A Season on the Chippeawa Flowage part I


This article has been modified to fit this web page; view the full article at Keyes Outdoors Online Magazine  July 2013 issue

A Season on the Chippewa Flowage part I


The Chippewa Flowage is a 15,300 acre reservoir located in northwest Wisconsin that offers a wilderness experience like few others. There are 233 miles of shoreline, over 140 islands, and numerous floating bogs. There is a seemingly endless amount of structure, which makes it both complex and challenging. Combine that with an adult musky population below the state average and it becomes easy to understand why many anglers find the Chippewa Flowage to be a challenging place to fish. However, with low density populations comes an opportunity for trophy muskies. According to a Wisconsin DNR population survey, 25% of the musky population on the Chippewa Flowage is 42 inches and larger.

This will be a two part article looking at seasonal strategies for the Chippewa Flowage. I will be discussing: Seasonal musky patterns, key’s to identifying high percentage structure, how to efficiently cover water, and many other proven tactics that will help you increase your catch rates and put larger muskies in your boat.

Late Spring

We will begin by looking at structure that offers a high percentage opportunity to locate late spring muskies. When musky season opens on the Chippewa Flowage in late May, most baitfish have finished spawning. Both baitfish and muskies will begin to migrate from spawning areas to summer locations. When this migration begins, “funnels” leading out of spawning bays become a high percentage opportunity to contact muskies. I consider a funnel to be a deep, narrow stretch of water connecting two larger sections of the lake.

There are three different types of structures I look for within a funnel. 1) Shoreline structure (photo 1, red): Shoreline structure refers to points and shore shelves that are located within the funnel. Muskies using shoreline structure in late spring will typically be found in very shallow water. Most weed growth will be sporadic and covering water becomes very important. Lure choice for each position is crucial in covering water efficiently and effectively. Many times there are 3 people fishing in my boat. The person in the front of the boat is used to search for the most active muskies. I will often have this person using a lure that can be retrieved quickly. Small bucktails in late spring make for efficient search baits. I find ghosttails to be a good choice because they ride high and can be fished very effectively over weeds in shallow water. The second position should still have on a lure that can cover water but contrasts the first position. My top lure choice for this position is a surface bait. I have two favorites when it comes to searching with surface baits: tail baits and toppers. Both of these baits can be moved quickly and can trigger a lot of strikes. The last lure should completely contrast the lures in the front it. Contrasting other lures can be done in three ways: size, speed, and action. In most late spring cases size and speed are not as effective as the action of a lure for triggering strikes. Glide baits, twitch baits, and jerk baits are examples of lures whose action triggers strikes. In my boat we typically use gliders on the Flowage as the contrasting lure. I have found Hellhounds and The 6” Phantom Softail to be very effective.

2) Pinch Points (photo 1, dark blue): Pinch points are created when two pieces of structure within the funnel are separated by a narrow stretch of deep water. These pinch points can be used to force baitfish and muskies into predicable areas. When fishing over deep water take your time and use your electronics. “Scout” the funnel and pinch point for the presence of baitfish. Once baitfish are located there will be a chance muskies are in the area. If baitfish are not present I simply will not fish the deep parts of the funnel or pinch point. The key to fishing deep water is matching the lure to the depth of the baitfish. I have found that large profiles lures work better than smaller profiles in deep water. There are two reasons for this: First reason is because the Chippewa Flowage is a stained body of water. The large lure allows the baits profile and vibration to get noticed from a greater distance. The other reason is, despite the time of year, mature fish of all species spend the majority of their time in open water. Larger baitfish will tend to suspend themselves just off structure. Throwing larger lures, such as the Pounder and Magnum Bull Dawgs even in late spring, will actually come closer to matching the size of the suspended baitfish. Other lures to consider while open water fishing are large twitch baits and weighted jerkbaits.

3) Isolated structure associated with funnels (photo 1, green): Isolated structure associated with funnels refers to any points, humps, or extended shelves in the mouths of a funnel. This can be one of your best opportunities at a trophy musky in late spring. As baitfish migrate through funnels, structure at either end or just outside the funnel will be used as feeding locations. Large post spawn females who have been recuperating in deep water from the spawn will often slide onto these locations to feed. In this situation just about any lure choice will do. I will often take two passes around these types of structure. The first pass I will keep the boat off the structure hitting the deep edges for suspended muskies. Double Cowgirls, Bull Dawgs, and the 8” Custom X will often be my first choices. After we have thoroughly covered the outer edge I will slide up and hit the shallowest portion of the structure. Surface baits and bucktails will be my top choices, followed by glide baits and twitch baits.

Early Summer

As baitfish and muskies finish their migration from spring spawning grounds to summer patterns, I shift my attention more too mid-lake structure. I define mid-lake structure as: Structure associated with deep, open water. Examples of this would be large mid-lake flats, small isolated humps, shore shelves and islands structure (photo 2, red). A key factor in finding high percentage early summer locations is the structures close proximity to deep open water. Schooling baitfish will spend the majority of their summer suspended over deep open water basins. As baitfish make their way around these basins they will use mid-lake structure to feed, and where the baitfish go the muskies will follow.

Early summer day time fishing is all about covering water. Once you have chosen structure associated with deep open water the search shifts to newly formed weed beds. The new weed growth in early summer will offer some of the best “trophy potential” the season has to offer. Early summer muskies will typically position themselves in three locations when using new weed growth: directly in the weeds, on the outside weed edge, or on the inside weed edge. In most cases they will be very tight to the weeds. I like to hold my boat fairly close to the weed bed. My lure should be able to hit the inside and outside weed edges if possible. Weed growth will have not quite reached the surface making it prime time for bucktails, surface baits, mid-sized twitch baits, and un-weighted Suicks. When searching for early summer muskies with bucktails you have to constantly experiment with different sizes and speeds. Surface baits can be equally as effective as bucktails throughout the day when attempting to cover water. Twitch baits and jerk baits need to be very buoyant and have a quick rise.

Throughout the course of the day you may contact “inactive muskies”. Any muskies you contact that do not eat lures should be marked and revisited. The most predictable window that occurs in the early summer period is sunset into first dark; this is “BIG FISH” time. I will revisit the largest fish I have contacted in that day. If no large muskies have been contacted I will go to locations where I have contacted big muskies in the past. Unlike mid-day fishing when my boat and lures are moving quickly. Evening and night fishing is time to slow down your boat speed and lure presentation. With the weeds not quite to the surface you can slow down the retrieve of your bucktails. Boat control becomes much more precise when fishing in low light conditions. Make sure you have fished the spot thoroughly before moving on to the next spot. Big bladed bucktails and surface baits are the best options.


As surface temperatures rise into the mid to upper 70’s most large muskies will begin pulling off shallow early summer locations, in search of cooler water temps. This change signifies the beginning of “the dog days of summer”. Many anglers on The Chippewa Flowage will stop fishing this difficult time of year. Instead choosing to wait for the cooling water temperatures of early fall. This can be a huge mistake, as long as water temps do not get to warm. I will be the first to admit, I would much rather be casting bucktails and surface baits over shallow structure. Spending my day searching for suspended baitfish and casting open water for muskies can become very monotonous. However, the effort can be well worth your time. Once you locate an area where muskies are feeding. This area can be revisited over a long period of time and continue to produce consistent action.

There are three different types of structure I look for when searching for midsummer muskies. 1) Deep inside turns on mid-lake structure (photo 3, green): Inside turns are tight breaking edges that form a cup shape along the edge of the bar. As water temperatures rise, muskies that had been located on early summer structure typically will not travel far. Make sure to target inside turns on bars that contained active early summer muskies. When targeting inside turns I like to position my boat a little less than a full cast from the top of the bar. This will allow my lure to work the break line then into open water. After covering the turn from an outside angle, I will get on top of the bar casting toward open water working the lure back into the break. Working inside turns from multiple angles will help increase your success rate.

2) Funnels and pinch points located between main lake basins (photo 3, dark blue): Just like in late spring funnels force baitfish and muskies into predictable areas. It is no different in midsummer. Except in midsummer I am looking for funnels located between two main lake basins. The Chippewa Flowage constantly has current whether it is from wind, or water flow toward the dam. Muskies are opportune predators. They will stage themselves around these pinch points. Current will force food for baitfish through creating feeding opportunities for muskies.

3) Floating Bogs: Floating bogs are sections of the lake bottom that have ripped free and floated to the surface. Bogs that are suspended over deep water will provide cover from the sun for fish of all species. Casting deep running lures along the edges of these bogs can provide great midsummer action.

Even though these three pieces of structure may seem to be very different they all must have one thing in common, baitfish. Without the presence of baitfish, open water fishing becomes a needle in a haystack scenario. Just like in late spring use your electronics to searching for the presence of baitfish. Large lures once again shine in open water fishing.

I do feel I need to add: There comes a lot of responsibility when targeting open water muskies in midsummer. I do not suggest fishing when morning water temps are exceeding 80 degrees. High surface temperatures can have negative effects on muskies that have been caught. Over stressing muskies in these extreme temperatures can increase mortality, even in muskies that appear to have swum away in good condition. I also understand most people reading this do not live in the Hayward area. We cannot choose the weather we are dealt when on vacations. If you do find your selves fishing when water temps are getting into the low 80’s. Take the proper precautions to release fish as quick as possible. Warm water has low levels of dissolved oxygen. It is very important to quickly get the fish back down into cooler water. Make sure you have your release tools in a location where you can unhook the musky as fast as possible. In these conditions I will be much more willing to cut hooks right away. These warm temps are much more stressful on the larger fish. If you are going to take a picture and measure the fish, do it as fast as possible.

Low density lakes such as the Chippewa Flowage can be frustrating at times. However, you can have good results with a little hard work and preparation. Late Spring, Early Summer, and Midsummer can be excellent opportunities for big muskies. Cover water, and use structure that forces muskies into predictable areas. Keep these tips in mind and I’m confident you will put more and bigger muskies in your boat.



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