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Anglers on Devils Lake kept more than 200,000 walleyes from June through August

Todd Caspers (right), a fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, measures a walleye for Bruce Klingenberg of Cando, N.D. Klingenberg caught the walleye while fishing a coulee east of Cando. Caspers was conducting a survey of anglers fishing along the coulees. (Brad Dokken photo)

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- Results from the June-through-August portion of a yearlong creel survey underway on Devils Lake and Stump Lake confirm what many anglers already knew:

Fishing this summer was pretty darn good.

According to Todd Caspers, fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, anglers kept an estimated 212,000 walleyes and 14,000 perch in June, July and August. That compares with an estimate of 92,000 walleyes and 2,400 perch during the same period in 2007, the last time a survey was conducted.

Private contractor WATERS Inc. of Bottineau is conducting the survey, which the Game and Fish Department is funding.

As part of the survey, three creel clerks interview anglers at select access points, gathering information on everything from catch rates and harvest to angler demographics. Two of the clerks are working Devils Lake, while a third is dedicated to Stump Lake; a Game and Fish warden pilot also is doing aerial boat counts.

The survey began in April and continues through next March.

Despite the higher walleye and perch harvest, summer fishing pressure actually was down from 2007. Anglers this year put in about 500,000 hours of fishing effort from June through August, Caspers said, compared with 627,000 angler-hours in 2007.

The reason: cruddy weather early in the summer.

"Total effort is down a little bit, but we had kind of a goofy spring," Caspers said. "August numbers are actually higher this year, but those first two months were so wet and cold it messed up the fishing for a couple of months there."

No concern

Randy Hiltner, northeast district fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish in Devils Lake, said this isn't the first time the open-water walleye harvest on Devils Lake has exceeded the 200,000-fish estimate.

"But we don't even have this year's September walleye harvest, which will probably be pretty good again," Hiltner said. "This year, a lot of walleyes were harvested relative to other creel surveys."

That's not cause for concern, the biologists said.

"We have high densities of 16-inch and smaller walleyes, and a lot of those are what's being harvested," Hiltner said.

Test-netting surveys have shown more "skinny" walleyes in Devils Lake, which suggests high population densities.

"By and large, it's those eater-size fish they are harvesting," Caspers said. "They can stand to be thinned out."

White bass down

The creel survey also showed a decline in the white bass harvest; anglers this year kept an estimated 24,000 white bass from June through August, down from 72,000 during the same period in 2007.

"That kind of reflects the population now, too, I think," Hiltner said. "Just anecdotally while driving around this summer, it seemed to be a little slower for white bass fishing. A lot of boat anglers don't keep white bass, but shore anglers do."

Catch rates for northern pike were considerably higher than the harvest rate, and even though anglers kept 21,000 pike from June through August, 90 percent of those pike were caught were released during one month of the survey.

"The catch on northern is a lot higher than what people are actually harvesting," Caspers said. "(The harvest) would probably be similar to walleye if people actually kept them."

The percentage of residents and nonresidents has varied. In June, for example, about 46 percent of the anglers interviewed were nonresidents while only 20-some percent in the July portion of the survey were nonresidents.

That's likely a weather factor, too, Caspers said, as many nonresidents probably had vacation dates locked in and made the trip despite the cool, rainy conditions early in the summer.

Hiltner said he's looking forward to seeing what this summer's high perch catch means for winter fishing, when perch action traditionally is best.

"When you're catching perch incidentally pulling spinners and crankbaits, that means a couple of things: You've got some big perch, and they're probably a little hungry," Hiltner said. "If (anglers) get into perch again this winter, we should be able to document it."

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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