By Ray Gildow
I have not fished the Devils Lake area of North Dakota since the mid 1980s when I was fishing walleye tournaments. The area has grown so much since that time that I would not be able to find my away around the lake anymore. Not only has the water area grown, so have the walleye, perch and northern pike populations.
First, a little history of the area. Devils Lake itself is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota after the artificially created Lake Sakakawea. In 2011, it reached an unofficial historical high elevation of 1454.30 feet. The lake can reach 1458.0 before naturally flowing into the Sheyenne River via the Tolna Coulee.
Under normal conditions, Devils Lake is shallow, saline and hypereutrophic (very high in nutrients). During heavy rains the lake can reach depths of 60 feet. The lake, during low water levels, can become dangerously saline, posing danger to wildlife in the system.
The low flat terrain around Devils Lake consists of various coulees, channels and basins which may be separated during time of low water, or connected during high water. Precipitation from 1993 to 1999 caused the lake to double in size, forcing the displacement of more than 300 homes and flooding 70,000 acres of farmland.
There is much controversy surrounding the geography of the Devils Lake area and where it is draining but for someone who has an interest in fishing, this place is unbelievable! Anglers soon find out that they are fishing over old county roads, farmsteads and even by old mailboxes.
There is an incredible forage base of freshwater shrimp and baitfish that makes for rapid growth for all the fish in the system. Reproduction rates for walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, white bass and other species of fish are consistently good according to published DNR data.
Bag limits are very generous making one wonder if these catch rates are sustainable. For the greater Devils Lake area anglers can harvest five walleyes per day with 10 in possession, five northern pike per day and 10 in possession and 20 perch per day with 40 in possession. It’s not just the possession limits that seem very high, but there are basically no size limits on fish either. Seeing 50-60 walleyes on a cleaning table is one thing, but to see that they average 20-26 inches in length is really eye popping.
A party of Minnesotans that I know recently came back from a very successful trip to the area. They brought home 60 walleyes and 60 northern pike. It was like looking at a Minnesota photo from the 1940s. They fished a small lake near Devils Lake, catching all their fish in 7-8 feet of water casting crank baits. The fishing was unreal!
We are seeing fish photos coming out of North Dakota that wouldn’t even be acceptable in Minnesota, yet according to the DNR website, fish populations remain abundant and vigorous. It truly is a walleye mecca!