DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – During prefishing for the third Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event of the 2018 season, the dock talk was that Devils Lake was marred in the dog days of summer. Instead of 50-fish days and diverse angling, simply catching five legal walleyes would be a challenge, and 20 pounds would be the benchmark of a superb day. In reality, 11 pros weighed over 20 pounds and five surpassed 25 pounds. Leading the charge after the opening day was Minot, N.D., pro Jim Carroll, who stunned the crowd after dropping 29.05 pounds on the scale.
After a bout with a rare form of cancer last year, Carroll is back on tour and back to putting big walleyes in the boat. Carroll had what he termed a “split practice” as he prefished for three days and then traveled to Garrison to emcee the Governor’s Cup. At the conclusion of the Cup, Carroll immediately returned to Devils Lake for an additional 3 1/2 days of practice.
“Those first three days were really good for big fish, but when I came back, I was starting to worry that things were slipping away,” explained the pro leader. “I can’t say I expected to catch 29 pounds, but I knew it could bust loose. I’ve fished enough out here to know what’s possible. Sakakawea is my home lake, but Devils is my close second.”
Carroll spent a huge chunk of his practice using an underwater camera and his Lowrance electronics.
“I learned a lot, and it paid off. I found two spots that I really felt good about it.”
With a higher boat number, Carroll never hit one of those aforementioned spots, but the other paid off in a big way. He also sampled a handful of other locations. In total, he caught six fish, and he weighed five. The smallest walleye he weighed was a 15-inch squeaker. The next smallest was 24 1/2 inches, and he had three giants, including one that was close to 10 pounds. As good as the day was, it could have been epic, as Carroll lost a big fish at the boat that would have replaced the 15-incher.
“It should’ve been 35 or 36 pounds.”
Overall, Carroll described the bite as a grind. He wouldn’t go into detail about his pattern, but he admitted he’s targeting big fish, not playing the numbers game.
“I caught fish using two different methods. All I can say for now is that I’m using Berkley products, and I’m using my Lowrance and searching for fish. I was hunting for them today; I saw those three big fish on my graph. Using my Lowrance was the key for me today.”
Carroll plans to stick with the same locations and the same program.
“The wind going down is not great for me, but I’m going to go out and let it rip. As a cancer survivor, my motto is every day is a gift. That’s how I approach it. I had a gift today. Tomorrow will be a gift regardless of what happens.”
Estelline, S.D., pro Jarrod Fredericks sits in second place with a five-fish limit weighing 26.36 pounds. Like Carroll, Fredericks hit six different spots to amass his weight.
“We didn’t catch a fish until 10:30 this morning,” recalled Fredericks, who owns and operates South Dakota Guided Fishing. “Our first fish was 26 inches, and they continued to come in the right order, except for one 17. The smallest that we weighed was 23 inches. We boxed our eighth fish at 1:30 and came in.”
Fredericks knew he had several productive spots located, but he was surprised the big girls bit with such vigor.
“I knew the weight was there, I just didn’t think we’d do it. It happens so often that you catch them in practice, but not in the tournament. I think in this cold front, the big ones turned on, and the little fish turned off. We thought it would be more of a numbers program, but there wasn’t much in between; they were either big or tiny.”
Fredericks was tight-lipped about his program, admitting only that he caught fish both shallow and deep.
“What I can say is that we used three different patterns on six different spots. Each spot was a different depth too. I’m comfortable fishing here because our fisheries back home in the Watertown area are similar. They sort of set up the same way.”
Fredericks is confident he can pull numbers tomorrow, but the big fish needed to win will be challenging.
“Not many guys can do it two days in a row on Devils, and that’s what it takes to win. It’s going to be a grind. I’m anticipating the smaller fish will move back into our big-fish spot. It’s going to be tough deciding what to keep and what to throw back. I hope they come in the same order again.”
In third place with 25.70 pounds is Elizabeth, Pa., pro Ryan Rieger. While Rieger is over 21 hours from home, he and practice partner Dylan Nussbaum found success targeting deep structure.
“We found some fish a couple days ago,” said Rieger, the second-year pro. “We knew it had potential, but we didn’t know it would be this good. I only had five bites, and my teammate Dylan had 10 bites. But I caught a 28, two 27s, and then finished my limit with two smaller ones.”
Rieger reported moderate boat traffic (two other vessels) in his area. Still, he plans to return for the final day.
“Really, I have no other place where I caught fish that like. Hopefully it holds; it’s been holding for two days. With less wind, hopefully more shallow fish pull out deep. If we get another 25 pounds tomorrow, I think we’ve got a real shot at it.”
Axtman fourth, Nussbaum fifth
Rounding out the top five are local Dakota stick Zachary Axtman and Nussbaum. Axtman, the local Rugby, N.D., angler, caught a limit weighing 25.58 pounds for fourth place.
Nussbaum, the St. Marys, Pa., pro, sits in fifth with 25.40 pounds.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2018 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Devils Lake:
6th: Joe Okada of Cambridge, Wis., five fish, 24.48
7th: Josh Vanderweide of Jenison, Mich., five fish, 24.19
8th: Curt Hanson of Mayville, N.D., five fish, 22.73
9th: Greg Ehli of Bismarck, N.D., five fish, 21.35
10th: Bob Bruegger of Wabasha, Minn., five fish, 20.43f
The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from Grahams Island State Park, located at 152 S. Duncan Rd. in Devils Lake. The final weigh-in also takes place at Grahams Island, beginning at 3 p.m.