DEVILS LAKE, N.D.-A Devils Lake angler has caught what likely will be the new world line-class record white bass on Devils Lake as recognized by the International Game Fish Association.
Blake LaFleur caught the white bass Feb. 13 in 40 feet of water in the main basin of Devils Lake using 2-pound test line. The big fish weighed 4.27 and 4.32 pounds on separate scales and measured 18½ inches long with a 16-inch girth.
LaFleur caught the fish on Asson Micron 3, an Italian monofilament line that was rated at 1.5 pounds with a breaking strength of 1.6 pounds. He used a palomar knot and a 4-pound fluorocarbon leader to complete the rig.
LaFleur says he studied the rules, which included 15 pages of specific requirements, to pursue the record and contacted the IGFA by phone and email to assemble the appropriate tackle.
Both scales, along with 50 feet of the line he used, are being sent to the IGFA.
The existing line-class record white bass for 2-pound test line is 3.5 pounds.
"I broke the first six knots I tried to tie," he said.
In an interview with Devils Lake Tourism, LaFleur said he has been targeting the big lake's white bass about six years, a quest that began while he was fishing perch through the ice.
"Not many people catch bass under the ice, and after battling a few on light tackle, I became intrigued," LaFleur said.
Friends Clayton and Kurt Davis of Belcourt, N.D., joined him in the pursuit.
"Together, we hunt to find them, and the tactics have evolved to the point where only the biggest bass are targeted," LaFleur said.
LaFleur used a 43-inch custom Thorne Brothers perch rod to catch the white bass, which hit a 1/16th-ounce Northland Tackle Buckshot Rattle Spoon.
With line that light in 40 feet of water, there wasn't any room for error.
"These big bass go crazy at the hole, and to turn one and bring it up, the leader was necessary," he said. "The 6-inch hole was another problem. When his head finally pointed up, he became wedged in the hole. I plunged my hand into the ice-cold water all the way to my armpit and grabbed it."
LaFleur said he moved 25 times, hunting by drilling hundreds of holes until stumbling into the school and hooking the fish.
"I had never fished that spot before," he said.
White bass in wintertime feed on larvae in the bottom of the lake, and getting them to bite requires annoying them to bring out their natural aggression, LaFleur said.
"This passion might seem odd to many, but we have fun and enjoy what we consider the finer side of fishing," LaFleur said. "White bass in winter act much like lake trout. It's a cat and mouse game. Lures must be kept close, but not so close to the fish that they ignore it, and not so far away they lose interest."
Electronics are crucial, and when the flasher screen shows 10 to 12 feet of bass, that's when action really picks up.
"We call this the 'mob,' and when the rapidly moving school arrives, it is game-on," LaFleur said.
Playing cat and mouse with the jigging spoon, LaFleur fishes the top of the mob.
"These monster white bass bulldog for 20 seconds or more, screaming through the rest of the mob, and that triggers the entire school," he said. He alternates the Buckshot with another favorite, a Clam Corp. blade-spoon, to find the optimum presentation.
When the sonar screen shows fish, the key is recognizing they are white bass, not perch.
Another factor is that every white bass yanked from their comfort zone 40 feet under will kill them. "Catch and release is not an option," LaFleur said. "What my friends and I do is limit the number of fish we catch and limit the number of trips. That is our 'catch and release' system."
So far this winter, LaFleur has only fished five times for white bass. His job with I.F. LaFleur and Sons, a coin-operated amusement business in North Dakota and northern Minnesota, demands his full attention, as do two young LaFleurs, ages 1 and 4.
Once he has submitted everything to the IGFA, LaFleur said it will take several months for the likely world record fish to be certified.
Devils Lake has a longtime reputation for producing big white bass. North Dakota's state record white bass-a designation that has nothing to do with the IGFA record-measured 19 inches and weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Charlie Vang of Brooklyn Park, Minn., caught the state record white bass June 10, 2012, while fishing Six-Mile Bay.