Published July 17, 2010, 08:00 PM

Walleyes in the trees on Stump Lake

Time was when these trees, long since claimed by rising water, might have been a haven for fox or rabbits or white-tailed deer. But that was before this lake in Nelson County south of Lakota rose 30 feet and grew from a place to swim or water ski into one of North Dakota’s top new fishing holes.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

LAKOTA, N.D. — Cory Kleven steered his boat into a flooded grove and soon had the 22-foot Yar-Craft tied off between two trees in a patch of open water large enough to accommodate dropping jigs to the bottom some 20 feet below.

It wasn’t long before the first walleye of the afternoon flopped in the bottom of the boat.

“When you’re fishing the trees, it’s always tough to pick the right tree,” Kleven said. “It’s an easy way to fish, but you can’t do it everywhere because in some spots, the trees are just too thick.”

Time was when these trees, long since claimed by rising water, might have been a haven for fox or rabbits or white-tailed deer. But that was before this lake in Nelson County south of Lakota rose 30 feet and grew from a place to swim or water ski into one of North Dakota’s top new fishing holes.

Stump Lake today measures about 17,600 acres, more than twice what it did in the early 1990s, and most of the new water is in the northwestern and southwestern parts of the lake. Stump Lake is steep sided or its acreage would have grown even more, but the story, in many ways, mirrors the saga of Devils Lake’s continued rise, and Stump Lake today is more than 75 feet at its deepest point.

It’s quite a change, Kleven said, from the days when Stump Lake was separated by the now-submerged Dutch Point Road, and the saline content was too high to support fish populations.

“It’s way different,” Kleven said. “I can’t even comprehend what it used to look like anymore — it’s that much different. It’s taken a lot of farmland. You used to come out here swimming or water skiing, and you’d come out of the water all white from the salt. It’s pretty diluted now.”

Testing the waters

Kleven, 40, Lakota, spends much of his summer guiding anglers on Devils Lake and East Devils Lake, which now is connected to Stump Lake by water. But as a guide for Bry’s Guide Service on Devils Lake, Kleven is testing the waters of commerce by giving anglers a taste of what Stump has to offer, as well.

And if a recent July afternoon is any indication, there’s certainly no shortage of walleyes in the small to eater-size range. Kleven said he’s also landed walleyes up to about 7 pounds since Stump started emerging as a fishing destination about a decade ago.

Still, the lake remains a relatively unknown commodity among anglers who flock to Devils Lake, Kleven says. That makes Stump an ideal place for a guide, especially one who knows the lake as well as Kleven.

“It’s a big enough lake that a guide could survive out here,” he said. “It’s no small body of water anymore, and there’s nobody out here doing this — just me.”

As with neighboring Devils Lake, the continued rise of Stump Lake has created hardship for property owners, and the ongoing struggle to protect landmarks such as the historic cafe and pavilion at Stump Lake Park is evident by the manmade HESCO barriers of large sandbags reinforced with wire mesh.

But at the same time, the rising water has helped establish a fishery, especially for walleyes, since the North Dakota Game and Fish Department first stocked walleyes in Stump Lake in 2002. Game and Fish also stocked perch fingerlings from 1997 through 2000 and again in 2004 and 2006, but it’s walleyes that dominate the catch these days.

More like DL

According to Randy Hiltner, northeastern district fisheries supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, fisheries crews recently wrapped up their annual netting survey on Stump Lake. And not surprisingly, he said, the growing lake’s fish population is starting to look more and more like Devils Lake.

“We did see a few more white bass and a few northerns, but there’s a fair number of walleyes up to about the 18-inch mark,” Hiltner said.

That also mirrors what Kleven has seen when fishing Stump this summer. Two days before our recent excursion, Kleven and two clients landed 30 to 40 walleyes in a few hours anchored in the same grove of trees.

The lake remains too saline to support any significant natural production, but with the fish free to travel back and forth, Stump Lake’s growing similarity to Devils Lake likely will continue.

“It’s been pretty good,” Kleven said. “They’re running small, but that’s fishing. It’s been the same on Devils Lake. You’ll catch a lot of fish like we have here, but you’ll get into the bigger ones once in awhile.

“They’re nice eating fish, anyway.”

Perfect afternoon

Tied up to the trees and watching bobbers and “dead stick” rods left in the holders, there was ample time for conversation. Like many others who work seasonal vocations such as guiding, Kleven supplements his income in the offseason — tending bar at the Sun Lac Inn in Lakota and carrying on a tradition forged by his grandparents, Jim and Marion Miller, who at age 92 and 86, respectively, still run Miller’s Bar in Brocket, N.D. He’s also worked construction.

“And you can write I’m addicted to Diet Coke,” he said.

The weather was perfect for Diet Coke, with a light westerly breeze and a high temperature in the low 80s. Even under the bright sun, though, the fish cooperated.

That’s another thing to like about Stump Lake, Kleven says.

“I’ve found on this lake, the walleyes bite during the day quite well,” he said.

With the walleyes cooperating just fast to keep things interesting, we stay in the same grove of trees throughout the afternoon, dunking leeches and nightcrawlers and landing perhaps 20 fish in about four hours.

It’s a weekday, and that’s part of it, but we see only a handful of boats. On a lake that continues to grow and offers so many places to wet a line, a few hours on Stump leaves a walleye angler wanting more.

“There’s a lot of this lake a guy hasn’t explored yet,” Kleven said.

For more information on booking a fishing trip to Stump Lake, contact Bry’s Guide Service at (701) 739-0161, by e-mail at bry1979@gra.midco.net or check out the website at www.brysguideservice.com.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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