How many lakes can you go to in the winter and catch brown trout through the ice by jigging or on tip-ups?
Not many, but Devil's Lake in Wisconsin’s Sauk County is one where you can catch your trout limit (three) and also have a chance to catch northern pike, an occasional walleye, and panfish all in a beautiful 369-acre lake surrounded by Devil's Lake State Park.
Devil's Lake is managed for both trout and northern pike. Tim Larson, the retired Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist for the area, revealed between 16,000 and 18,000 trout were annually stocked in the lake with most at least the legal 9 inches.
“The qualities that make this lake such a good fishery are the clear water, good weeds, deep water, and a quality forage base,” Larson said.
But the past two years the DNR has stocked a fraction. The past two years the DNR has stocked 8,000 brown trout in Devil's Lake. This is partly due to budget cuts and a lower trout production at the state’s hatcheries.
Most trout you’ll catch are in the 12- to 15-inch range, but there are some trout caught over 20 inches. The daily limit is three trout and you must process an inland trout stamp, besides your valid fishing license.
Drill your holes before you start fishing. That way you only spook the fish once.
The south end of the lake, where the feeder creek enters and the shoreline is rip-rapped, are great for setting out your tip-ups and to start jigging. Start putting tip-ups out just outside the weedline in 10 to 12 feet of water and also put a few more out in deeper water (20 to 30 feet) for the suspended trout or pike.
Concentrate your efforts on the weed line and first breaks for most of your Devils Lake fishing.
Wisconsin allows three lines per person, so it’s advantageous to fish with some friends for the additional lines and tip-ups. A few anglers can cover a lot of water and depths with tip-ups on Devil's Lake, which will greatly increase your odds of catching fish. Always, there is a good possibility of catching a mixed bag of trout, pike, and a walleye. There also are bass, both largemouth and smallmouth in the lake, but I’ve never caught either of them in the winter.
Good electronics are important for marking fish and setting up your tip-ups. Using quality electronics (such as Lowrance) allow you to see the fish, the schools of baitfish, and the bottom so that you can then position your bait just above them.
Jigging will also catch trout in the winter. Use a lead-head jig or jigging spoon (Rapala, Hopkins, Swedish Pimple, Bait Rigs Deep Willow) and jig from the bottom up until you contact fish. If you want to use a lead-head jig, use either a 1/8th or ¼-ounce jig and a whole fathead or chub minnow and vary your jigging cadence until you find one that the fish like. A piece of minnow or a minnow head works well with the various spoons. Trout will usually hit the jig on the fall much like walleyes do.
There’s also a fair pike population, so putting out a large shiner, golden shiner, or smelt can work while you’re jigging for trout. Pike cruise the weed edges feasting on the abundant bluegills and crappies. Another bonus is that you can always fish for bluegills, crappies, or rock bass if the other fishing is unproductive.
Wayne Whitemarsh at Macfarlanes at 608-643-3311 and Wally Banfi of the Wilderness Fish and Game store at 608-643-2433 regularly fish Devil's Lake. Give either a call for the latest ice and fishing conditions. Gander Mountain’s Chuck Pohlman at the Baraboo location is another source who knows the lake and ican offer a status update.
Devil's Lake is located just off Highway 12 and an hour north of Madison. Everything you could need is in Sauk City or nearby Baraboo. There’s good access at the north end of the park and also at the lake’s south end. Once there’s good ice, you can drive your vehicle on it. Remember, that you need a Wisconsin state park sticker too for fishing.
There should be more than 20 inches of ice on the lake.