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Brad Dokken column: Summer creel survey sheds light on Devils Lake, Stump Lake fishing trends

According to Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, anglers last summer logged 552,459 hours of fishing pressure on Devils Lake and kept 256,779 pounds of walleyes, based on creel survey estimates.

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Anglers kept an estimated 256,779 pounds of walleyes last summer on Devils Lake, down from an estimate of 438,556 pounds in 2016, results from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's summer creel survey show. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
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Fishing pressure and walleye harvest was down last summer on Devils Lake and Stump Lake, based on results from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s summer creel survey.

According to Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, anglers last summer logged 552,459 hours of fishing pressure on Devils Lake and kept 256,779 pounds of walleyes, based on creel survey estimates.

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Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department

That’s down from an estimated 622,600 hours of fishing pressure and an estimated walleye harvest of 438,556 pounds during the department’s last survey in 2016, Caspers said.

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The survey period began May 15 and continued through Aug. 31. Game and Fish conducts the survey every three years, Caspers said.

On Stump Lake, the creel survey tallied an estimated 35,877 hours of fishing pressure, down from 52,195 hours in 2016, Caspers said. Anglers on Stump kept an estimated 15,447 pounds of walleyes last summer, down from 24,620 pounds during the 2016 survey, he said.

The average walleye kept on Devils Lake measured about 14 inches, compared with about 15¾ inches on Stump, Caspers said.

“There’s a few more bigger fish on Stump,” he said. “There’s still not too many over 20 inches.”

As part of the survey, creel clerks interviewed willing anglers at public access points and private ramps with permission, gathering information on everything from fishing success to angler demographics. Two creel clerks worked Devils Lake, while a single clerk interviewed anglers on Stump, Caspers said.

Clerks encountered anglers from 32 states besides North Dakota and a few from Canada. More than half of the anglers interviewed on Devils Lake -- 50.3% -- were nonresidents. In the last survey, 41.5% of the anglers interviewed were nonresidents, he said.

“That’s been creeping up every survey,” Caspers said.

If there’s an aspect of the survey results that stands out, it’s the white bass harvest. Anglers fishing Devils Lake harvested a whopping 247,716 pounds of white bass during the summer survey period, estimates show. That’s up from only 18,408 pounds of white bass kept during the 2016 survey, Caspers said.

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“I kind of feel we underestimated that a bit in (the 2016) survey, but they weren’t as abundant,” he said.

A massive white bass hatch in 2015 drove the summer increase, Caspers said. Anglers also have been catching a fair number of white bass through the ice this winter on Devils Lake.

“They were really abundant,” Caspers said of white bass from the 2015 hatch. “There were a lot of cookie cutter-size fish, a lot that were about 13½ inches, give or take an inch or so.”

The white bass harvest on Stump Lake actually declined, from 7,460 pounds in 2016 to 6,345 pounds last summer, survey results showed. The white bass that anglers kept on Stump ran slightly larger, on average, but likely were from the same big hatch in 2015, Caspers said.

“They might grow a little bit faster on Stump,” he said.

Also notable was the summer perch harvest on Stump Lake. Based on the creel survey results, at least, there’s no danger of summertime anglers putting too much hurt on Stump Lake’s perch population.

The estimated summer perch harvest on Stump was a paltry 31.9 pounds -- that's not a misprint. The 2016 perch harvest on Stump wasn’t exactly staggering, either, as anglers kept a mere 176 pounds of perch.

“They just weren’t biting on Stump” last summer, Caspers said. “They were there, they just weren’t biting. Either that, or they just weren’t fishing for them in the right way, but I think they were there to be caught if you could figure them out.”

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On Devils Lake, anglers kept an estimated 1,231 pounds perch last summer, down from 3,656 pounds in 2016.

Anglers kept an estimated 66,443 pounds of pike last summer on Devils Lake, down from an estimate of 181,229 pounds in 2016. On Stump Lake, the pike harvest dipped from 3,294 pounds in 2016 to 2,138 pounds in last summer’s creel survey.

“Our pike numbers do seem to be trending downward, too,” Caspers said. “At times, they were more abundant than people would like.”

Game and Fish currently is conducting a winter creel survey on Devils Lake and Stump Lake. The survey, which began Dec. 1, continues through March 31, Caspers said.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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Brad Dokken


Related Topics: NORTHLAND OUTDOORS
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 bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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