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Gone fishin' at Devil's Lake

Joe Monfre of Sun Prairie, seen in this file photo, fishes the south shore of Devil's Lake State Park.

When Wisconsin anglers think of Devil's Lake, they usually wax of the wonderful trout fishing that this 369-acre spring-fed water offers.

Devil's Lake was formed where glaciers stopped their southern movement in central Wisconsin thousands of years ago. When the glaciers receded, what was left were rock hills, bluffs and the cliffs with gin-clear Devil's Lake in the middle.

The lake, located an hour north of Madison off Highway 12 in Sauk County and just south of Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells, is now part of Devil's Lake State Park which receives more than one million visitors annually to camp, climb the cliffs, and swim. Few visitors take advantage of the good fishing and if they do it’s usually from shore, doing little to diminish the fishery.

Devil's Lake is managed for brown trout by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. This spring, the DNR released about 12,000 legal trout (9 inches) into this 50-foot-deep lake. Boats are allowed, but you can only use electric motors.

You’ll find some sailboats and canoes on the water, but few people, except the locals are fishing. What makes Devil's Lake so appealing is the good depth, the rock structure, the abundant forage, the varied fishery, and the lush green weeds. Besides trout, the lake has some big northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, and plenty of good-sized panfish.

The panfish fishery consists of mainly bluegills, crappies and some sunfish. The key to catching panfish on Devil's Lake is to find the abundant green weeds. The weeds are mainly coontail and cabbage. Try fishing for panfish near the weed edges, the open pockets in the weeds, and near any downed wood and timber.

The best technique for catching bluegills and crappies is to use a small jig or an ice fishing jig tipped with a wax worm, spike, or leaf worm under a slip float. Use light monofilament line like Berkley XL or Vanish fluorocarbon in 4-pound test since the water is so clear. There’s a big difference in 6- and 4-pound test line and in these waters use the lighter line if you want to catch fish. I suggest clear line rather than green or blue.

Make sure that you have your drag set properly. The east side of the lake has some of the better weeds, but the lake is small enough where it’s worth moving around till you contact fish. The south end of the lake, where the creek exits the lake is also a good panfish location all depending on the water level. Anchor outside the weed edge and cast to the openings and pockets in the weeds or slowly work the weed edges with your trolling motor for active fish.

There are good boat landings at the north and south ends of the lake. There’s signage along Highway 12 directing you to the park’s entrance.

If you wish to camp be sure to check ahead because the park can get crowded on weekends. The Baraboo and Sauk Prairie area has everything that you may need.

Remember that you need a valid fishing license for the lake and if you plan to keep trout, an inland trout stamp. Licenses are available at the state park headquarters and most local sporting goods and bait shops.

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Contact Gary Engberg, a freelance outdoors writer from Mazomanie, at, 608-795-4208 or visit him at