When most people think of ice fishing on Devils Lake, North Dakota they are thinking giant perch by the bushel. Yes, that is what most people travel from far and wide to experience but there is another fish, a hard fighting, bad to the bone fish with a bad reputation, the Northern Pike.
Pike fishing on Devils Lake during the winter months offers a totally different experience. North Dakota allows up to four lines per angler on ice, making tip up fishing even more exciting. The pike are plentiful and the average fish is not just a “hammer handle” but a respectable foe. They are fairly easy to find, they fight hard and there is just something about seeing the flag of a tip up jumping up out of the snow that gets a middle-aged man’s heart pumping.
I don’t remember the year of my first “pike party” as our fishing group calls them actually took place but I know that it was one to remember. A group of us set a spread of about 20 tip ups near sunken trees. We had many flags fly that day, caught more fish than anyone could have expected and had laughs until our sides hurt. Its hard not to get hooked on something that is that fun.
It was that one trip that set up pike fishing with tip ups on Devils Lake as my favorite form of ice fishing even all these years later. Our group has grown and we have gotten more creative in our outings. We have a system to set up fast, we love to fire up the grill for a hot lunch and we may even throw a football around from time to time.
Catching Devils Lake Pike
There are two ways to run tip ups on Devils Lake that can produce a great fishing day. The first is find sharp drop offs from point, saddles or humps. Set along these edges on the shallow and the deep side. (Remember you get four lines per person so you can really cover some ground.) This will cover many ambush points where these wolves will roam for prey. This can be a slower way to fish but tends to offer up a shot at bigger pike.
The second (and my favorite) way to catch pike on Devils Lake is set up on a flat right on a shallow weed edge. When I say shallow, I mean shallow like eight inches to a couple feet of water under the ice. Right on the edge of the weeds is also a great place to set up. These areas range from two to four feet of water under the ice. Don’t be afraid to put your bait right on the bottom when fishing this shallow as the pike will find it.
This way of fishing tends to not catch as big of pike but it is a great way to catch numbers of pike. On Devils Lake in the dead of winter we can commonly catch eight to twenty fish in a day with two or three anglers.
For bait in both of these scenarios I use grocery store smelt most of the time. Occasionally I will use hotdogs just to mix things up. It should be mentioned that live suckers are illegal to use west of the Red River.
Getting Kids Involved
Kids do not have the attention spans that we do as adults. Getting a small kid to sit in a portable shack all day staring at a bobber or a Humminbird for that matter is a challenge. If there is not fairly fast action the day will get long unless your kid is some ice fishing saint. Tip ups offer an element for kids that keeps their fishing interest high while allowing them to be kids and do other things in between bites.
When my boy was really young, I was good for about two hours in an ice shack with him but with a spread of tip ups we could fish all day. We would set up a shack to use as a home base so he could warm up or grab a quick snack. For the most part he would spend his days running around on the ice doing things from making snow angels to fighting imaginary storm troopers with a stick he had found. When someone yelled FLAG it did not matter where he was in his battle or his cupcake, he was on a mission to get that fish or at least watch whoever’s turn it was to catch the fish.
These trips with my boy eventually became the basis for the annual “little boy’s trip” (It needs a new name because these guys aren’t little anymore.) that happens in mid-February. My buddies who also have boys about the same age all join us at Devils Lake. This trip has become an annual hit where friends get together have fun, chase flags and catch some fish.
Conservation of these awesome creatures
Pike have a bad reputation among northern anglers but this attitude needs to change. Even though there are liberal limits on pike we must be selective in what we take from the lake. The best lakes for other fish like walleye, crappie and perch have a healthy population of big pike in them. These are the enforcers that keep everything in balance. Please keep that in mind when you are planning your fish fry.
Come Visit us on Devils Lake
When you are looking for your next ice fishing adventure, think Devils Lake and consider a day of running tip ups for the hardest fighter out there. Remember in North Dakota you get four lines per person so with even a small group of people you can really cover some ground to find the fish and have a great time chasing flags. If you want some help I am offering guiding services this winter for pike using tip ups.
Captain Brad Durick is a nationally recognized catfish guide on the Red River of the North as well as pike guide on Devils Lake, ND. He is a seminar speaker, and author of the books Cracking the Channel Catfish Code and Advanced Catfishing Made Easy. For more information go to www.redrivercatfish.com