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Fishing Devils Lake with Johnnie Candle

Johnnie Candle

Johnnie Candle from Devils Lake, North Dakota, a member of the Mossy Oak Fishing Team, was born into walleye fishing.

“My granddad was a walleye fishing fanatic, and my father was a Lake Erie charter boat captain,” Candle said. “So, walleye fishing always has been in my bloodline.”

Candle, who’s also a tournament walleye fisherman and the winner of numerous walleye tournaments, recently was inducted into the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame.

I live in the town of Devils Lake, and I guide on Devils Lake for walleye. I’ve taken as few as three fishermen in my boat but also have provided guides for as many as 30 anglers at a time. In an average day of fishing here for walleyes, an angler will catch 40-50 but only can keep five. We can limit out every day we fish at Devils Lake, which is phenomenal walleye fishing.

In the last 20 years, Devils Lake’s level has risen about 30 feet because it’s a closed-drainage basin with no outlet. This lake isn’t fed by a river but rather is a big, low spot in the middle of North Dakota. Over the last couple of decades of a wet cycle, the lake has filled up higher and higher. Due to all the flooding, the walleye population that was okay back in the 1980s has exploded as the water has covered new land.  At its lowest, Devils Lake encompassed about 60,000 acres, and at one point it was more than 200,000 acres. That flooding caused roads and homes to be lost, as well as numerous farms. This flooding inflicted a lot of hardship on many families as the lake filled up. The upside is the resulting phenomenal fishery now available. During the droughts in this area and when the Dust Bowl was created back in the 1930s on the American prairies, this lake almost dried up. But I think this fishery will hold up for several decades.

I’ve had trips with grandparents and their children and seen those grandchildren catch the most and biggest fish they’ve ever caught. I’ve had days when I’ve taken out people with disabilities who never had fished before and seen them succeed.

I’ve worked hard over the years to get more people with disabilities into my boat with their wheelchairs and always enjoy watching them catch fish. On one day several years ago, I guided a veteran in his wheelchair who had told me about how much he loved to fish before he got hurt and that ever since he’d been home he hadn’t been able to go fishing. When he caught his first fish that day, he and I both cried.

I’ve been guiding people to walleyes since I was 17 years old, and I’m 48 years old now. I’ve learned that a great day of fishing isn’t necessarily dependent on how many fish you catch. I run trips of 6-8 hours, and I only take one trip per day. Everything for the trip is included – rods, reels, line, bait. I enjoy being out on the water and watching people catch fish.

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