Devils Lake: A Caster’s Paradise
by Bill Mitzel
My fishing on Devils Lake go back to 1976. Back then it was jigs, with maybe a few crankbait casts here and there. The idea of throwing crankbaits into shallow water along shorelines in spring was new to Devils Lake. And in generally, new to the fishing world. In some circles, it was viewed as fruitless, silly and a waste of time, especially for walleyes. The favored fish didn’t attack things like crankbaits.
But we worked them a little, anyway.
By the early 1980s, we were throwing quite a few crankbaits around, learning that this casting thing produced fish on Devils Lake.
That was well before the lake rise of the mid-1990s. Prior to that, we enjoyed the main lake only, once in a while a trip to the East Bay area. The Fort Totten area on the south side of the lake was a favorite spot. There, like some other areas on the western shore, cabbage-type weeds grew sporadically from the bottom to near the surface. Good holding places for fish of all kinds, including walleyes, pike and baitfish.
Many anglers at that time didn’t believe walleyes hung out in the weeds. They were gravel and sand fish, also choosing rocky areas at times. But weeds? Definitely not. Well, crankbaits and other artificials blew that theory right out the front door.
We learned a tremendous amount about fish and fishing in those years. Our education advanced dramatically and quickly, most of it involving the teaching of ourselves. Then, sharing that knowledge with friends and fellow fishermen.
It was a fun time to be a fisherman.
In Fort Totten Bay one particular Saturday morning in August, our family cruised in with casting on our minds, ready to take on whatever was available and biting. Sometimes it was pike, sometimes it was walleyes, often it was white bass. All good stuff.
In the northwestern corner of the bay, a popular location most any time, we found some of that sporadic cabbage-type weed growing. Scattered about just enough to prohibit a crankbait from moving through it cleanly. We tied on spinnerbaits, which are essentially weedless lures, and cast them into the water away from the boat. Before that afternoon ended, we’d caught enough walleyes to make it on our all-time top ten list of fishing trips.
Walleyes hit those spinnerbaits like they hadn’t eaten in weeks. They came up from the darkness of the vegetation and nailed those baits with a couple feet of the surface. Didn’t bother them a bit. And back at shore, later that day discussing the event friends, most were very skeptical about our story.
But it was true. Those nice walleyes did, indeed, hit the spinnerbaits recklessly. They just were not supposed to do that.
Since that time the lake has expanded tremdously. While I often miss the “good old days” of having to fish only the main lake, casting crankbaits into shallow water in “new” areas of the huge lake has provided amazing fishing excitement.
Last late May, son Jon and I launched at the Minnewaukan boat ramp and headed southeast to see what new areas we could find. We knew it was merely a “search and seize” mission casting crankbaits to shorelines that looked “fishy.” Some didn’t, most did. When we found a nice and productive area we milked it.
At one point, we motored along a shoreline and saw a rather narrow opening ahead into another bay. Though the entrance was just slightly less than 2 feet deep, we slid through it carefully into a new fishing area where the depth dropped to nearly 6 feet.
Picking a shoreline, we began casting shallow running crankbaits picking up a few scattered fish here and there.
We continued moving until, finally, we found a bay within the bay, a shoreline that held a small stand of cattails and was bit riled by moderate winds. It was plum full of healthy walleyes, fish ranging from 3- to 7-pounds.
Because it was such a small area, we were able to catch two or three fish on a certain crankbait, and then they would avoid it. Switching baits, we again found new action until they learned to avoid that specific lure, and the process was enjoyed for a few hours.
There were big walleyes. Thick in number. High in energy and aggressive. The water temperature in that shallow 4 feet of water was some 6 degrees warmer than the open water of the big lake, and these walleyes sought that location for warmer water comfort and food.
Those types of incidents on Devils Lake have become common. New hot spots like those surface every season.
While we often wondered just what walleyes, and sometimes pike, were doing in such unlikely places as shallow and sometimes muddy water with no structure, we didn’t question it for too long. We just enjoyed it.
The pike, much of the time, are found in that brushy-type of cover, the stuff that grabs your crankbait and doesn’t let go. We tend to call it “buck-brush.” Bushy stuff that doesn’t grow tall, but is tough as leather. It doesn’t break and it’s often just below the surface out of sight. If you cast enough on Devils Lake, fact is, you’re going to run into that stuff. And you’re likely going to lose some crankbaits. It simply can not be avoided.
At times we’ve maneuvered our boat into places so tight you had to duck your head to avoid tree branches. And despite two or three feet of water, they were loaded with fish.
That is what makes Devils Lake such a great fishing experience. If you like to cast, if you like to feel the smash of fish on an artifical bait, if you like the challenge of seeing how long your arm can hold out before locking up from too many casts and fighting too many fish, if you like the thrill of wondering if the next pike or walleye will be a wall hanger, then casting crankbaits into shallow water on Devils Lake is for you.
It has certainly been something truly special for us. And we look forward to it every year.
And that time is here once again. •