DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – After a Great Lakes shootout on Michigan’s Saginaw Bay, the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour heads west to North Dakota’s Prairie Pothole Region for the third tournament of the 2018 season. The two-day event is scheduled for July 26-27 on Devils Lake, perhaps the most diverse walleye fishery in the country. For years, Devils continued to swell as the natural lake has no visible outlet. In 2011, it reached a record high of 1,454.3 feet, and farmers lost thousands of acres of agricultural land. More recently, Devils has receded, but the walleye fishing continues to be excellent.
Local guide and longtime tournament pro Johnnie Candle said the water has dropped over 4 feet since its high point. While that might not sound like much, every foot equates to 10,000 acres.
“The severe flooding is over, and we’ve lost about 45,000 acres of water,” explained Candle. “A lot of the flooded timber is now gone. You don’t see those massive fields of flooded forests. The days of tying off on an oak tree are behind us. Devils is fishing much more like a natural lake in Minnesota or Wisconsin. We’re now targeting more of the deeper weed lines and deeper rock.”
While Devils Lake continues to change, its walleye population is as healthy as ever.
“Our walleye numbers are as strong as I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve lived here since 2000,” added Candle. “It will not be an issue catching a limit, unless you get extremely picky.”
Ranger-Mercury pro Jacob Ell agreed with Candle’s assessment.
“Devils Lake is one of the better lakes we go to,” said the Bismarck, N.D., native. “It’s such a healthy fishery, and you can fish to your strengths. You can troll, you can cast, you can pitch jigs, and you can work Jigging Raps over the humps. I was just there over the weekend and we caught fish in 3 feet of water, and we caught fish in 30 feet of water and everywhere in between. There are fish everywhere.”
North Dakota is a no-cull state, so the challenge for tournament anglers will be locating bigger walleyes and making the right decisions in terms of what to keep and what to throw back.
“I think you’re probably going to need a milk run of big-fish spots,” said Ell. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to catch all your big fish in one spot.”
“As much as I love to fish at home, I hate to fish at home,” Candle said. “As a local, you know too much. Everywhere you look the memory bank brings up a 6-pounder that you caught on that point and another 7-pounder you caught on that hump. You just have sensory overload.”
Candle’s goal is to catch 20 pounds each day of the tournament, which is attainable, if he executes and makes the right decisions.
“Decision making is tough on this lake,” cautioned Candle. “Let’s say you catch 20- and 21-inchers right away in the morning. Do you keep them or pitch them back? If you kept the 20, then you’re definitely keeping the 21. There are many scenarios where you could be done early, even though you just found a motherlode of 5-pounders. It’s challenging, and it can be frustrating. You have to trust your prefishing.”
The last time the NWT visited Devils Lake was for the 2015 championship. That event was won by local pro Scott Larson, who employed the Rapala Jigging Rap over rock piles. In 2013, Evinrude pro Chris Gilman also used the Jigging Rap to claim walleye fishing’s year-end championship.
“The Jigging Rap/Shiver Minnow has won countless tournaments here, and it still works,” Candle reiterated. “However, there are a lot of ways to catch them this time of year. Guys will be live-bait rigging. There will be bottom bouncers and spinners. Guys will be trolling leadcore. Guys will be using slip bobbers over rock structure. This much diversity is great for a major tournament because it spreads the boats out. My goal is to find something that I don’t have to share.”
Candle pinpointed the deep leadcore bite and the shallow casting bite as two potential wild cards.
“With leadcore, catching keepers is rarely a problem. It’s a great way to put clients on eaters. The question is do you have the patience to sort through 30 eater-sized fish before you come across the school of 4- and 5-pounders? The shallow bite probably won’t play if we get flat-calm conditions with high skies. But if it’s windy and cloudy – look out. Wind-blown shorelines and shallow weeds could be the wildcard.”
Both Candle and Ell agree that a two-day total of around 50 pounds will be needed to win the tournament.
“I’m going to say 50 (pounds) to win or just a shade over that,” predicted Candle. “The fish have had more time to eat; they’re nice and chunky this time of year.”
“With how healthy the fishery is, I imagine it will take two 25-pound days,” concluded Ell. “Guys will catch 25-pound bags, but being able to replicate a 25-pound day is the real challenge.”
Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. Central time from Grahams Island State Park, located at 152 S. Duncan Rd. in Devils Lake. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the state park, beginning at 3 p.m. The full field fishes each day with the winner in each division being determined by the heaviest cumulative weight.
The National Walleye Tour consists of three regular-season events and a year-end championship. Each regular season event is a two-day, pro-am tournament and delivers over a 100 percent payback. Pros compete against other pros, and co-anglers compete against other co-anglers.
Registration is ongoing for the Devils Lake event. Registration can be taken over the phone at 501-794-2064 or online by visiting www.nationalwalleyetour.com/tournaments/register/. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.nationalwalleyetour.com.