“Without this lake and what it offers, this town would be dead; a very boring town,” exclaimed Jon Dircks of Ed’s Bait Shop in Devils Lake, ND. Mayor Richard Johnson said, “The lake’s excellent fishing has a huge impact on the local economy, and it’s growing annually.”
Devils Lake, a relatively small town with about 7,200 people (less than 12,000 in the county) accounts for about one percent of North Dakota’s total population. “But, amazingly, they sell 25 percent of the non-resident 3-day and 10-day fishing licenses,” said ND Game & Fish licensing manager Randy Meissner. “People want to fish the lake, and historically, we’ve seen a steady increase in fishing and waterfowl non-resident license sales there.”
It doesn’t hurt that Devils Lake fish populations are at high levels and the season is open year-round. Game and Fish northeast district fisheries supervisor Randy Hiltner said fall test netting placed perch catch rates at the highest since 2003; walleye and northern pike numbers are the highest since 2001.
Devils Lake has some of the most accomplished fishing and waterfowl guides anywhere. Estimates are that the fishing guides escort more than 15,000 clients on the lake’s 250,000 acres each open-water season. With the huge number of ice-fishing rental houses and large, skilled guide services, the ice season could equal that number for the three to four month winter period. Waterfowl guides hunt the lake and its many bays, but also set-up in the surrounding marshes and fields for thousands more guide days.
The mayor quantified fishing and hunting as the Number Two contributor to the local economy, right behind a strong agricultural industry. He said, “It’s phenomenal; they’re towing boats into town from all over; they’re coming by plane and Amtrak. They contribute significantly to the restaurant and lodging taxes which have been increasing annually. More fishermen and more hunters mean good things for this community.” City manager Terry Johnston also owns the Dairy Queen. “They come in with their summer sunburns and in the fall with mud on their boots. Tournaments really boost traffic. Outdoor recreation has a big impact on Devils Lake,” he said.
Dircks and his mother Donna run Ed’s Bait Shop. He said, “Devils Lake and the outdoor opportunities mean a lot to most businesses in town.” Donna said, “We’re here because of the lake. The good fishing keeps our doors open. There’s not a person in town who doesn’t know the positive economic impact the lake has on all of us.”
Local motel manager Teresa Nelson at the Davis Motel said, “80 percent of our business comes from fishermen and hunters – year-round. This is one of the most popular walleye lakes anywhere, and people come.” The motel, like most Devils Lake resorts and lodging facilities, caters to outdoorsmen, and Nelson said, “The guys who stayed with us years ago are now bringing their sons and grandkids.”
There are 679 motel rooms in town and around the lake, 18 resorts with cabins, 300 overnight camping sites, 900 seasonal camping sites and three marinas (Ackerman Acres, Woodland Resort, Spirit Lake Casino) with a fourth marina, Eastbay Campground, being built. The Devils Lake state park on Graham’s Island is one of the most-visited North Dakota state parks.
Devils Lake has one of the highest-tech fish-cleaning stations in North America. It’s located just south of Ed’s Bait Shop on Hwy 20 (south of the city of Devils Lake), and free to the public. The 20 x 32 building can handle 15 anglers at one time. It has two grinders, a separate clean-up sink, a handicapped accessible bathroom, is heated (A/C for summer), has plenty of parking for trucks and trailers and is well-lit.
Devils Lake ice fishing guides target perch, walleyes and pike. They make every first-time angler feel like this is home, and the thousands of anglers who return year after year to fish with the same guides know that’s the case. For information on Devils Lake guides, fishing reports to go out on your own, winter ice conditions and roads, the Jan. 26, 2013 ice fishing tournament, activities, fish-cleaning station (open all year), lodging, resorts and restaurants, check www.devilslakend.com, or call 701-662-4903.