Perch Heaven On Devil’s Lake

We know of a place serious ice fishermen should not pass up this winter. Don’t let its name throw you. Devil’s Lake, N.D., is truly heaven for anglers looking for a chance to ice walleyes and yellow perch!

Even silver linings of heaven’s clouds have a touch of gray. Finding fish can be a trick, however. The drawback of Devil’s Lake is its massive size due to a long cycle of high water that has caused the lake to reach record levels. At more than 160,000 acres, Devil’s Lake is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota. It is second only in size to the reservoir Lake Sakakawea. 

Ted Takasaki

But a visit to the “Perch Capital of the World” is well worth the effort. The majority of perch weigh about a pound, but fish up to 1.5 pounds are common. This year, 2012, is the 30th anniversary of the state record perch that came from Devil’s Lake, a 2 pound, 15 ounce beast! State fish & game surveys show continued strong populations of perch.

If you target perch, expect to catch some walleyes as well. If you are specifically targeting walleyes, big fish from 4 pounds on up can wind up on the ice. The lake record is more than 13 pounds. Surveys reveal good year-classes of walleyes, too.

Perch Patrol Knows Lake
And, if finding fish gets to be too much of a hassle or you don’t have a lot of time to spend, hiring guide services such as the famous Perch Patrol removes the guesswork. (visit

Basic movements are simple. Perch begin the early-ice period around Thanksgiving at depths of 24 to 32 feet. As the season wears on, they move deeper to 40 feet. By February, they reach their deepest point, about 44 feet. By March, they begin migrating shallower again toward spawning areas nearer the three major inlets into Devils Lake and ice anglers move along with them. 

Check with local bait shops and websites before you go. Have a game plan in place. 

If you’re intent on finding your own schools of fish, do what the locals do. Unlike open-water fishing when changing location by boat is a simple task, finding fish through the ice is a lot of work. Local groups such as the Perch Patrol cut the area they want to search down to size by spreading out with GPS units. After picking a particular section of the lake, a bay or a mud flat, they spread out and drill holes to search the depths with their electronics. Schools of perch and walleyes are also found in submerged timber. The forests of flooded trees cannot be overlooked. Other locations for walleyes include points and sand bars. 

Stay five minutes max. If no fish appear on the electronics, leapfrog to new holes until fish are found. A quick call with GPS coordinates over their handheld radios is all that’s needed for everyone to converge on the spot. Schools of perch often have walleyes and white bass mixed in. 

This search tactic can be used on any body of water to cut the time needed to get on top of fish and stay on them.  

Use Light Line
Use 24- to 28-inch St. Croix medium-action rods and spool them up with 1- to 4-pound-test monofilament or 6-pound (it has a 2-pound-test mono diameter) TUF Line Duracast Ice. 

Lindy Ice Worms or Fat Boys are great ice-fishing jigs for perch. The smaller Rattlin’ Flyer spoons are an excellent choice as well. They appear clearly on the flasher so you know precisely where the bait is. Use Eurolarvae or wax worms for perch. They imitate the freshwater shrimp that provides the main forage base and accounts for the tremendous growth rates seen at Devils Lake.

For walleyes, step up to the new Slick Jigs or the larger Rattlin’ Flyer spoons and switch to minnows or minnow heads. 

Try a variety of colors. Chartreuse, firetiger and glow colors are good to start. Give the fish a choice and let them signal their preference.

Jig hard at first. Calm down once fish show up on the sonar screen. Perch usually appear as thin marks just off the bottom. Walleyes appear as thicker marks and may chase the bait. Either species is more likely to bite when they are up off the bottom.

Don’t toy with fish. If one just looks at the bait, twitch the jig, then pull it from them and stop. The action is often enough to coax a strike from active fish will often follow and strike.

If you’re one of us who appreciate time on hard water in winter, no place offers better perch and walleye fishing than Devil’s Lake. Check Amtrak for special rates to this ice-fishing Mecca. Consider hiring a guide to make good use of your limited time in this angling heaven on earth.

With the arrival of winter, now’s the time to plot a course to this great ice-fishing get-away!

For more information, check out the Devil’s Lake city website at Or call 800-233-8048 for more travel information.

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