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What Goes Up Must Come Down

by Devils Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau

The lake by the city of the same name in north-central North Dakota, Devils Lake, made news as it spread far and wide from about 40,000 acres in the early 1990’s to an estimated 220,000 acres a few years ago.  Homes, farms, roads, and bridges were all submerged as the water rose quickly.

Today, the lake is still there.  There is plenty of water for anglers and boating enthusiasts.  Boat ramps were beefed up to the tune of millions of dollars, and with the water now dropping (four feet in the past five years), ramps are being extended or re-located as necessary.

The manager of the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resources board Jeff Frith said, “What goes up, must come down.”  With not much run-off this spring, and the long-range weather pattern appearing mild, Frith noted that the lake this spring is 18 inches lower than a year ago and four feet below its highest point in June 2011.  

With a look at the historical perspective, North Dakota Game & Fish Fisheries Development Supervisor Bob Frohlich said, “When the water came up, the state took action and rebuilt and extended boat ramps.  In fact, we went from six ramps prior to the high water to 10 public ramps.  Now, we’re starting to lose one or two, but we’ve already been addressing this issue.”

Frohlich said the Pelican access, a very popular walleye and pike fishing area, is gone. The shallow water by the ramp is one issue; so is a railroad and a highway between the ramp and most of Pelican.  The state trenched thru these major barriers when water levels came up, but there is no more to cut away with the falling water.  Boats may reach Pelican under the Hwy. 19 bridge.  Last fall, Game & Fish relocated an access south of the town of Minnewaukan by installing a new concrete ramp with two docks.   

The East Devils Lake ramp on Black Tiger Bay was marginal last season, and Game & Fish pushed out a new ramp (Estenson’s Access) south of the old ramp.  The landowner made it possible for anglers to launch here.  Water level and ramp info is on the Game & Fish website at Devils Lake under the boating tab. “Our department is proactive, and without a crystal ball, we flex with Mother Nature,” Frohlich said.

With lower water levels and no spring run-off, what will fishing be like?  Ice went out earlier than usual, and local guide and World Walleye Champion Johnnie Candle said, “Without incoming current flow, most walleyes will spawn in shallow, dark bottom bays off the main lake.”  He will cast Flicker Shads and Ripple Tails after the spawn against the miles and miles of rip rap and rocky shoreline.  Most of these areas will be less than five feet deep.  

In Candle’s bag of tricks is a good memory.  He said, “The last time we had an early spring and no run-off, I spent much of May on spots most people considered July spots – mid-lake structure with rocks and gravel.  I think they spawned there and stayed. 

Mark Bry, owner of Bry’s Guide Service and Lodge will enjoy the challenge over the next couple months.  “Shallow mud bays will be my starting spot, but as the season progresses, I know with lower water that most of my hot ‘spot on the spot’ from last year will likely move.”  He said the rock hump that held walleyes a year ago might be devoid of fish, but he feels they won’t be far away.  “Search for new rock humps and work the shoreline rip rap at the perfect depth of a few feet to six feet deep,” he said.  When one part of Devils Lake is out of contention, there are always many more areas that come into play.

For the latest news, guide services, lake conditions and map, fish cleaning stations, lodging, restaurants, the 40th annual Chamber Walleye Tournament, the Coolest Cooler Giveaway (photos needed), and everything about the region, check out