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Devils Lake fish numbers in line with averages, survey shows

Nathan Janochoski, a fisheries aide for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, releases a pike of about 37.5 inches earlier this summer on Devils Lake. Game and Fish recently wrapped up its annual adult population survey on the big lake. North Dakota Game and Fish Department photo1 / 2
Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, measures a walleye caught from a coulee north of Devils Lake in May 2013. Results from the department's annual adult fish population survey on Devils Lake show numbers in line with long-term averages, Caspers said. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service2 / 2

DEVILS LAKE—"Average" describes the status of adult fish populations in Devils Lake, results from a recent annual fisheries survey show. And from an angling perspective, "average" is still pretty darn good, based on recent history.

This year's adult fish survey on Devils Lake yielded an average of 20.4 walleyes per net, which is on par with the long-term average of 20.6, said Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake.

Game and Fish conducts the survey every year in early July, setting nets in 39 sites across Devils Lake in depths ranging from 8 feet to 35 feet and leaving them overnight, Caspers said. The survey has been an annual assessment on Devils Lake since 1992, and fisheries crews set the nets in the same locations every year to gather consistent information on population trends, he said.

This year's survey wrapped up July 14, Caspers said.

Looking at the size breakdown, the survey produced an average of 8 walleyes in the 10- to 15-inch size range, Caspers said, down slightly from the long-term average of 9. The nets produced an average of 6½ walleyes measuring 15 to 20 inches, up from the long-term average of 5¾, Caspers said.

The number of 20- to 25-inch walleyes was the same as the long-term average at 1.3; and the number of 25- to 30-inch walleyes, at 0.6 per net, was slightly above the long-term average of 0.3.

Pike, perch and white bass numbers also hovered near historic averages, he said.

"It was just kind of an average year for everything," Caspers said.

Here's a rundown on the perch, pike and white bass findings.

Perch

The survey yielded an average of 9 perch per net, down slightly from the long-term average of 11.5. The number of 5- to 8-inch perch, at 3 per net, was down from the average of 5; the number of 8- to 10-inch perch was in line with long-term averages at 3 per net; 10- to 12-inch perch were at 2.4 per net, compared with the average of 2.5; and the number of 12- to 15 inch perch—the jumbos for which Devils Lake is famous—was 0.5 per net, down slightly from the long-term average of 0.7.

Northern pike

Overall pike numbers were at 4.2 per net, up from the long-term average of 3, Caspers said.

By size, the survey yielded about 2½ pike per net in the 21- to 28-inch range, compared with the average of about 2; 28- to 34-inch pike were at 1.6, up from the historic average of 0.8; and the number of pike larger than 34 inches was 0.1, which is about average.

"We never get a whole lot of those," Caspers said. "Our nets really aren't geared toward catching those really top-end fish. Our nets aren't quite as geared toward those bigger walleyes, either, so numbers aren't directly comparable on those top-end walleye and northern.

"They're probably about as abundant as usual."

White bass

A banner hatch in 2015 is driving white bass numbers, and those fish now measure 9 to 12 inches long, Caspers said. The survey yielded an average of 6.1 white bass in that size range, compared with the long-term average of about 1, he said. Smaller, 6- to 9-inch white bass were below average at 0.3, down from the average of 0.6; larger 12- to 15-inch white bass, at 0.2, were down quite a bit from the average of 1.6.

"That isn't surprising," Caspers said. "We didn't have very much recruitment on white bass for several years so there aren't too many of those older fish left."

A few of the oldest fish remain in the system, and the number of 15- to 18-inch white bass, at 0.4 per net, is in line with long-term averages, Caspers said.

"Bass that are over 16 inches are always at least 7, 8 or 9 years old," he said. "It's variable; some grow faster than others."

Devils Lake tidbits

• Preliminary surveys using small-mesh nets to sample fish hatched this spring suggest walleyes and perch had fair hatches, Caspers said. Crews will have a better idea of the hatch after completing the annual September young-of-the-year survey, he said.

• Results from a creel survey last summer showed anglers kept an estimated 335,000 walleyes, 48,000 pike, 9,000 white bass, 5,000 yellow perch and 1,700 crappies, Caspers said. Anglers last summer logged about 622,000 hours of fishing time—about 500,000 hours by boat and 120,000 hours from shore. The survey period ran from May 15, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2016.

• A winter creel survey conducted from mid-December 2016 through March 2017 showed anglers harvested about 112,000 perch, 24,000 walleyes, 11,500 pike, 6,500 crappies and 350 white bass, Caspers said. Anglers spent about 344,000 hours ice fishing Devils Lake last winter, the survey showed.

• A spring creel survey conducted during a three-week period beginning in early April along the coulees above the Lake Alice Complex showed anglers logged more than 17,000 hours of fishing time and kept an estimated 10,000 walleyes and 850 pike, Caspers said. Walleye fishing generally is best during springs with more runoff and higher flows, which is why the department held this year's survey, he said. The survey didn't include Channel A or other coulees closer to the lake.

• Game and Fish stocked more than 1.4 million walleye fingerlings this spring on Devils Lake at four sites—Minnewaukan Dumpground, Creel Bay, East Bay and Estenson Landing—the department said.

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.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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