Creating A Musky Factory...THE CHIPPEWA FLOWAGE
By: John Dettloff © 1995
Some one hundred centuries ago, after the retreat of the glaciers signaled the end of the Ice Age, after our region's landscape was finally free of its seemingly eternal, thick layer of ice - nature finally made amends by leaving us thousands of little glacial lakes scattered throughout our north country.
Eleven of these sparkling blue jewels (Crane, Chief, Tyner, Rice, Scott, Two Boys, Pokegama, Desire, Pakwawang and Cranberry Lake) were left to us in close proximity to the valley of the Chief River and the West Fork of the Chippewa River, about 20 miles southeast of Hayward Wisconsin. It must have been during the late 1700's, when these waters first served as home to the Ojibwa (or Anishinaabeg, as they called themselves). Wanting to establish a settlement beyond the Lac Coutereille village, they chose the area near the big bend of the West Fork of the Chippewa River in which to establish the village of Pah-qua-uah-wong.
Abundant with water and wild rice beds, this prime ancient campsite was most likely used by earlier Native American peoples - for instance the Sioux, who occupied this region before the Ojibwa. Shortly after the Civil War, Thad Thayer established a trading post here and this remote Indian village soon became a substantial settlement. The logging boom of the late 1800's brought many people into the area and, shortly after World War I, the need for cheap electrical power increased. If a dam was built just below the confluence of the West and East Forks of the Chippewa River, the basin of the Chippewa headwaters would make an excellent holding reservoir from which large amounts of electricity could be generated.
So, in 1914, the Wisconsin/Minnesota Light and Power Company began the buying up of people's lands that were to be flooded and began construction of the Winter Dam early in 1922. On March15, 1923, the gates of the newly completed dam were closed and by July, the new Chippewa Flowage was formed. Much of the land that was flooded had been logged off, but there still was much standing timber serving as remnants of the forest that once existed there. The people of the trading post had to literally move their settlement, establishing their "New Post" about a mile and half to the southwest.
At first, this huge holding pond (the Chippewa Flowage) was not thought of for its fishing possibilities; but a few individuals soon discovered the hidden potential of this unique place. Many old timers credit Harry Isessard for discovering that this new flowage was hot for Musky. After making one of the first known Musky catches here, Harry, who intimately knew the area before it was flooded, soon had no trouble catching lots of average sized Musky which were coming in from the West Fork of the Chippewa River.
Harry did so well fishing where the river emptied into the flowage that he soon began guiding and in 1925 his family built one of the flowage's earliest resorts - Lassard's Resort.
Another person who took advantage of the flowage's angling potential was Chris Lee, one of the workers who, in 1922, helped build the new wooden bridge for the old road that crossed the Chief River. During the project, Lee noticed great numbers of people fishing off the old plank bridge that was soon to be dismantled.
After the bridge was completed and the flowage was formed, Chris Lee appropriated a shack that was left there and began to rent out boats. Other area resorts soon left their own boats in Lee's care to be used either for their own guests or for Lee to rent out. Lee's Boat Livery eventually built up a fleet of 26 boats, set anglers up with guides and sold pop and refreshments out of a huge piano crate which was converted into a shelter. Chris and Elsie (Slater) Lee eventually paid Northern States Power $10 a year to lease the land and built a permanent home and place of business there, a business which is now known as Herman's Landing. In time, a solid resort community became established on the Chippewa Flowage, which became noted for its excellent walleye fishing, slab crappies and one of the finest Musky fisheries in the country.
Being known as a lake to produce good numbers of Musky during the 1920's, by 1938 the Chippewa Flowage had matured and began producing consistent catches of huge Musky over 35 lbs. The Winter Dam Fish Hatchery, active during the late 1930's and early 1940's, extensively stocked fry into the flowage and other area waters. After the war, fingerling Musky were stocked because of their much higher survival rates.
The flowage quickly earned a reputation as the place to be for all serious Musky anglers, reaching its first peak in Musky production during the late 1940's and early 1950's. After that, big fish numbers dropped off a bit but the numbers of fish caught remained at a consistent level. The fishing was still very good and huge fish were still being caught on occasion, but the number of Musky caught in the 15 to 30 lb. range was comparatively low.
But, because of the concept of the voluntary catch and release program, which started to catch on during the late 1970's, an amazing momentum was soon to build, taking the concept perhaps further than anyone had ever dreamed. After seeing almost immediate improvements in the flowage's Musky fishery, anglers began to release even more and larger fish. By the 1990's, release percentages on the flowage had reached the 90% mark. Musky weighing 20 to 30 lbs. were commonly being released, and even some 50+ inchers were being released, something unheard of back in the 1970's!
This release program has been a total success story for the Chippewa Flowage, bringing the status of this lake's Musky fishery up to its second peak. In fact, in 1994, more trophy Musky over the 30 lb. class were caught on the flowage than during any other year in the recorded history of the Chippewa Flowage! With over 90% of the estimated total annual catch of some 1,800 Musky now being released - the Chippewa Flowage will forever remain one of the country's premier Musky factories.