Muskies Put Big Chip On Map
By Dan Small
Sawyer County’s Chippewa Flowage is one impressive body of water. A Northern States Power Company hydroelectric dam near Winter at the confluence of the East and West Forks of the Chippewa River flooded 10 lake basins back in 1923, creating the Big Chip, and life in the north woods has not been the same since.
The Flowage encompasses over 15,000 acres, with 233 miles of near wilderness shoreline 140 islands, and six major tributaries. Anglers catch more muskies here every year than on any other lake in the state. The Chip also has plenty of walleyes, northerns and bass and an awesome population of big crappies.
In 1988, in a land deal that some say is the most important in Wisconsin in the last 50 years, the state spent nearly $7 million to purchase 6,900 acres of land surrounding the Flowage from the Northern States Power Company, saving it from possible commercial development. Most of the remaining land on the Flowage belongs to the federal government (Chequamegon National Forest) and the Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa Indian Tribe. Unlike the Hayward area’s many resort ringed lakes, the Chip breathes easy, and so do its many visitors who can expect its shores to remain undeveloped for generations to come.
The Flowage’s water is stained brown and relatively infertile. There is deep water in some areas, but most of the Flowage runs from 15 to 25 feet deep at summer levels.
The bottom ranges from sand and gravel to rock, with areas of muck. There are weed beds near some creek mouths and in shallow bays. Floating bogs, bars, stump fields, reefs and log cribs provide excellent structure for muskies, walleyes, bass and panfish.
Muskies put the Chip on the map. The adult muskie population is in good shape, bolstered by catch-and-release fishing. DNR fish manager Frank Pratt says half of those taken are over 40 inches.
Muskie action improves steadily throughout the season. Summer hot spots include offshore bars and deeper bays, especially those in the eastern half of the Flowage. More muskies are probably taken here on bucktails than on all other baits combined. Try orange, yellow or black.
The Chip’s walleye fishery is as good as any in the state. The population is healthy, with over five adults per acre. The Chip is exempt from the statewide 15-inch size limit on walleyes.
Summer walleye action is best in deeper water. Try backtrolling or drifting with a jig and leech in river channels and over offshore structure. If you mark fish that won’t strike a moving bait, try teasing them with a leech on a slip bobber.
Both smallmouth and largemouth bass populations have increased in recent years. Small mouths are more common in the eastern half of the flowage, while largemouths dominate in the western half.
Try jigs and small crank baits off the river mouths and rubble shore lines for smallmouths. In the weedy bays, surface baits will take largemouths, muskies and northerns.
Northerns are now the second most abundant game fish, at about three adults per acre. Pike in the 30inch class are commonly taken in shallow, weedy areas on small muskie baits and live minnows.
Of the panfish, bluegills and crappies are the current standouts. The Chip has long been noted for its incredible crappie fishing. Try minnows and swimming jigs on a slip bobber near the floating bogs and off creek mouths.
Bluegills are abundant as well. You’ll find them in the weedy bays and suspended in the deeper basins.
Good public landings provide access to all portions of the flowage. On the west half, there are two off Highway CC, one on Crystal Lake at the north end, and one on James Slough at the south end, and a free private ramp at Pat’s Landing Resort on the west shore of Chief Lake on Chief Lake Road.
Near the center of the Flowage, there is a public ramp a half-mile south of the causeway on Highway CC. On the east half, there is a public ramp on Highway B at Hay Creek and another the Winter Dam.