This is no fish tale: According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, fishing licenses were up 11% last year, with a 75% increase in first-time fishing licenses. Wisconsin is also third in the nation for the number of non-resident fishing licenses sold.
Now here’s the good part: Some of the best fishing spots in Wisconsin are on the waterways of Wisconsin Dells. Pack the tackle and fish the Wisconsin River, Lake Delton, Castle Rock Lake, Devil’s Lake, and Mirror Lake. We have the inside scoop on what kind of fish are biting, where to buy bait and rent/launch a boat, and who to call if you need a guide. Plus learn about the ins and outs of bowfishing.
Meet the Guide Who Will Take You to the Best Fishing Spots in Wisconsin Dells
Captain Eric Owen, owner of Fish Bones Guide Service, was the first person we called when compiling this post. After all, why not put his 30+ years of local fishing experience to work for a story all about fishing?
Along with providing specifics on each body of water (see below), we asked Eric where he would go if he could take a fishing vacation in Wisconsin Dells. “I’d head to Castle Rock dam or the Wisconsin Dells dam for flathead catfish in the summer,” he said. “I pulled in some near the 40-pound mark last year and they put up a good fight, up to a half hour.” He went on to say that the catfish challenge is nothing compared to wrangling a big sturgeon in the fall on the Wisconsin River, which can take up to an hour to reel in.
Now for particulars on the “what, when and where” of fishing spots in Wisconsin Dells.
Best Places to Fish in Wisconsin
In a relatively small square-mile area, you’re spoiled for choice, so why not fish them all:
- Wisconsin River: The Upper and Lower Dells are a fishing paradise, with northern pike, walleye, bass, panfish, musky and sturgeon below the surface. It’s a year-round season for all game and panfish, except for musky and sturgeon. Get a sturgeon tag from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to fish for sturgeon in September.
- Lake Delton: Species include northern pike, walleye, bass and panfish. This popular vacation lake comes in at 254 acres with a maximum depth of 16 feet.
- Devil’s Lake: Fish from the shore or by boat (electric motors only) for brown trout, walleye, northern pike, bass and panfish. This non-motorized lake measures 368 acres with a max depth of 50 feet.
- Mirror Lake: Guide Eric Owen favors this lake for catch-and-release largemouth bass, catch-and-take northern pike, and table-fare panfish. This 139-acre impoundment of Dell Creek has a max depth of 19 feet and is a “slow no wake” lake.
- Castle Rock Lake, just north of the Dells, is part of the Wisconsin River flowage System and is the fourth largest inland lake in Wisconsin covering nearly 14,000 acres and with a max depth of 35 feet. Fish for walleye, musky, bass and panfish.
Fishing the Dams
These tips on fishing two dams in the area should further churn up your interest in the best fishing spots in Wisconsin Dells:
- Kilbourn Dam, also commonly referred to as the Wisconsin Dells dam: This hydroelectric dam separates the Upper and Lower Dells. During the spring, the walleye and white bass have an upriver migration and congregate here in good numbers.
- Castle Rock Dam, another hydroelectric dam, created Castle Rock Flowage by backing up the Wisconsin and Yellow Rivers. That was back in the late 1940s. Today, this is a spot for musky anglers. In the spring spawning season, choose it for walleye fishing.
Introducing Kids to Trout Fishing
A great way to get kids interested in fishing is to take them to B & H Trout Fishing & Bait Shop, which first welcomed youngsters to its spring-fed pond to cast a line for trout back in 1950. Fast-forward seven decades and it still holds great appeal for families. They provide trout stamps, fishing equipment and bait; a fishing license is not required. You pay by the inch of your catch. Make a day of it when you grill and eat your catch at their large picnic area.
Try Your Hand at Bowfishing
While the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River is known far and wide as one of the fishing spots in Wisconsin you have to fish, what is lesser known but coming on strong is the option of bowfishing this stretch of river. Think of it as a hunt on the water.
Redbeard Bowfishing, based in Wisconsin Dells, offers guided fishing adventures for both early risers and night owls. Hone your skills as you fish for carp, catfish, and sheepshead. If you choose the night charter, you’ll likely see other wildlife including beavers, turtles, cranes and the occasional bear and otter. All the equipment is provided. Pack a cooler with drinks and snacks (no glass or hard liquor).
Ice Fishing Makes This a Year-round Fishing Destination
Time to cast a light on Wisconsin’s unique fishing advantage compared to lots of other states - four distinct seasons which means ice fishing. Here are tips on where to put your ice fishing tip-ups:
- Lake Delton has become very popular as an ice fishing destination. The catch is similar to the warm weather months, including crappie and other panfish. Patient fishing enthusiasts might snag a pike, walleye, or bass.
- Target the trout at Devil’s Lake through the ice and enjoy the incredible scenery as it takes on a frosty luster in the winter.
Bait and Boat Rentals
To make the most of the best fishing spots in Wisconsin you’ll need expert advice on bait and easy access to boat rentals and launches.
Boat Launches for Fishing Spots in Wisconsin
- Lower Dells of the Wisconsin River: Put in at Newport Park. There’s an $8.50 daily fee or, if you’re a frequent fishing visitor, opt for the seasonal pass available by calling (608) 254-2558.
- Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River: The boat ramp is located at the intersection of River Road and Indiana Avenue. The pay station accepts credit cards.
- Lake Delton: There’s a free public boat landing at Adams Street and Canyon Road.
- Mirror Lake State Park: Head to the boat landing on the east side, accessed through the state park. Wisconsin state park sticker required for entrance.
- Devil’s Lake State Park: There are boat launches on both the north and south ends of the lake. Wisconsin state park sticker required for entrance.
- Castle Rock Lake: Choose from a half-dozen launches, some public, some pay.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website has the coordinates for boat launches, https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/fishing.
A Few Notes on Fishing Licenses, Park Passes
- If you’re a Wisconsin resident, an annual fishing license will run you $20.
- For non-residents, it’s based on length of stay - $10 for one day, $24 for a four-day license, $28 for 15 days, and $50 for an annual license.
- The license is valid April 1-March 31.
- No license is necessary for anyone under age 16.
- A separate trout stamp is $10.
- The Wisconsin DNR also offers free fishing weekends every June and January so you can wet your line without purchasing a license.
- All the details are spelled out at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ “Go Wild” website.
- State park stickers are good for the full calendar year and are good in all state parks and recreational areas. At $28 for residents and $38 for non-residents, it’s a bargain. Daily and hourly stickers are also options. Buy at the state park of your choice or online.