Perch Fishing on Devils Lake

February 9, 2009 by  

By Jason Mitchell

Devils Lake perch fishing is back with a good cycle of jumbo perch.

Devils Lake perch fishing is back with a good cycle of jumbo perch.

Finding and catching jumbo panfish can be a challenge, even on lakes where a good population of big fish exists. Ironically, the healthiest jumbo panfish Mecca’s are often bodies of water where catching these fish does indeed challenge the ice angler, demanding the right combination of mobility and finesse.

The healthiest fisheries are often environments where fish are well fed, have places to hide and stay alive long enough to reach trophy status. Healthy jumbo panfish fisheries are getting harder to come by all the time. Just not as many places anymore where perch can enjoy an abundant food supply and live long enough to awe you at the bottom of the hole.

Many trophy panfish anglers are starting to realize that some of the most consistent fishing for truly impressive perch often takes place on large bodies of water. That isn’t to say that small bodies of water can’t grow big panfish because they do… just that when big panfish are discovered on small water, they become more susceptible to over harvest and fishing pressure. Thousands of acres of ice can often intimidate anglers but size also acts as a buffer against fishing pressure. There is no doubt in this day and age that some of the largest populations of truly large panfish indeed swim the untapped basins of large lakes that host strong forage bases.

While big water with ample food can be the ingredients where old humpbacked panfish can flourish, this environment can also be a double-edged sword. Perhaps nowhere is this double-edged sword more apparent than North Dakota’s famous perch fishery, Devils Lake.

Devils Lake is a massive body of water, sprawling for more than 125,000 acres. The lake has a notorious reputation for growing jumbo perch that take the shape of a barrel. These fish grow to impressive sizes because they have so much water to hide from anglers and because these fish feast on a never-ending forage base of freshwater shrimp. What a great situation for a fish, being able to hide from anglers and never having to deal with hunger pains. The places that grow jumbo perch often present a challenging situation for the angler.

While genuine jumbos are at times aggressive and easy to catch, more often than not, finesse is needed to coax these fish to eat. Remember that environments capable of growing truly large perch are often the same environments where fish seldom have to compete aggressively against each other and the food supply is unlimited.

Big baits and aggressive presentations don’t necessarily mean big perch. Savvy anglers must often switch combinations and rely on finesse to be successful.

Devils Lake jumbo perch have a long standing reputation, but when it goes cold there are many bodies of water loaded with jumbo perch within a couple hundred miles

Devils Lake jumbo perch have a long standing reputation, but when it goes cold there are many bodies of water loaded with jumbo perch within a couple hundred miles

Calling All Perch

Successful anglers find fish with the help of electronics. Sonars are excellent tools for locating perch. When searching for perch on deep mud basins, the zoom mode and bottom separation features on the newer models are invaluable. Your electronics are your eyes underwater.  

On big water, finding perch often starts with a lure that will attract and draw fish in from a distance. Working a small spoon like a Frostee Spoon or Lindy Rattler aggressively will let you know if there are any fish in the vicinity. Some fish in the school might indeed be aggressive and an angler can do quite well aggressively working one lure. A small spoon tipped with either; maggots, wax worms or a minnow head is a time honored presentation that works well for aggressive perch.  So often however with temperamental fish, an aggressive presentation might indeed find fish and pull wandering fish into the cone angle of your Vexilar but something subtler is needed to trigger a bite. Call fish over to you with a flashy presentation like a spoon than make the switch to something smaller or subtler when needed.  Again, your electronics let you know when fish are found and how they are responding to your presentation.

Downsizing to Up-size Your Catch

Tiny horizontal jigs might be poor lures for finding fish in the regard that they do not emit much flash or water displacement but these same morsels can be deadly for triggering perch that need to be coaxed. When perch refuse to hit a spoon, downsizing to micro jigs like; Fat Boys or Genz Worms can often mean the difference between catching fish and just watching fish on the electronics.  For really fussy fish, successful perch anglers often use two-pound low stretch monofilament for detecting these fish.  Spring bobbers can also be a huge advantage for sensing an often-subtle strike.  If you are getting the hits, downsize until you start to catch fish.  One of the deadliest triggers for perch without an appetite is simply holding something small perfectly still in front of the fish and waiting. This hold-still mode will only be effective however if your jig can hang perfectly still without spinning from line twist. Run your fingers down the line repeatedly to get rid of the twist. Watch your jig in the hole, if the jig is spinning, you are not going to catch many fish.

Combining the Elements

Overfed perch can be temperamental and a good way to combat this temperament is to combine the elements each presentation offers. Successful anglers often switch back and forth between two or more rods rigged with different presentations. Besides switching rods, anglers often combine the strengths of different presentations into one lure by making a dropper rig. The Dropper rigs are extremely popular in perch circles for the simple reason that they drop through the water fast, can attract fish from a distance but offer something easy and small down below for a fussy perch to eat.

Waiting Out the Bite

So often, mobility becomes a catch phrase in today’s ice fishing circles. Anglers can often cripple their success however if they focus on moving so much that they move right past finicky fish. Don’t be so quick to leave areas where fish are showing up on the electronics but refuse to bite. If these finicky fish are the right size, there are advantages to staying put and waiting out the bite. Well-fed jumbo perch often binge feed, turning on and off like a light switch. At other times, experimenting with different presentations can entice reluctant fish to bite. When facing perch that don’t ever have to work for a meal, accept the fact that the bite might indeed be light and the fish probably won’t be aggressive. Fish accordingly.

Putting It All Together

Lakes capable of growing true jumbo perch are all unique. Many of the characteristics of a lake that are essential (for nurturing bragging size perch) are often disadvantageous for the angler. The key to consistently catching big perch is to fish bodies of water that hold big perch and recognize why these fisheries grow trophy fish. When you can recognize the traits inherit to these fisheries, adapt accordingly and you are on to jumbo road.

True jumbo perch are highly regarded by ice anglers.Ice angling for perch continues to flourish and increase in popularity. Few fish are better eating or offer as much excitement. The big perch game might not always be a numbers game where the action is as fast as you might find in a fishery full of stunted five-inch fish. The trade off is well worthwhile however for anglers who really enjoy and appreciate big panfish.


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