Could This Be the Wildest Fishing in America?
The Annual Devils Lake White Bass Spawning Ritual…
by Bill Mitzel
There is really no fancy way to say it. The white bass were litterally everywhere, moving steadily along the shallow shoreline in very large schools of, what we guessed, were 200- to 300-plus.
There were many schools cruising up and down the shoreline mainly about 30- to 40-yards apart. The movement continued for hours that particular day in mid May. And all you had to do to catch a white bass was throw something into the water. Anything. Merely “spit” into the water and the subsequent ring caused fish to boil at it.
In print such feeding binges have been called a “frenzy”. Well and good, but this was no frenzy. This was an all-out invasion. The huge white bass we were fishing destroyed anything in their path, as they moved relentlessly along the shallow water shoreline in water depths of less than two feet. I’m not sure exactly what they were doing, although it was obviously connected with the annual spawning ritual. No matter. There fish were crazy and we were there to cash in on it.
It was early in May when we found ourselves casting very shallow running crankbaits along the north shore near the “towers”. Friends were along on that particular trip on what has become for us an annual pilgrimage to the fabulous lake.
We were hoping to find some white bass, as we cast baits into weedy, shallow waters. Less than five feet deep. Having fished earlier in the week, white bass were then absent, obvious to us because of the full moon we had encountered those couple days prior. Because of that, the “whites” were doing their thing at night, only after resting someplace comfortably during the daylight hours. But, I also reasoned, a few days after the moon we’d likely see the bass resume their frenzied activities in shallow water during daytime hours. At least that’s what we were thinking and hoping for.
As we cast, the occasional pike and maybe walleye banged our lures with great force. We were content with that as we continued our search for the mighty white bass. You see, you find this springtime fish in Devils Lake, not only by casting for them, but watching for them, too. They move into very shallow water and are often visible as they wallow along a shoreline.
It was a windy morning, but the shoreline we fished was calm. The water was flat. After fishing only a short time that morning, I noticed a “boil” some 30 yards from the boat between us and the shallow shoreline. Closer to the shoreline than our boat. I immediately hit high gear on the bow-mount electric motor and headed that direction.
Thinking it could possible be a northern pike chasing food, we all had our crankbaits in the ready position as we neared the location.
Once within range we let fly our cranks fly and instantly had a triple on huge white bass. We had found the white and battle was on!
The wind continued to slow that particular day and the fish moved in. Within 30- to 40-minutes we noticed that we were literally surrounded by large schools of white bass. Now it was a visual contest. Large schools of bass from 2- to 3-pounds cruised their way along the shoreline and each time we threw baits into them the lure was smashed with such force that after a dozen or so fish were caught the lure was waisted. They just wouldn’t run right. Clear, plastic bills were broke and hooks bent or broken off.
Each of us used different baits.
Because of the destruction the fish were causing, I switched to a 1/8-ounce jig with an non-scented teaser-tail. While others in the boat continued with a shallow water running crankbait and another had switched to a buzz-bait, a noisy surface bait originally designed for largemouth bass fishing. The whites didn’t care about that. They smashed the surface buzzer two or three at a time, and it took about an hour before the buzz-bait was rendered useless and another had to be tied on.
Throughout the intense action the comments continued:
“Unbelievable! I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“This is just incredible! Here comes another school!”
“Hurry, cast over there, behind the boat!”
“I can’t, I’ve got a fish on!”
“This one is really big!”
When you had one fish on and it approached the boat, you honestly saw four or five others following it, trying to steal the “food” from the hooked fish.
A few hours into the action we motored a mile around the western point and found two other boats into heavy white bass action in very shallow, calm water. The bass were continuous along that particular shoreline during that mile stretch. Other anglers in that area reported working schools of white bass some 300-yards long.
Harboring that shallow, warmer water, ideal for spawning the were fairly spooky. Standing in the boat was a no-no, since they’d see you. Noise, of course, was out of the main question entirely and as we learned that we began whispering our excitement.
Have you ever heard someone trying to whisper and shout at the same time?
After a few dozen bass we needed a break and turned to the camera to record as much of the action as we could.
The white bass “binge” continued into mid-day, then slowed as winds became brisk and the whites seemed to slide a bit deeper.
The following day we greeted the lake with calm winds in our favorite spot, found the bass even thicker than the day before. One couple we observed further along the shore had estimated they had caught some 400 white bass by the end of that day.
After letting it all settle for a few days, one thing prominently remained in our minds. In the midst of all the activity, we remembered looking down that calm shoreline to the west, which stretched over a mile. We could see steady large schools of white bass without end. Fish as far as your eye could see. It was, indeed, one of the most impressive fishing sights and experiences we have ever encountered.
This was the very essence of fishing. This was beyond belief. This was fishing you can’t even image. These white bass, once hooked, were as powerful as anything we had ever hooked. We had to often back-reel with the running fish, only to have it circle the boat in its quest to remain free. And with so many “triples” in the boat we often found ourselves in each other’s way. Often times chaotic.
The peak of the run had to come to an end. Their annual “spring fling” was truly a ritual. Something that happens for a two or three week period each year. That action typically is known to start after mid-May and run into June. It seems, as far as water temperature goes, that when temps in back bays hit that 60- to 63-degrees the whiteys go crazy.
And though our knuckles were sore from the action nearly two weeks after, we already looked forward to the next trip. •