Devils Lake Winter Ice Fishing Forecast
Welcome to Devils Lake, North Dakota!
by Jason Mitchell
Devils Lake has a fascinating history and this history makes North Dakota’s largest natural lake one of the most unique lakes in the United States. In the late 1800’s, the lake was very similar in size to the lake we see today. In the early 1900’s, the lake began to dry up and in the 1930’s Dust Bowl Era, the lake was practically a dry alkali flat. Interestingly, some of the first settlers that arrived to the lake found northern pike in the lake but as the lake dried up, no fish were able to survive. The lake was no longer a lake. Biologists believe that pike, sticklebacks, flathead minnows and white suckers were able to transfer into the Devils Lake Basin through the Rock Lake Drainage during a high-water cycle.
Fast Forward to the 1960’s and Devils Lake began to collect water. Because the salinity levels in the lake were so high, fish struggled to thrive and reproduce but the lake did have a stocked population of northern pike. As the lake increased in size in the 1970’s, walleye and perch were introduced and in the early eighties, the lake became renowned as the perch capital of the world producing several fish over two pounds because of an incredible forage base of freshwater shrimp. In the mid-eighties, another drought hit and there was concern over winter-kills and summer-kills as the lake again began to drop.
In the early nineties, the moisture came and the lake began to rise. The high-water cycle began in 1993 and over the next twenty-five years, the lake tripled in size. As the lake levels rose, houses were flooded or moved and several thousand acres of farm land and ranch land became flooded. With the water came incredible year classes of fish and growth rates that didn’t seem possible.
Over the past twenty-five years, we have seen incredible fishing. The good days are as good as fishing gets for species like perch, walleye, pike and white bass. This past summer, the walleye bite on Devils Lake in particular was as good as we have ever seen. We have had some incredible years and somehow, the fishing the following season would be even better than the year prior. An incredible run that can be attributed to an abundance of water.
Currently, Devils Lake has a walleye population that makes this lake a favorite stop and destination for not only a legion of recreational anglers from across the Country but also for some of the most prestigious professional walleye tours in the industry. Northern pike fishing is often off the charts, overlooked with not only high numbers of fish but possibilities for big fish. Ice fishing for perch over the past five winters has been trending up and this lake produces some of the biggest perch caught in the Midwest each winter.
Right now, the Devils Lake Basin contains roughly 300,000 acres of water when you include Lake Irvine, Lake Alice and the water north of Hwy 2 along with the Minnewaukan Flats, Pelican Lake, the Main Lake, Six Mile Bay, East Bay, East Devils Lake and Stump Lake. A massive amount of water that is all connected encompassing many bays and distinct basins.
Devils Lake can be big and intimidating but don’t let all the water scare you. Each bay has its own population of fish and there are good fish populations distributed throughout the lake. Simply pick a portion of the lake and fish it. On any given day, there might be a good perch bite happening in Black Tiger Bay while thirty miles away, somebody is catching fish on the Minnewaukan Flats.
Over the past couple of winters, Stump Lake has been consistent for numbers of perch between nine to twelve inches while the west end of the lake has produced some of the biggest perch. Perch can often be found relating deep contours along the edges of the basin or relating to deep flooded timber. Most days, anglers have to be willing to drill some holes to find these fish.
The winter walleye fishing often takes place on structure. Points, rock piles, flooded road beds and flooded timber all produces fish. There are areas in Devils Lake that are notorious for producing shallow water patterns in less than eight feet of water for really aggressive fish.
Most of the shallow bays have good populations of pike for anglers looking for a busy day. For big fish, target the main lake structure.
For many ice anglers, Devils Lake is a bucket list destination. I know some anglers from Minnesota and Wisconsin for example that have been coming out to Devils Lake for over twenty years. I run into them each winter. Devils Lake is truly one of the greatest ice fishing destinations in North America. •