Perch bonanza continues on Devils Lake

As predicted, perch fishing this winter on Devils Lake has been good, if not downright spectacular. Photos of buckets filled with perch and cleaning tables covered with fish have been common on social media sites.

Buckets of perch have been the norm for anglers this winter on Devils Lake.

Given the fishing, it will be interesting to see the estimates of this winter’s fishing pressure and harvest when the numbers from a yearlong creel survey now underway become available.

No doubt it’s a good winter for a creel survey. The Game and Fish Department hired private contractor WATERS Inc. of Bottineau, N.D., to conduct the survey, which began last spring.

It’s the first creel survey on Devils Lake since 2007.

Curious to see if any winter numbers were yet available, I touched base with Randy Hiltner, the department’s northeast district fisheries supervisor in Devils Lake, this morning.

Nothing yet, he said, but the good reports have come as no surprise.

“I thought with the good perch densities, lower shrimp numbers and some decent access, that the bite would be relatively good and it has been,” Hiltner said this morning in an email. “Lots of fish around 9-10 inches and decent numbers of jumbos getting caught.  I’ve caught a couple over 14 inches … real thumpers!”

The absence of freshwater shrimp was readily apparent before Christmas during my only trip to Devils Lake to date. Most years, it seems, the invertebrates that are a key forage for perch and other fish species, cover the snow every time you drill a hole.

Not this year; I can’t recall seeing a single shrimp in the holes when I fished before Christmas. And most of the day, getting the perch to bite required very little coaxing.

Hiltner said the numbers from the December portion of the survey should be available soon, but the extreme cold that characterized much of the month likely kept fishing pressure down.

Pressure so far this month seems to be up, he said, no doubt spurred by warmer weather and the fishing reports that have circulated via word-of-mouth and the media.

I hope to get back over there a time or two this winter, and if you haven’t yet made the trip to sample the perch fishing for yourself, now’s the time.

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