“It’s walking-out ice already,” said long-time resort owner Kyle Blanchfield a few days ago. “We’ll definitely be ice fishing by Thanksgiving!” The Devils Lake bays froze early, and even the main lake pulled an ice sheet overhead recently.
The local North Dakota guides, resorts and businesses that cater to an estimated 15,000 visitors each winter season (most for fishing), pray for the cooperation of Mother Nature. “We need her to cooperate,” Blanchfield said, “So we freeze solid with no snow.”
Blanchfield said advance bookings at his resort, Woodland Resort, are way above average. “It’s undoubtedly due to the fact that perch are as healthy as they’ve ever been, and I don’t think Devils Lake ever had this many walleyes. It’s the real deal,” he said.
Something happens at first ice in this lake that has expanded more than five times its 40,000 acres in the past 25 years – the northern pike put on the feedbag. Fishing in the bays, near weedbeds, in the trees and along shoreline breaks creates all-day races for the tip-up flags (best bait is dead smelt or ciscoes). With plenty of 5 to 10 pound pike and numbers in the teens and even pushing 20-pounds, and generous daily limits of five per person and possession limits of 10 make pike fishing exciting family-fun with the bonus of great eating fillets.
Local biologists have surveyed the lake and determined that the 12 to 15 inch perch are above long-term averages, with many more right at that magic 12-inch size. Two schools of fishing-thought are followed by the experts. Some attack perch at first ice fairly shallow (less than 20 feet deep) in and around weeds and in the trees. The others like Perch Patrol guide Dave Randash concentrate early in the 35 to 54 foot depths. Four ice rods are legal in North Dakota, and perch limits are 20 daily and 80 in possession.
In November and December, Devils Lake walleyes bite all day long. They can be found almost everywhere, and walking out to the first break or concentrating near weedbeds can produce fast action. When the fast walleye action slows for a group, expect several anglers to latch onto big pike. When “gators” cruise through, walleyes ease out of sight, and when the marauding pike continue their march, the walleyes return. Walleye limits are also generous, with no size limits, and five daily and 10 in possession allowed.
Long range weather forecasts are very optimistic for Devils Lake ice fishing. Good early ice with minimal snow will create a very long season, allowing fishermen from all corners of the country to enjoy nature’s bounty. Most visiting anglers hook-up with a guide service (operated via most of the lake’s 18 resorts and Spirit Lake Casino). Many independent guide services also operate around the lake, and all are in the know about where and how to catch fish. The latest fishing details can be found at devilslakend.com. The website features a comprehensive list of fishing guides plus the latest lake conditions, events, resorts and restaurant news plus a helpful map.
You can follow ice updates on the Devils Lake Tourism website under fishing reports. A 20 x 32 heated fish-cleaning station adjacent to Ed’s Bait Shop (on Hwy 20 south of the City of Devils Lake) is open to the public with two grinders, a clean-up sink and bathrooms. “I am betting that the fishing this winter will carry over from the tremendous summer and fall action, and will be excellent,” Blanchfield said.