Life is returning to normal in Devils Lake, and business is about “even” with last year at this time, the head of Devils Lake Tourism says.
“Travelers need to take the time to book motels and resorts that coincide with their fishing schedules,” said Suzie Kenner, executive director of Devils Lake Tourism. “The guides still have availability due to earlier coronavirus cancellations.”
Devils Lake fish populations are doing well, said Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake.
“White bass are at record high numbers,” Caspers said. Pike are still above average, and they are not “hammer-handles,” he said.
The typical pike measured in Game and Fish test net surveys measure anywhere from about 25 inches to 34 inches long, and “there are always trophies present,” Caspers said.
Walleyes are the main attraction for most anglers, and there’s plenty of reason to smile this summer, based on angler reports and Game and Fish surveys.
“Devils Lake has had decent year-classes each spring from 2016 to 2019,” Caspers said. Four-year-old walleyes in Devils Lake, the so-called “eaters,” average 14 to 15 inches long.
“There are still bigger fish out there, Caspers said.
Two local guides, Johnnie Candle and Ancil Reynolds, shared their midsummer tactics, along with a couple of secrets. Candle is a fishing educator and longtime tournament angler, while Reynolds operates Ancil’s Guide Service.
Candle’s tips and tricks
Candle’s midsummer techniques lean toward bottom-bouncers and spinners because of their versatility.
“Pull them over large rocky structures, mud flats or along weed edges,” Candle said, adding he uses No. 3 silver or gold Indiana spinner blades and a 2½-inch Gulp Minnow.
“No need for live bait,” he said. “Catch fish from 8 to 30 feet deep.”
Candle’s Lund holds a supply of slip-bobber rods for isolated structure and for fishing precise spots. Plain hooks or tiny jigs with leeches tempt many walleyes for clients. He trolls crankbaits on either Fireline or lead core, targeting flooded roads or when locating schools of roaming walleyes in the basin. Cranks include No. 5 and 7 Flicker Shads and Rapala Shad Raps and No. 5 Salmo Hornets.
“Perch and white are great colors,” he hinted.
“The average walleye right now is about 17 inches with a ton of great eating size fish in the system,” Candle said. They seem to go deeper this time of year, he said, but a good walleye chop puts them into a feeding frenzy, often in shallower water.
“White bass have been off the charts this year,” Candle added. “Lots of large fish; many days, the average is 16 inches. They fight hard and are fun to catch.”
Guide Ancil Reynolds follows a plan – his plan – each day. Walleyes with a unique presentation and pike keep him busy. Now, with more pike fly fishing enthusiasts in his boat, Reynolds says his opinion of these toothy predators has changed.
“I used to think pike ate anything that moved,” he said. “The fly guys taught me that pike are curious and selective. They don’t eat everything. Some followed flies 30 feet without hitting.”
The popularity of fly fishing increases each season, he says, with most “nice” pike in the 32- to 34-inch class. An 18-pounder came to the net, but most over 30 inches are released.
Pike are a bonus fish, which Reynolds converts into boneless fillets.
“People love the flavor and the firmness,” he said. “After catching and eating pike, they want to target them the next day.”
Walleyes remain the chief attraction for most clients, and Reynolds typically starts each day shallow. His clients toss small Reef Runners, Salmo Hornets, Flicker Shads, a large assortment of Rapalas and blade baits in about 5 feet of water, gradually moving to 30 feet.
Blade baits are Reynolds’ secret weapon. He makes his own from one-eighth to 1 ounce in size, with white a favorite color. He advises clients to cast, count down from one to five seconds and begin a steady retrieve with pauses.
“It drives walleyes crazy,” he said.
Reynolds also trolls blade baits, running a ¾-ounce blade bait 80 feet back on lead core with a 6-foot leader of braid. He speeds up to 2.5 mph and runs depths of 25 to 27 feet with his vibrating blades 20 to 22 feet down.
When pulling bottom-bouncers and spinners, Reynolds also defies the typical patterns. He jumps to size 5 and 6 gold or gold/orange blades and runs 2-foot snells to remain relatively free of snagging rocks and trees. To his “slow-death” or straight style hook, he adds a leech.
Experience is a great teacher, and Reynolds’ slip-bobber fishing proves that point. He uses 20-pound braid, a 2-foot fluorocarbon leader and a red No. 2 Gamakatsu hook. A quarter-ounce egg sinker above the swivel quickly takes the leech to its final destination.
“With the long days of summer upon us, I have been booking many ice fishing clients,” Reynolds said. “However, when they learn I have some openings in July and August, they add a few more days to their North Dakota fishing fun.”
Reynolds guides on open water until early November.
“Tourism is definitely picking up around here, which is good to see,” he said.
More info: devilslakend.com or (701) 662-4903.