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When Fishing Gets Tough

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It’s soon becoming that time of the year when fishing can get tough! Though it’s only the middle of June we’ve had 90 degree days the past week and more on the immediate horizon. Many of the lakes in south-central Wisconsin are beginning to get covered with Eurasian milfoil and blue – green algae that makes fishing difficult and often impossible. In many lakes, the heat of summer has driven water temperatures into the 70’s F and if it continues daytime fishing can become difficult to say the least. Night-time angling is a possibility because many fish species become nocturnal feeders as the summer heats up.

Being a fishing guide for decades, I have to have a few locations that I can “go-to” during the heat of summer when fishing is tough and the normal lakes that I fish have slowed or shutdown. Most of the fisher’s who I guide fishing want two things; 1) to catch fish and 2) to have a good time. I’m going to recommend a wonderful lake that fulfills these needs and besides the good fishing, it’s a beautiful place to spend a day or two with great scenery and abundant wildlife.

When fishing gets tough, I’ll go to Sauk County’s Devils Lake. Devils Lake was formed when the glaciers, which covered this part of the Badger state, slowly began to recede leaving behind rock bluffs, steep hills, and a beautiful spring-fed lake. The lake is now part of Devils Lake State Park which gets over one million visitors annually to camp, hike the bluffs, and enjoy activities on the gin-clear water. Don’t let the number of visitors scare you away from fishing this 379 acre and 45 foot deep lake. MOST visitors aren’t coming here to fish, but to enjoy the scenery and beautiful fauna and flora of one of the Midwest’s nicest state parks for camping, hiking, and wildlife watching. Locals fish the lake, but it rarely has more than a handful of fishing boats on it at one time. You’ll find the visitors sailing, canoeing, swimming, hiking, and yes, fishing. But, a vast majority of the fishing is done from shore which limits the fishing success to mostly panfish and bass once we get into the heat of summer and fish move to deeper water or suspend over the basin. Rarely, do the shore anglers catch the stocked brown trout which is the main attraction and why I come to fish Devils Lake to fish during the “difficult” months of summer. The trout usually suspend over the deep main basin which has water up to 45 feet. The stocked brown trout bite regularly and consistently through the fall and even during the winter. Rarely, do I ever go fishing on Devils Lake and leave disappointed. Most of the trout are over the 9 inch state minimum and many run from 10 to 15 inches and bigger. The daily limit is three trout per angler and after catching your trout, there’s plenty of other fish species to fish for including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and panfish.

The Wisconsin D.N.R. stocks and manages the lake for brown trout and occasionally walleye. Brown trout are the reason for fishing Devils Lake and annually over 8,000 legal-sized brown trout are stocked for anglers to take and enjoy. Pike grow large (a few over 20 pounds) from feasting on the protein-rich brown trout. The crappies and bluegills are of good size, the largemouth run 2 to 3 pounds, and there are some walleyes over 7 pounds, so this is a good fishery well worth fishing anytime of the year. But, Devils Lake really shines during the heat of summer!

Structure wise, Devils Lake is bowl-shaped with distinct drop-offs around the entire lake which break off sharply into the deep water. There are large boulders surrounding and rip-rapping most of the lake and some good green weed beds of mostly coontail. The lake’s bottom is comprised of sand, gravel, and small rock. The southern end of the lake has a small creek (Sioux Narrows) running from the lake.

One, if not the main reason that Devils Lake isn’t fished harder is that it allows only electric trolling motors. This may keep some of the larger boats from fishing the lake, but there are quality boat landings at both the north and south ends that can accommodate any size boat. Park stickers are mandatory and may be purchased for the day or season.

The best way I’ve found to catch Devils Lake’s stocked trout is to drift the main basin with a lively 3 to 4 inch fathead minnow (leeches also work during the heat of summer), a split shot, and a quality VMC or Mustad hook (#6). Drift with the wind (whichever way it is blowing) and position your boat with a transom or bow-mounted trolling motor to keep your boat drifting horizontally. This way you can fish multiple rods over the side of the boat. This is Wisconsin, where it is legal to fish with three rods. There are days when the fishing is so good that you can’t get more than one rod in the water. Use two rods (if you can) and try to keep them at different depths in the water column as you drift across the lake.

This is low-tec fishing where a Lowrance LCD is about all you need to see your depth and mark the baitfish and schools of trout. During the summer, it’s possible to see the trout’s thermocline or comfort depth. The trout are usually suspended anywhere from 5 feet to 20 feet down over 40 feet of water. As you drift, cast out your minnow and try to count and measure the amount of line that you have let out. This fishing takes some experimentation, so vary the amount of line you have out till you catch a couple trout and then try to repeat the process. Try using different weight shots to get you to different depths.

The gear that you need is also pretty simple; a good graphite rod (G. Loomis, St. Croix, or Fenwick) about 6 ½ to 7 feet long with a medium or medium-light tip, spool up a Daiwa or Shimano reel with 6 to 8 pound Berkley Trilene in clear or green color, and tie on the hook and you’re set for some great trout action. The brown trout in Devils Lake slam minnows and after losing a few trout you’ll see that a good hook-set and a quality drag is necessary. Sometimes, I’ll use a colored or glow bead above my hook as an attractor for the trout.

Some anglers do wade or use float tubes at Devils Lake and do well usually in low light conditions in the early morning or before dark when some trout will move shallow to feed. I haven’t used my fly rod at Devils Lake because drifting with the wind has proven to be the most successful for me.

You now have all the necessary information for catching trout during the “dog days” of summer! Devils Lake is an hour north of Madison off Highway 12 in Sauk County, just south of Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. There’s signage along Highway 12 directing you to the park’s entrance. If you want to camp, be sure to check ahead on the DNR’s website because the park can get crowded on weekends. The Baraboo and Sauk Prairie area has everything that you may need for a great outing. Remember, that you need a valid fishing license and an inland trout stamp. Licenses are available at the park’s headquarters at the north end of Devils Lake State Park.

The Devils Lake trout are great either smoked or pan-fried!

 

     Information, equipment, and bait; McFarland’s True Value Hardware, Sauk City, Wi. (608)-643-3321 ask for Wayne. Wilderness Fish and Game, Sauk Prairie, Wi. (608)-643-5229 and ask for Wally or Chuck.

      Guide; Wally Banfi, (608)-644-9823 and Gary Engberg (608)-795-4208.

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