Influx of water on Devils Lake a welcome development for fishing prospects, local guides say

Devils Lake was at 1,447.2 feet above sea level before spring runoff, and the predictions call for the lake to rise to 1,451.7 feet.

Steve Zippy Dahl and walleyes.jpg
Fishing guide Steve "Zippy" Dahl hoists a pair of Devils Lake walleyes. The influx of water into Devils Lake bodes well for spring and summer walleye prospects, Dahl and other local guides say.
Contributed / Devils Lake Tourism
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DEVILS LAKE – Devils Lake is projected to rise 4 feet this spring, water officials say, and local fishing guides say the influx of water is welcome.

Jeff Frith, Devils Lake Joint Water Resource Board.
Jeff Frith, Devils Lake Joint Water Resource Board.

“We needed a shot of moisture, and Mother Nature complied,” fishing guide Cody Roswick said. “We survived the drought, and now the fishing looks good.”

According to Jeff Frith, manager of the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board, a “pile of April moisture” will result in record in-flows. Devils Lake was at 1,447.2 feet above sea level before spring runoff, Frith said, and the predictions call for the lake to rise to 1,451.7 feet.

“The flooded vegetation will provide excellent spawning conditions,” fishing guide Steve “Zippy” Dahl of the Perch Patrol Guide Service said, adding that the new water is “great for the future.”

Another way to grasp the tremendous incoming volume is how it translates to total acreage. The lake in the early 1990s was about 40,000 acres and is now at 140,000 acres. By mid-June, Devils Lake will cover 168,000 acres


The previous record in-flow was 600,000 acre-feet, a term meaning each acre of land that will be covered with a foot of water, Frith said. This year, the new record will hit about 713,000 acre-feet, he said. In the first week of May, nine county roads were washed out or flooded, with innumerable town roads also “under water,” and a flood emergency was declared for the region May 3.


The upside to the high water is that most ramps will be operational, and docks will be installed within days of “ice-free” conditions, Devils Lake Tourism said in a news release.

Early spring tactics

While perch are the focus of most Devils Lake fishing guides in the winter, walleyes are the targeted species for the open water season.

“For us, the back bays off the main lake will be on our radar,” the Perch Patrol’s Dahl said. “We love these bays; they warm sooner, and the warmest water equals the best fishing.”

Some bays may warm 10 degrees over the main lake, but even 2 to 4 degrees draws fish. Knowing that the warmest part of the day produces the best fishing, Dahl says his guides call booked clients the night before the trip and arrange a meeting time.

“We may start the full guide day at 10:30 a.m. and fish into the evening,” he said. “We’re flexible.”

The basic fishing tactics in Dahl’s boat include slip-bobbers holding jigs with leeches just off the bottom. Usually anchored, anglers in his boat will often cast No. 5 Shad Raps or Flicker Shads and small Salmo Hornets. Jigs with paddle tails are also part of the arsenal.

As weeds grow, he moves to weed edges, slowly easing along with spinners and crawlers behind bottom-bouncers.


Roswick says the rising water also improves the outlook for ducks and geese that depend on the numerous sloughs and potholes in the Lake Region. As for fishing, Roswick says time on the water has taught him to depend on a number of early season tactics.

“I like my clients to cast small crankbaits or jigs and plastic to locate fish,” he said. “If they catch one or two or get a bump but action slows, I slow down with the fish.”

In Roswick’s boat, that means a slip-bobber above a 1/32nd ounce jig with a leech. When casting a quarter-ounce jig with a Northland Impulse paddle minnow – 3½ inches long in chartreuse white – he advises clients to reel just fast enough to keep it off bottom.

“This is a really good combo,” Roswick said.

Some die-hard walleye anglers cringe at the sight of a northern pike, but when the pike are harassing his group, Roswick says he knows that walleyes also are lurking nearby and tells his clients to keep casting.

Pike are catching on, though, Roswick says, and he has been receiving more and more calls about pike fishing. Clients also appreciate the fact that he cleans the pike for them, Roswick says.

“Pike are readily available, fight tough and eat great,” he said. “Most people like them as well as walleyes.”

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