Game and Fish documents record Devils Lake perch hatch on heels of record numbers

These are good times for perch anglers on Devils Lake if results from recent Game and Fish Department population surveys are any indication. There's a lot of young perch coming down the pike -- providing they can get past the pike, walleyes and a...

Devils Lake perch
Devils Lake fishing guide Mark Bry of Grand Forks puts a respectable batch of perch on the ice in January 2012. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department said results from fall reproduction surveys show Devils Lake this spring produced the highest perch hatch since the survey began in 1992. Strong numbers of jumbo perch likely contributed to the strong hatch and bode well for fishing prospects. Anglers also caught larger-than-usual numbers of perch this summer. (Brad Dokken photo)

These are good times for perch anglers on Devils Lake if results from recent Game and Fish Department population surveys are any indication.

There's a lot of young perch coming down the pike -- providing they can get past the pike, walleyes and any other hungry mouths that might want to gobble them up.

Despite a late, cold spring, this year's perch hatch on Devils Lake was the highest since 1992 when Game and Fish launched the survey.

According to Todd Caspers, fisheries biologist for Game and Fish in Devils Lake, results from the department's annual fall reproduction survey yielded about 120 young-of-the-year perch per net, more than double the previous record of 50.

Last year's fall reproduction survey, by comparison, produced a total of 143 young-of-the-year perch in all 39 nets.


The young perch measure about 4 inches long.

As part of the survey, Game and Fish crews set small-mesh gillnets in 39 locations across Devils Lake. The nets, which target young fish of all species, are set in the same locations every year.

The survey began in mid-September and wrapped up Wednesday.

"It was interesting this year in that we had such a late spring, and we wondered how it was going to affect spawns, but it certainly had no negative impact on perch reproduction," said Randy Hiltner, northeast district fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish in Devils Lake.

Hiltner said a springtime rise in lake levels spurred by abundant runoff likely benefited the hatch by flooding vegetation, trees and other bottom structure where perch lay their eggs.

More big perch

An abundance of egg-laying "brood fish" likely boosted the hatch, as well. According to Caspers, a midsummer survey of adult fish produced an average of 2½ perch per net in the 12-inch range -- three times the long-term average.

Those are the perch that anglers have been catching this summer in larger-than-usual numbers, Hiltner said. Ice fishing tends to produce the best perch catches, but anglers targeting walleyes encountered good numbers of "bonus" perch all summer.


"It seems like we've been on about a six-year cycle of huge year-classes of perch," Hiltner said. "About every six years, there's kind of a big (hatch). Don't ask me why that is."

Still, the biologists cautioned against reading too much into the numbers from this year's fall reproduction survey.

"There are an awful lot of walleyes and northerns out there that are going to be looking to eat these things," Caspers said. "They should show up in a few anglers' catches (eventually), but it depends on how many get eaten in the meantime."

More is always better than few when it comes to perch hatches, the biologists say.

"Our perch news right now is good all around, I'd say," Caspers said. "Are they the most abundant they've ever been? We can't really say that because we don't have any numbers previous to 1992."

That was past some of the real perch heydays, Hiltner added.

"Right now, we have a relatively good number of those big perch compared to recent history," Hiltner said.

Young walleyes down


As expected given the late spring, the walleye hatch will be down from last year. Caspers said he hasn't tallied the final numbers, but he estimates it will be about 15 young-of-the-year walleyes per net. That's near or slightly below the long-term average, but a poorer hatch isn't a bad thing because smaller walleyes are so abundant in the system right now, Caspers said.

White bass hatches also appear to be weak, Hiltner said, while pike numbers haven't been crunched.

"Actually from my experience, it's just about what the doctor ordered," Hiltner said. "Very few young-of-the-year white bass, lots of perch and a few walleyes. I'm not sure we could have drawn it up much better."

Scuds a concern

Less rosy is the outlook for freshwater shrimp, or scuds, a key forage species that appears to be in decline on Devils Lake. Hiltner said fish caught in summer netting surveys typically are covered with the shrimp; not this year.

"I think one of the elephants in the room is what is happening with the scuds," he said.

That also could explain this summer's good perch fishing, he said; with fewer scuds to eat, perch are more apt to hit anglers' offerings.

"Also, our walleye condition is below the long-term average," Hiltner said. "There's some evidence out there that scuds have been eaten down."

That could make all of those little perch swimming around down there even more vulnerable.

"Think if you're a 16-inch walleye, and you have all of those 4-inch perch swimming around in front of you," Hiltner said. "The fish population in Devils Lake is just predator heavy. It's tough to be a 5-year-old fish, but a few get there."

Game and Fish will begin similar fall assessments this week on Stump Lake and Lake Irvine.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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