DEVILS LAKE – When the Devils Lake ice sheet eases away from shore sometime in the latter weeks of April, the rush is on. Anglers drop everything and travel from everywhere to intercept walleyes and northern pike, which are hurrying upstream to perform their spring spawning rituals.
For decades, Devils Lake has provided a bounty for spring shoreline anglers.
Despite 30 inches of ice this winter, the sun always wins. Additionally, with a very wet fall and plenty of snow, predictions are for Devils Lake to rise 2 to 3 feet.
“With the expected melt this spring, we will have plenty of water running this year,” said Clint DeVier, best described as a guide, promoter and friend of the lake who’s active in conservation circles.
Tanner Cherney, the Devils Lake tourism outdoor media coordinator, agrees.
“Moving water really gets things going,” Cherney said. “This year will be the best runoff in the past five years.”
DeVier narrowed his prediction to the April 10 to 20 time frame.
“That’s traditionally when the ice gives way and the culverts and bridges open,” he said. “It’s also when shore fishing is best.”
Walleyes and pike migrate, passing from one lake to another, always pushing upstream. The many bridges under highways and county roads along with northerly-exposed riprap shorelines provide plenty of ambush opportunities for anglers.
One of the popular spots is Channel A at the north end of Six-Mile Bay. Another is Mauvais Coulee going into Pelican Lake. The tributaries -- at least in spring -- flowing into Dry, Alice and Irving lakes and the 10 to 15 miles of upstream current areas around bridges and coulees all produce.
Ask DeVier and Cherney, and they both agree the simplest lures are the best option for springtime shore fishing. Pike are notorious for hitting anything moving through the water column. Male walleyes in the 14- to 20-inch range are the norm, with a few giant walleyes in the mix.
Cherney ties on a one-quarter ounce jig and adds a 4-inch Twister or Walleye Assassin plastic tail in orange or pink. Another favorite color is fire tiger.
“Crankbaits don’t work as well since casts will be to deeper water, retrieving uphill to shoreline,” Cherney said. “Snags eat cranks, so I use jigs and plastic.”
Anglers targeting pike will cast spoons, DeVier said, but most prefer to use jigs and plastic tails.
“Jigs catch pike and walleyes,” he said. “You never know what’s on the end of your line.”
DeVier’s tackle box includes jigs and 4-inch Twister tails or PowerBait paddle tails in blue, white, pink or chartreuse.
“In dirtier water, use the brightest color,” he said. “It’s always amazed me how good the shore fishing is around here. As I travel for tournaments, there is no place that has more shore fishing locations than right here in Devils Lake.”
One of the easiest jigs to use, according to Cherney, is the Mimic Minnow from Bemidji-based Northland Tackle. It’s already assembled, catches fish, is not very costly and is designed for shorefishing applications.
Devils Lake guide Cody Roswick agreed.
“The Mimic Minnow was designed for shallow fishing,” Roswick said. “The pre-rigged jig/plastic lure casts well even in wind, is easy-to-use, swims perfectly in shallow water and flat-out catches fish.”
His favorites are one-quarter and three-eighths ounce Mimics in fire tiger, clown or pink-and-white UV colors.
“Find the warmest shallow water and use your Mimic Minnow as a search tool,” Roswick said. “Nice thing, it’s almost weed and snag-proof.”
From the first trickles of open water, ice-out occurs a few weeks later. Most guides begin open-water trips about May 10 to 15, with the all-time favorite walleye “bite” being the two weeks before Memorial Day through June. Afternoons are usually best because it takes several hours to warm the shallows, DeVier said.
“Fishing a foot to 4 feet of water with jigs or small Rapala Shad Raps is a matter of fan casting to locate walleyes,” DeVier said. “Pike will be mixed in. When these shallows hit 55 degrees, the fish really explode.”
Cherney runs two rods: one with a slip bobber and a leech (use leeches as soon as available, he emphasized) and keep casting. When the cranks or jigs locate fish, toss the slip-bobber in that area.
“Most of these fish will be in less than 3 feet of water, which takes awhile for my out-of-state friends to understand,” Cherney said.
Devils Lake also offers big surprises in the form of white bass. They usually start cooperating toward the end of May. White bass typically travel in schools, and it’s not uncommon to catch several until the school moves. Based on last season and this winter, Cherney said jigs and plastic, Salmo Hornets and Northland Mimic Minnows are all that’s required.
Devils Lake seasons remain open year-round. There are no size or slot length limits. The bag limits are five walleyes and five northern pike daily.
More info: devilslakend.com.