Fish Majestic Devils Lake this Winter

Those who visit and fish return time and time again. For those who haven’t yet experienced Devils ‘s magnum perch or plentiful walleyes, make winter vacation plans now. Go!

This north-central North Dakota city and lake of the same name won’t disappoint. Most visitors hire guides to go to the best spots in warm, all-terrain tracked vehicles. Guides provide the electronics, tackle, bait and expertise. They teach visitors how to be successful.

The DIY crowds new to Devils Lake often hire guides for a day or two to figure out the depths, lure sizes, colors and tactics that produce. They then venture out on their own. With 165,000 acres of fishable water, crowding is never an issue.

Guides like Mike Anderson (A&H Guides) and John Bouvette (Lake Country) utilize SnoBears to take their clients on the ice. Clients fish while inside the vehicle’s expansive cabs, and some guide services are so popular they have up to a dozen “Bears.” Other services like Perch Patrol and Ancil’s typically go with portable shelters and UTVs or trucks (depending on conditions) to get to the fish.

Winter fishing clients hail from nearby Midwestern states and from New York, Texas, Kansas, Idaho, North Carolina, Washington, Tennessee, Oregon and Arkansas. Guests choose a wide variety of lodging, from hotels and motels in town to resorts on the lake. Most guides work with the various properties to coordinate lodging/guided fishing packages.

Why fish Devils Lake? Anderson answered, “The way the walleye population has been the past couple years, as well as this spring, summer and fall, this winter should be even better. Perch fishing was phenomenal last year and this summer. I anticipate an excellent perch season.”

The North Dakota Game and Fish department summer test nets were heavy with walleyes, again. Todd Caspers, fisheries biologist, said, “Walleyes were well above the long-term average of 22 walleyes per net.” This past summer, surveys revealed 32.4 walleyes per net. The 15- to 20-inch eater size walleyes were double the long-term average (12.4 vs 6.2). Both 20- to 25-inch and 25- to 30-inch walleyes were also above long-term averages.

Anderson looks forward every season to the return of the “Her Wilderness” women. With about a dozen gals, the group immediately rebooked after their first trip and are now booked through 2026. “Last year, two participants from Tennessee and Arkansas, who had never been on ice, made reservations and brought their families to Devils Lake.”

Typical with Devils Lake guide services, Anderson equips each SnoBear with TV, cooking options and electronics including forward-facing sonar. His tactics have swerved from the traditional finesse methods to training clients to fish aggressively. For instance, when targeting walleyes, he fishes #5 Rippin’ Raps and #7 Jigging Raps. Slab Raps are an occasional curveball to throw at the fish as well. When fish are located, guides may stay longer, but if nothing happens in 10 to 15 minutes, guides and clients are quickly on the move, making as many as 20 stops a day. “My guides love to chase walleyes, sort of like how others chase schools of perch,” said Anderson.

Whether you’re fishing on your own, through a resort, or utilizing a guide, it is typical on Devils start fishing walleyes in the morning in very shallow water (sometimes as shallow as 5 feet) for a couple hours, switching to targeting roaming schools of perch along with some walleyes and white bass in the deep basin areas (30 to 50 feet of water), before returning to the shallows for an uptick in the evening walleye bite to round out a full fishing day.

Some resorts, like Woodland Resort, offer a standard “Shallow House/Deep House” rental package, so even guests in fixed rental shelters can enjoy the two-pronged location strategy. Resort staff help guests situate between the shallow and deep locations. Woodland Resort maintains an extensive system of plowed roads, and now offers a wheelhouse package for folks wanting to bring their own houses to Devils Lake. Guides offer a bit more flexibility. Says Anderson, “Depending on the bite, we sometimes stick with walleyes all day…or with perch. The clients indicate what they love to catch.”

Anderson showcases perch tactics from jigs to spoons to small Jigging Raps. Baited with either maggots, waxworms or minnow heads, the perch decide the daily menu. Guides provide the rods and tackle. “It always surprises the perch guys and gals how they can land a big walleye or pike on a tiny perch rod. It just takes patience,” he smiled.

Some anglers visiting Devils Lake focus their fishing efforts on northern pike. Being able to fish four lines per person in the winter gives anglers the opportunity to put out quite a tip-up spread, but jigging aggressively for big gators is also a proven tactic. An under-appreciated species in the lake are the white bass. Ranging from 2 to 4 pounds, they put up a tremendous fight on ice fishing rods. The white bass are schooling fish. Catch one. Drop the lure for the next. Non-stop action is the rule when landing on a hungry school of white bass. Those who keep white bass fillet them, remove the lateral line and any red meat along the skin. The flaky and tasty bass are prized table-fare when cleaned appropriately.

Even with so much water in the main basin of Devils Lake, the many bays, plus the northern (and connected) feeder lakes, Devils Lake ice anglers also target other bodies of water in the region as well. Lakes like Pelican and Irving can offer fishing where the walleyes tend to bite all day.

Devils Lake guide services share information throughout the season. “Success equals teamwork,” Anderson pointed out. With all these acres and varied fishing locations, covering a vast area is essential. There’s plenty of fishable water for everyone in such a vast and varied system. It’s what guides do and why they provide such a valuable service.

Book early. The most popular guides, resorts and many hotel rooms fill up fast for peak season and weekends.