The winter of 2021-22 brought a lot of snow to the Devils Lake Basin, helping the lake jump more than three feet last spring along with a late April snowstorm and timely early seasonal rains of summer. This increased water likely helped several species of fish in the state’s largest natural lake to spawn well and establish a strong forage base in late summer.
Even with drier conditions heading into the fall, Devils Lake rose two feet overall compared to last winter’s water levels in the freeze, and walleye and perch populations look strong on the upside in this year’s hard water season, according to Todd Caspers, fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDG&F).
“Overall, I’d say it should be a pretty good winter for ice fishing if access conditions hold up well. Our walleye numbers are pretty strong right now, perch are pretty good too. Pike numbers are fair and white bass are pretty good too, although they don’t target much in the winter,” Caspers details.
The two most popular winter activities on Devils Lake remain walleye and yellow perch, and both species should provide consistent action for anglers exploring the basin this ice fishing season. With above-average numbers, walleyes in that 12- to 17-inch range should be the most common, and the occasional shot at a larger, trophy-caliber fish still exists.
Also, yellow perch remain plentiful, with a good year class now in that 9-inch range and a strong showing of slightly larger fish than the present. The occasional jumbo perch over this one-foot-long mark can still be found with a little searching.
“There’s a very large number of these food-sized lakes in the lake right now,” Caspers explains, adding, “Perch numbers seem to be a little above average right now, and probably there will be a lot of them around 9 in. now, and a good number of them just under 12 in,” he concludes.
Northern pike numbers are down from their recent highs in Devils Lake and are not showing up in catches as often as in seasons past. While there are a few pike eclipsing 40 inches in Devils Lake, they are harder to come by, but pike in general should still be a regular catch for those exploring the ice.
“We don’t think pike have had a strong hatch for a while, but they’re still out there, they’re still available. There are trophies in the lake, beyond the 40 inch long northern pike, there are some trophies. But the average lake size will probably be more in that 24- to 30-inch range, which are still very nice pike,” Caspers explains.
There is a strong freshwater shrimp forage base in Devils Lake, and this year’s perch and white bass spawn was successful, likely bolstering the food available for predatory fish in the water.
Anglers can look for active walleyes and go shallower at the start of the ice season, then start scouting a bit for fish as the winter progresses. Caspers advises ice anglers to scout the shallower reaches of the lake first for crappie and perch, and a spoon tipped with a fish head is a good search bait for both walleye and perch.
Going down to a small tipped jig with a wax worm or spike is a good idea when the perch seem more demanding. As winter progresses, scouting deeper areas of the Devils Lake basin can pay off with fish, and anglers should be willing to work to find their best opportunities.