netting results were nearly similar. Natural reproduction plus a consistent stocking effort of about 900,000 fingerlings annually (at least in 2016 – 2017 – 2019 – 2020 – 2021) have boosted walleye numbers.
Devils Lake daily limits are 5 walleyes; 10 in possession. While fishing for walleyes, northern pike will also bite. The same daily and possession limits hold for pike. Perch limits (the lake’s other main-stay) are 20 and 40.
Devils Lake was named The Number One ice fishing destination in 2020 by Fishing Booker. Other major surveys have placed the region in the top 10 of many fishing classifications.
Ice fishing is a family tradition with guides often hired to show newbies the tricks of the trade. Much winter walleye chasing is during low light periods. Guides provide gear, tackle, electronics, transportation, shelters and position clients over fish.
Spring means shallows. Usually the mid-afternoon time is best as the walleyes prefer warm water. Sunny, calm days are best. Casting with small crankbaits or jigs rigged with 3- or 4-inch plastic paddle tails produce. So do slip bobbers.
Tactics like trolling the submerged road beds also prove effective. As does Lindy rigging live bait. Actually, every tactic from anywhere in the walleye kingdom will catch Devils Lake walleyes including jigs rigged with live bait or plastic, Jigging Raps, spoons, a simple split shot and a hook with a leech or crawler. Shallow, mid-depths, deep along shorelines or weeds, on humps and rock piles, on the exposed “old wave-exposed former shorelines” now down 20 feet or more, and fishing suspended walleyes are popular tactics.
A typical mid-summer tactic employed by many guides is covering water with bottom bouncers and spinners rigged with a nightcrawler. Zippy Dahl, owner of the Perch Patrol guide service detailed how he targets walleyes with bouncers and spinners:
** We primarily fish hard-bottom structure (humps) on the main lake;
** Walleyes are either on the top in 5 to 8 feet or off the sides in 10 to 16 feet;
** We also check the outside weed bed edges;
** We use a 1 ½ ounce bouncer with spinner blade in orange, gold, copper or chartreuse;
** A Quick-Change clevis lets us experiment until we find the blade that works on that day;
** Nightcrawlers on the 2-hook harness with a one-inch tail behind the last hook convert most biters into “hook-ups;”
** We keep the line angle from rod tip to bouncer at a 45 degree angle;
** Play walleyes gingerly;
** Bouncers work summer and as late into fall as possible;
** Keep covering ground.
Walleyes prefer one thing over all else – FOOD! If the young-of-year perch or white bass are holding at a specific depth or on a piece of structure, walleyes will be lurking nearby. The many excellent lake guides (see listing within these web pages) know where the walleyes are and take their clients to proven hotspots.
Walleyes are easily identifiable. They have a white tip on the lower edge of their tail fins. They have extraordinary sized eyes. They have teeth. They rank among the tastiest fish on the planet. They are actually members of the perch family. With sauger, a walleye cousin and a fish species discovered by the Lewis and Clark expedition through North Dakota, the perch family is treasured for their table fare. Their European relative, Zander, closely resembles a walleye but grows much larger.
Walleyes exhibit characteristics unique to the fishy world. Their eyes are large and pearlescent, caused by a reflective tapetum lucidum (like a pair of night vision goggles) which allows them to see in low light conditions. Essentially, the tapetum lucidum reflects light back through the retina increasing light available to their photo receptors. Walleyes excel in turbid, cloudy and deep water, because with superior night vision they can easily find food wherever they set up housekeeping. Walleyes possess a finely tuned lateral line and sharp hearing. Nothing in their watery world escapes them.
The maximum lifespan of walleyes has been determined to be 29 years. At that stage of their lives, a mature walleye may lay 500,000 eggs. Large females are vital to a lake’s health, and for that reason, Devils Lake guides urge their clients to release the true trophies. With all the 20-inchers in the system, clients catch plenty of fish to take home.
Remember, while snooping around for walleyes, expect to catch enough pike, perch and white bass to make almost every day a multi-species fun-fest on Devils Lake.