by Tim Huffman
Few articles are written about crappie fishing in North Dakota. That’s because the crappie take a back seat to great walleye and perch fishing.
The prime season for crappie is winter when fish are taken under the ice. Ice-out follows in the spring when crappie are pursued for a few weeks. After that, they are forgotten until winter when ice returns.
Devils Lake is a 170,000 acre lake in the northern part of the state. It’s a natural-formed glacier lake and a big body of water. Tanner Cherney, with Devil’s Lake Tourism, says, “Devil’s Lake is relatively shallow at about a 20 foot average with the deepest water at 55 feet depending upon the overall water elevation. Roughly 80 percent of the activity on the lake is fishing and the other 20 recreational. So weekends in warm weather we see rises in family use, but the lake is primarily a fishing lake.
“Walleye and perch are very popular but most of the time we see fishermen going after whatever is biting. Our waters are unique in that we have brine shrimp in it. That has really helped keep our fish healthy and thriving.”
Cherney says along with the walleye and perch, northern pike, white bass and crappie are present. He says crappie popularity has really taken a jump in the past few years.
“Ice fishing is always good, but a good time to get them is in the spring after the ice is gone. The crappie will be up in the shallows and easy to get. Fish are caught along the edges. As spring continues and the water warms, the fish start moving deeper.”
Crappie aren’t targeted in the summer and fall. The fish are deep, especially in the summer, so finding them is the key. Also, presentations become more difficult when the fish get deep.
Cherney says, “Ice melting is weather dependent but May 1st is the general time we can get the boat out on the lake. Out-of-state fishermen should consider hiring a guide for at least a couple of days to learn about areas of the lake and tactics that work. The lake has about a dozen public ramps and probably a dozen more private resorts with ramps. The lake is so big that wind is an obvious problem, but there are so many bays finding a shelters area usually isn’t difficult.”
Lake Oahe has crappie and is close to Bismark. Jamestown Reservoir, in the eastern-central part of the state, is another spot for crappie.
Guide Cody Roswick (fin-hunters.com, 710-840-5407) fishes several waters including Devils Lake and Lake Ashtaula. “At ice-out, we are looking in the backs of bays and little harbors. The creeks warm up and that draws in minnows. Everything, including crappie, comes to the minnows.”
Roswick says, “I like to cast a little jig in about 3 to 12 feet of water. Our lakes aren’t clear in the spring because of the runoff from the snowmelt, so our water has a stain. A Northland Fire-fly, a hair jig, works great and my favorite colors are yellow-white and pink-white.
“The key is to find a little warmer water. Three to five degrees makes a big difference. The crappie fishing in most of our lakes is good because they are basically untouched. A fisherman can come here and have a good time.”
Travelling Central and West North Dakota
An Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers conference in Bismark was a great excuse to make a trip out west last fall. My wife and I took the long way to Bismark via Jackson Hole, Yellowstone and Cody, creating a lot of miles but great memories.
Bismark/Manden: Bismark is the capital city separated from Manden by the Missouri River. The combined population is 117,000 so navigation is easy compared to a big city.
Our trip included a Lewis & Clark Riverboat ride on the Missouri, a visit to the North Dakota Heritage Center with exhibits that are awesome, and the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. Mike Jensen, ND Tourism says, “Fort Lincoln was the home of General Custer and the 7th Calvary before they went to the battle of little big horn. Custer and his men lived here. They led the Yellowstone Expedition and the Black Hills Expeditions in 1874. Bunkhouses, General Custer’s house and more history can be seen here.”
Jensen says, “Bismark was the end of the line for the railroad when it went bankrupt in 1872. They needed the money to cross the Missouri River and they didn’t have it. So Bismark became an important site for the military to protect the railroad. Steamboats would take supplies on up river.”
Other local places to visit include the ND State Capital, Bismark Art Galleries, Dakota Zoo and ND State Railroad Museum.
Madora. “Our largest single attraction in North Dakota is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” says Jensen. “Medora is the gateway town to that park. Teddy was very important to this state and is our adopted son. He often said he would not have been president if it were not for his experiences here in the state. Living with the cowboys and living this lifestyle here added to his background to help him become president. His original Maltese Cross hunting cabin that he built in 1883 is at Medora. The cabin was sent to the St. Louis World Fair, to Portland, OR and other places, then was brought back to the entrance of the park.”
While there, you’ll want to take an early morning or late afternoon drive in the national park to see the wildlife and the Badlands of North Dakota.
The Medora Musical is a great family show that is open every night from the beginning of June until just after Labor Day. Eat before the musical at the Pitchfork Fondue. Jensen says the pitchfork fondue is to North Dakota what salmon is to the West and seafood is to the East. The cooks stick several rib eye steaks on a pitchfork and cook them in a kettle of oil. I can personally verify (after two of these meals in three days), it has no oil taste, has a great outside texture and tender inside cooked to your preferred doneness. It comes with all the fix’ins.
A combination fishing trip and vacation can be a great adventure. Our trip was in early to mid-September with cool but great weather. Be sure to check on-line to find open seasons and dates for all activities. Also check on water/ice conditions and fishing activity.
NDtourism.com; NoBoundariesND.com; and tourism.devilslakend.com