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NDGF data: Population of big perch in Devils Lake is high

by Mike McFeely

These are pretty good times for anglers on Devils Lake. The best of times? Well, we'll leave that up to your personal experience.

But we know this: 

  • Numbers of big perch in the lake -- 12+ inches -- are believed to be at their highest level since at least 1992.
  • Anglers caught piles of walleyes this summer.

North Dakota Game and Fish biologist Todd Caspers in Devils Lake shared some test-netting numbers and creel survey data that confirms what I've believed for the past several years -- Devils Lake is one of the top fisheries in North America right now.

First, the perch. 

Oh, the perch. 

NDGF's test-netting survey from July showed the population of 12-inch and larger perch to be a little more than three times as abundant as average. The average catch rate for this size of perch is about 0.75 per net. This year, NDGF caught 2.5 of them per net. The catch of 2.5 large perch per net is the highest catch rate NDGF has had since it started test-netting Devils Lake in 1992.

"What we don't know is how our current perch numbers might compare with numbers before 1992 because we don't have any data before 1992," Caspers said. "So we can't say the numbers of these 12-plus-inch perch are at an all-time record, but they are the most abundant that they have been since we began surveying the lake in 1992."

Anecdotally, those who regularly fish the lake like guides and local residents are reporting they've never caught so many big perch accidentally while fishing for walleyes as they have this summer. Veteran Devils Lake anglers believe this will lead to tremendous ice-fishing for perch, if access to the lake is reasonable.

Walleye fishing has been fantastic overall this summer, too, according to creel surveys conducted by NDGF.

Anglers harvested roughly 212,000 walleyes from Devils Lake between June and August, according to creel survey figures provided by Caspers. This compares to about 92,000 walleyes harvested in the same time period the last time a creel survey was conducted in 2007.

Here is the interesting part: Anglers fished the lake less in 2012 than 2007, but caught many more walleyes.

There has been roughly 500,000 angler-hours on Devils Lake from June-August, compared to about 627,000 angler hours during the same period of 2007. An angler-hour is a measurement of fishing effort that represents one angler fishing for one hour.

"Although there has been lighter fishing pressure this year, anglers have been having good success," Caspers said.

Other findings of the creel survey:

  • The northern pike harvest has been good this year, too. About 21,000 pike were harvested June-August this year, compared to 12,000 in 2007.
  • Anglers have been keeping more perch this summer. NDGF estimates about 14,000 harvested this year, compared to 2,400 in 2007.
  • *White bass harvest is significantly lower this summer than 2007. Roughly 72,000 were harvested in 2007, with only 24,000 taken this summer.

"This is indicative of the lower white bass numbers in the lake right now," Caspers said.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)