Missouri Fish Geezers’ Diary of a Chip Trip Johnson Resort’s on the Chippewa Flowage

WDNR Fish Team Leader Dave Neuswanger and several friends from Missouri stayed in the Sturgeon Cabin and enjoyed a great week of fishing and camaraderie. The warm, welcoming hospitality of Barb and Pete Czarnecki was second to none! Dave has summarized the group’s experiences and observations below. Dave and Pat Shannon (an active DNR employee in Missouri) did not keep daily diaries, as they were truly on vacation from paperwork. But other (mostly retired) members of the group contributed the following memories for the record.

We ate fish every night – usually a combination of northern pike with a few walleye and panfish fillets tossed in for variety. We even convinced Barb to try the deep-fried rock bass (parasites included free of charge), which she had to admit was delicious!

Greg Stoner currently serves as the Missouri Department of Conservation’s fishery management biologist for Lake of the Ozarks. He is arguably the best all-around angler in our group and is an accomplished walleye angler; but fishing for walleyes was really tough this week, so Greg focused mostly on bass and pike. He caught 38 smallmouth bass (most 10-15″); 29 northern pike (most 19-24″ and biggest 33″); 11 largemouth bass (most 11-14″ and biggest 17″); 9 rock bass (biggest 8.4″); 4 black crappie (biggest 10.8″); 3 bluegill (biggest 8.5″); 2 yellow perch (biggest 10.5″); and 1 walleye (14.7″). Greg notes that he caught 20 more fish this week on the Flowage than during a week-long fishing trip at Lake of the Woods, Ontario in June of 2009. But shortly after he returned to Lake of the Ozarks, he caught a 23-inch, 5-pound walleye!

Gary Novinger was a well-known bass research biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation for a couple decades before serving and eventually retiring as MDC’s Fisheries Research Section Chief. Gary is an accomplished bass angler; but bass were rather unpredictable in the Flowage this week (a few on beds, but most in small groups scattered here and there, upset by cold fronts). Like Greg, Gary really enjoyed targeting northern pike because they are rare in Missouri. Gary caught 20 northerns (most 16-22″ and biggest 26″); 25 smallmouth bass (most 12-14″ and biggest 17.5″ that was one of 17 fish caught on a day-long float down the West Fork Chippewa River); 4 walleyes (12-18″); 3 largemouth bass (12-14″), and a couple large panfish.

George Kromrey served for a couple decades as fishery management biologist and regional supervisor in East Central Missouri before retiring as Coldwater Hatchery Section Chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation. George’s family has a place on a lake near Minocqua, so every trip North is a pilgrimage of sorts for him. Like other members of our group, George opportunistically targeted species that were most active this week. He caught 10 smallmouth bass (most 12-15″); 5 northern pike (most 18-20″); 5 bluegill (7-8″); 1 largemouth bass (15″); and 1 walleye (14″). On our float down the West Fork Chippewa River, George targeted mostly muskellunge and was not disappointed. In addition to 3 close encounters (follows or strikes), he brought a 28-30″ muskie to the canoe on medium-action spinning tackle. While preparing for measurement and photos, the fish made a desperate but successful lunge for freedom. For the rest of the week, George was the good-humored recipient of relentless teasing for his unceremonious “hurling” of our only caught muskie before it could be properly documented. Its length has varied between 28 and 36 inches long, usually in direct proportion to the number of beers consumed by the observer.

Mark Haas served for a couple decades as fishery management biologist and regional supervisor in St. Louis and Cape Girardeau for the Missouri Department of Conservation before retiring recently to fish, hunt, and get serious about watching birds. Besides being an ardent angler, Mark is our resident naturalist; and we relied upon him to note things that many of us might see but not fully understand or appreciate.

On June 4 Mark noted red-eyed vireos and yellow warblers calling and foraging in trees around the cabin. Bald eagles and loons abounded on the lake; and Mark either saw or heard several great-crested flycatchers. At dusk, we watched a raccoon swim across the south entrance to Moore’s Bay, accompanied in his trek by an awesome chorus of loons.

On June 5 Mark caught several northern pike in the Chief Lake area, including a 30″ fish that put up a great fight on light spinning tackle. He noted many sights that most folks would see on a typical day on the Flowage — deer drinking; an eagle on its nest; a busy great blue heron rookery; mallards with chicks; Baltimore orioles; Canada geese with goslings; and a loon on its nest on a tiny grass island just west of Big Timber Island. But he also observed a relatively rare merlin (a small, predatory falcon-like bird) as it landed on overhead snag. And at lunchtime on an island, he heard and pointed out a sharp-shinned hawk as it soared overhead.

June 6 was clear and blazing hot (92 F), and we were grateful for the air-conditioned comfort of the Sturgeon cabin after a long day on the water. Mark experienced good smallmouth bass action on the rocky banks near the dam. There he saw his first chestnut-sided warbler and added it to his birding “life list.” He also saw gadwall, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, and the usual plethora of eagles and loons. After dinner Mark fished the east end of Moore’s Bay where he caught a 20″ muskie and heard several ruffed grouse drumming.

June 7 was another uncharacteristically hot day for early June in northern Wisconsin (clear and 90 F); but high winds attracted active pike to the windward weed beds where several were caught. Mark observed hairy woodpeckers feeding their young in a snag tree along Cranberry Creek, where he also saw flickers and pileated woodpeckers.

June 8 was warm (80 F) until a big cold front swept in late in the afternoon (60 F). Mark and Dave fished for pike in Chicago Bay, Scott Lake, and Crane Lake where we caught lots of largemouth bass. Dave caught a 17.5″ walleye in the first pass to Scott Lake as the front moved in. Three river otters swam along the bank beside us in Chicago Bay. We watched a loon floating on its back while appearing to struggle with its feet in the air. It seemed injured and distressed, but eventually we concluded it was simply preening. Dave saw an eagle drop a bird from its talons, which dropped 20-30 feet before flying off to land in a tree, apparently none the worse for wear. Mark did not witness this minor miracle and remains skeptical. This evening, a black bear walked through camp, but none of our group saw it.

On June 9 we floated and fished the West Fork Chippewa River from Moose Lake Road down to Johnson’s Resort. Thanks to Pete for providing Pat with a great fishing kayak. Weather was partly cloudy and 60 F. Some challenging rapids in the upper reach caused concerns about swamping the canoes; but we were rewarded with outstanding catch-and-release action for smallmouth bass. Our group caught over 50 smallies. Mark got a fat 18″ fish and several others >15″ – one of his best days ever. We also had musky and pike action in the lower, flatter reach of river – a unique fishery.

June 10 was cool, with a high temperature of only 52 F. Currents generated by the wind created great pike action on the windward side of weed bars on the east side of lake. Mark saw a black-and-white warbler.

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