Gary Engberg with a stringer of trout caught on Devil's Lake in Sauk County. / Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
A Devil's Lake Northern pike. / Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
A Northern pike caught in Sauk County's Devil's Lake. / Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
When fishing gets difficult in the warm water of summer and deep water fishing tactics and techniques aren't working, there’s a lake in southcentral Wisconsin where anglers can usually catch fish simply and without many of today’s sophisticated methods.
Devil's Lake can be visited on most summer days for action from many different species of fish. Devil's Lake is located in Sauk County’s Devil's Lake State Park which is an extremely popular destination with over one million visitors annually.
The park is a great place to camp, walk and hike the rock hills and woods that surround this scenic lake with its magnificent scenery, fauna and flora. The park and lake are extremely popular, but few visitors fish the lake’s waters and if they do it’s usually from shore.
Devil's Lake, all 369 acres, doesn’t allow outboard motors which scares away some fisherman with big water boats. Trolling motors are allowed, so make sure that your batteries are charged to the maximum when fishing this lake. This is the perfect lake for fishing from a smaller boat, canoe, fishing tube or kayak.
Here’s a little history and facts on this “little gem.”
Devil's Lake was formed when glaciers covered most of Wisconsin. When the glaciers receded, what was left were rock hills and bluffs with a beautiful spring-fed clear lake in the middle. The lake’s maximum depth is around 50-feet deep. You may see a few sailboats and canoes out during the summer months, but the number of boats fishing are few. I’ve fished Devil’s Lake on the Fourth of July and had only a handful of other anglers on the lake.
Shore anglers do catch some fish, but the key is getting into the deeper water during the summer where there are brown trout that suspend above the thermocline.
The DNR stocks 7,000 or more trout each year in Devil's Lake, just for you to catch and eat. A decade ago, the number of DNR stocked trout was 12,000 to 16,000 trout per year. But, with DNR budget cuts the number of stocked trout has been reduced. The reduced stocking hasn’t seemed to hurt the fishing.
The brown trout are the most plentiful and sought after gamefish in the lake. Devil's Lake has good depth, clear water, some rock structure, and an assortment of beautiful green weeds. All of these attributes make this a perfect little lake for a varied and diverse fishery. Besides, the stocked brown trout, Devil's Lake has northern pike (some over 20+ pounds), walleye, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and plenty of eating-size bluegills and crappies.
The stocked trout are mostly the legal size of nine-inches, with many in the 12- to 14-inch range and some well over 20-inches. You may legally keep three trout per day. You are required to have an inland trout stamp and a valid Wisconsin fishing license. There are good boat landings at both the north and south end of the lake with the south landing getting some needed improvements the last few years.
The best and easiest way to fish this lake is to drift the main basin with a three-inch fathead minnow on a #6 or #8 VMC hook with a split shot attached about 2 to 3 feet above the hook. I suggest drifting with the wind (whichever direction it’s blowing from) and positioning your boat with a trolling motor to keep the boat drifting parallel with the waves and wind. Vary the amount of line that you have out and the size of your split shot till you contact fish and find the depth of the day for the suspended brown trout.
Try to remember how much line you have out when you catch fish and repeat that process. Line counter reels work wonders, but not everyone has them or needs them. An easier and cheaper way to go is to count the number of line pulls from your reel to your first guide on your rod.
If you have electronics, you’ll be able to see the thermocline on Devil's Lake and be able to mark or see the schools of trout and the baitfish that they are eating. In Wisconsin you may use 3 rods, so vary the amount of line you let out on your rods till you find the zone or depth the trout are in that day.
The lake offers simple, back to basics fishing, if that's what you'd like. You don’t need line-counter reels and a GPS, just a rod and reel and some lively minnows. Leeches also will work as will casting a leech or minnow out in deep water without any weight and just letting it naturally sink. It won’t take long for a trout to find your bait on most days. But, keep your bait lively in warm weather by keeping minnows in the water and crawlers and leeches on ice in a cooler.
Fishing through and over the weed tops is the best way to catch the two- to three-pound largemouth bass that love the lush green weeds. Buzz baits, spinners, plastics, Gulp products, and shallow running crankbaits work well when retrieved over and thru the weeds. The average bass is a little over two pounds. The smallmouths are deeper and often relate to the many large rocks and boulders that surround the lake’s shoreline. Casting Rapala Shad Raps to the shoreline rocks and retrieving them over the steep drop-offs will catch smallmouth too. This also holds true for the walleyes that swim Devils Lake.
Panfish are close to the weed edges and near any downed wood or brush. Small jigs or ice fishing jigs work best when tipped with wax worms and pieces of red worm. Slip floats work well when casted outside the weed edges and around any visible structure.
One of the biggest surprises is the number of large northern pike present. Devil's Lake has been managed for pike for over many years. The size minimum has been raised to 32-inches instead of the state minimum of 26-inches and there is a one fish limit.
This lake is a pike sleeper with some fish over 40-inches. Most big pike are caught through the ice, but a few people target them during the summer. The big pike cruise the deeper water in the summer looking for the protein-rich stocked brown trout. The trout make the pike grow thick and fat. Trout suspend over deep water all summer and into fall with the pike chasing the schools of trout around the lake. You can also fish the deeper weeds with large crank baits or drift the main basin with large shiners or sucker minnows down 10 to 20 feet down over 40 feet of water for northern pike.
Devil's Lake is worth fishing whenever you have the time. It rarely lets me down and I can usually come home from this productive and beautiful gem tucked away in the Baraboo Bluffs with fish for dinner.
Call ahead if you plan on camping because the lake gets many visitors during the summer months, but most just camp and hike and don’t fish. There are numerous motels in the area if you’re not a camper. Devil's Lake is about an hour north of Madison off Highway 12 and near the town of Baraboo and south of Wisconsin Dells.
Devils Lake is also a good ice fishing lake, but we’ll write about that later!
Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990’s and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.