A Prairie Lake Companion

A Prairie Lake Companion

In the plains states, above normal precipitation has overfilled existing lakes and created new ones in low spots that were dry for over 100 years. Some waters expanded several thousand acres, swallowing up homes, farms, trees, fields, and roads, even threatening to flood nearby towns. Since 1993, Devils Lake, North Dakota, has risen over 24 feet and expanded from 45,000 surface acres to over 120,000 acres. An estimated one million trees are now part of Devils Lake--substantial, especially considering that most of the landscape in the state is cropland and prairie grass. Roads, rock piles, riprap, cattail sloughs, trees, and brush are now underwater, creating good spring spawning locations for walleyes, pike, perch, and white bass.


Prior to high-water conditions, farmers removed rocks from fields and over time piled them in corners of their properties. Farmers also dug livestock dams to hold drinking water for cattle grazing the pastures. Scattered throughout the pastures and croplands were cattail sloughs, once attracting ducks and geese. People also built homes near the lake, which includes homesteads where several generations were raised. Walleyes and other fish now swim where people once slept.

Road Rage--In spring, as water temperatures approach the walleye spawning range of around 42F to 50F, concentrate your fishing near potential spawning locations. Riprap placed to protect roads and shorelines from wind and water erosion attracts walleyes in the spring, especially in soft-bottom lakes. Riprap provides suitable hard-bottom spawning habitat for depositing and oxygenating eggs washed by available current. It also provides safety from predators until fry hatch.

Generally, some factors make a certain stretch of a riprap more attractive to walleyes. Irregularity in the rock face is a good example. Current caused by wind, an incoming creek, or culvert or drainage areas also attract fish along riprap. Submerged roads are excellent spring spots. Most gravel and asphalt roads have a ditch on each side, providing deeper edges near hard-bottom locations that attract walleyes.

Cast to road and riprap locations using a jig and minnow, jig and plastic, or minnow-imitating crankbait. Shallow-running crankbaits, like a #11 Floating Rapala, can be retrieved over riprap without getting hung up in rocks. Suspending minnow-imitating crankbaits also work well in spring, especially for casting from a boat toward the riprap. Steadily retrieve 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs just over the top of riprap to prevent snagging. Lighter jigs allow you to reel slower, giving walleyes time to strike. In spring, walleyes often hit lures near the end of your retrieve, so be prepared to set the hook.

Woody 'Eyes--In spring, walleyes may concentrate in large numbers near wood where favorable spawning conditions exist--like flooded wood in sandy gravel bottoms or timber near riprap. Fishing wood locations requires an altered understanding of the average amount of tackle you can expect to lose. Between snags and healthy populations of northern pike, the number of lost jigs, crankbaits, and spinner rigs adds up quickly. But so can the number of walleyes you catch.

Targeting submerged trees can be intimidating. Certain depths, bottom content, and warmer water temperatures attract and concentrate fish preparing to spawn. Remember that flooded trees nestled in sand and gravel bottoms tend to attract walleyes in spring.

Walleyes and northern pike often are found together near wood locations. Floating crankbaits require several cranks before the lure dives down to its designed depth. Northern pike often get their teeth into the lures before you can crank the lure down into the walleye zone. Sinking crankbaits, like Rapala Countdowns, allow for controlled short casts into key timber locations, letting the lure sink down into the walleye strike zone before starting your retrieve. Brightly colored lure patterns, like firetiger, and lures with rattles seem to attract and trigger more pike. Add a lightweight, flexible wire leader if bite-offs occur.

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Jigs with light-wire hooks bend easily and reduce the number of jigs you lose in woody locations. If you get snagged, apply steady pressure to bend the hook until it's free from the wood. Reposition bent hooks and check hook-point sharpness. When fighting heavier fish, though too much line pressure may cause a light-wire hook to straighten.

Current Locations--Walleyes are drawn to current areas in spring, where they can be found scattered throughout the general area. Key spots include the mouths of feeder creeks and lake outlets, and narrow areas where water moves from one lake to another--including culverts that connect marshes or shallow lakes to a larger main lake.

Concentrate on key areas that traditionally and naturally attract fish in spring. Most current areas have at least a few distinct spots where walleyes concentrate. Try to identify scattered boulders, sandbars, current breaks, or drop-offs near current. When substantial current is present, the area where current meets the slack water in the main lake forms a fish-attracting edge. Deeper water in the middle of the current spot also concentrates walleyes.

When wind is a factor, waves push surface water from one end of the lake to the other. Wind often concentrates fish on the windward side of the lake--especially in shallow dishpan prairie lakes. During the day, look for walleyes along shorelines--spots where 1- to 3-foot-deep water meets the shore. Main-lake points are also good locations on windy days. Locations with dirty water near windswept points and bays generally are warmer and draw walleyes in shallow during daylight hours. Strong consecutive windy days, however, may blow colder surface water to the windward side of the lake, bringing warmer water to the leeward side and possibly drawing active fish in spring.

Current caused by wind also pushes water past trees, which creates a current break on the backsides, attracting baitfish and walleyes. Pitch a jig and minnow toward a tree and let it fall to the bottom, before slowly retrieving the jig. Make several pitches to the same tree, especially if you catch a walleye.

Other Locations--Adjacent lakes, bays, and sloughs connected to the main body of water attract walleyes during favorable conditions. Generally, narrow waterways or small streams feeding into the main lake connect smaller adjacent bodies of water in spring. When flow is high, walleyes seek out and move toward shallower locations, especially during the Prespawn Period. Walleyes are attracted to current areas in search of warmer water upstream. Fish near the mouth of culvert areas that connect shallow slough areas to the main lake. Points and deeper water within bays also are good spots.

Long stretches of shallow shoreline or points covered with rocks or pebbles also attract walleyes in spring. During twilight and at night, walleyes might roam windswept sandy beaches searching for baitfish feeding on food blown into the shallows.

Sand spits or gravel bars near shallow bays attract walleyes during prespawn and postspawn. Long bars on the outside of bays that extend out into the main lake can be good spots. Smaller bars or drop-off areas near or in bays also can produce.

Spring is one of the best times to catch walleyes in prairie lakes. Vast expanses of similar water depth and structure, however, are intimidating to many anglers. On windy days, try casting crankbaits along windswept shorelines, or fish the leeward side that may have warmer water. Sunny days warm shallow bays and rock or riprap banks by a few degrees, attracting active walleyes into the area. Adapt to weather and water conditions and identify key locations that might attract walleyes in spring--even if they're a foot from shore.

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