Fishing, Boating, Sailing, Sightseeing...
The Fishery in the Turtle Flambeau Flowage
The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage provides the best of north woods fishing experiences. The Flowage supports a diversity of native warm water fish species including walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass, lake sturgeon, and a variety of panfish. Recent research findings have enabled fisheries biologists to apply the latest management techniques on the Flowage for improving the quality of fishing. New species specific regulations are in effect. Angler compliance with the new regulations is essential to realize the maximum improvement in the fishery.
1997 Fishery Assessment
A comprehensive fisheries survey was completed in 1997. Information was collected on all gamefish species to determine the health of populations in regards to size structure, population densities, fishing pressure and angling success. Evaluation of the fishery involved extensive sampling of the fish population which began shortly after ice-out. Netting crews captured a total of 13,252 walleyes during the initial "marking" period which lasted about 10 days. These fish were marked with a fin-clip to distinguish between the fish marked during the netting period and those later captured during the "recapture" run. The recapture run involved 17 electro fishing boats which sampled the entire 221 miles of shoreline in one night. The recapture sample allows biologists to determine the population density at a 95% confidence level utilizing a formula based on the ration of marked to unmarked fish. Survey crews returned on several occasions throughout the spring to sample musky and smallmouth bass to gain a better understanding of the status of these species as well.
The Flowage continues to support good numbers of adult walleyes. Biologists gauge fish densities in number of fish per surface acre of water. The 1997 walleye spawning stock is calculated at 4 walleyes per acre or 54,770 adult fish. The estimated density of walleyes larger than nine inches is 14 fish per acre or 186,460 fish. These estimates compare favorably to studies completed in 1992 but continue to be slightly lower than 1989 levels. The abundance of catchable size walleye found in the Flowage remains above average when compared to other walleye waters in the region.
The walleye population in the Flowage continues to be dominated by fish under 18 inches in length. Only 11% of the total adult walleyes sampled were 18 inches or larger. However, 40% of the adult fish are 15 inches and over. The average length of walleye harvested during 1997 was 13.5 inches and in their fifth summer of growth. The average size of fish harvested is somewhat smaller than experienced 20 years ago where 14.6 inches was the average size walleye kept. Although catches of "trophy" size fish are not uncommon, future walleye management may include special regulations for improving the overall size structure.
The 1997 fisheries survey also included a walleye natural reproduction assessment. Department fisheries biologists have monitored young-of-the-year production annually since 1984. Walleye reproduction averaged 16.2 fingerling/acre/year during the 1980's During the 1990's average reproductive rates more than doubled at an average of 33.4 fingerlings/acre/year produced. The graph shown below illustrates the natural variation in walleye year class strengths. Exceptional natural walleyes reproduction was experienced in 1994 and 1996. The 1997 year class proved to be the largest recorded single year class produced with over 63 fingerlings/acre produced. These strong natural year classes will support the walleye fishery in the Flowage for many years into the future.
MUSKELLUNGE AND NORTHERN PIKE
In order to determine the status of the musky population, survey crews returned after the walleye spawning season to obtain information on the general health of the musky population. A total of 253 musky were captured through this effort. Of the total fish sampled, 14% or 36 fish were larger than 40 inches in length. 30% (76) were greater than 36 inches. The largest musky sampled was 51+ inches in length and over 45lbs. Based on this survey, the Flowage continues to demonstrate its ability to provide outstanding trophy angling opportunities.
An important objective of this survey was to determine the capability of musky to naturally reproduce and the need for supplemental stocking. Historically, annual plants of 2,500 fingerling musky were made to supplement the limited natural reproduction. Preliminary results indicate continued musky stocking is necessary if this fishery is to be maintained. The 40 inch minimum size limit, which went into effect in 1992, is intended to maximize natural musky reproduction and enhance the trophy features of this fishery. The benefits of this regulation in regards to a self-sustaining population may not be realized for several years.
Northern pike provide good action for anglers of all ages on the Flowage. Pike abundance is estimated at two fish per acre although only 3% of the population are larger than 23.0 inches. Growth rates are near average a high mortality after six years of age is believed responsible for few fish growing to trophy size.
The smallmouth bass population provides a quality fishing opportunity for anglers on the Flowage. "Smallies" in the Flowage are exceptionally robust for their size and are relatively easy to catch during most of the open water season.
Information gathering on the smallmouth bass population during the 1997 survey, revealed substantial improvements in size structure are taking place over the past few years. 38% of the total fish sampled were larger than 15 inches in length with many fish approaching 20 inches. The special harvest regulations implemented in 1996 and a general catch and release attitude among anglers are resulting in major improvements in the size structure of this population. A comprehensive evaluation of this management program is slated for the year 2000. Biologists forecast the Flowage smallmouth bass population will be one of the best fisheries in the State if current regulations are followed and catch and release attitudes persist.
CHIPPEWA INDIAN HARVEST
A 1983 federal court decision reaffirmed the rights of Chippewa Indians to hunt, fish and gather wild foods within the ceded territory of northern Wisconsin. The Flowage has supported a walleye spearfishing harvest since 1984. Safe harvest levels are determined annually so that the combined harvest of anglers and spearfishers does not endanger the future of the walleye population.
This is the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage! If you have a boat, slip it into the water; Venture out far enough to lose sight of the landing, and look around. You're treated to a view of nature of wild beauty and all its splendor similar to the view seen more than 100 years ago by native Americans, fur traders and early settlers of northern Wisconsin.
The Turtle Flambeau Flowage was created in 1926 when Chippewa and Flambeau Improvement Company built a dam on the Flambeau River which topped 16 small lakes and flooded more than 14,000 acres. There are 195 islands and over 230 miles of shoreline to explore. About 95% of the shoreline is in public ownership.
The Flowage also provides the best of northwoods fishing experiences. The Flowage supports a diversity of native warm water fish species including walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, small mouth and largemouth bass, lake sturgeon, black crappie, bluegill and rock bass.
Here at the Turtle River inlet is the most important spawning area for walleyes in the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. Each year in late April and early May, thousands of walleyes move in and spawn on the rocks and boulders below the falls.
During the great depression of the 30's, the State of Wisconsin built a fish hatchery with Civilian Conservation corps labor on what is now the west side of the park. When the hatchery was closed in the late 40's the hatchery buildings became property of Iron County. The observation platform over the river was built on the remains of one of the hatchery buildings.
Because of the heavy concentration of walleyes in this area during spring, these fish are sometimes used as a source of walleye spawn for propagation and stocking programs. Hatchery crews net and takes the fertilized eggs to the warm water fish hatchery at Spooner for hatching and rearing.
This spawn removal does not affect the walleye population. Walleyes are such prolific spawners that many more eggs are produced than will ever survive in the wild. Spawn removal is only a small percentage of this surplus. However, as a bonus, a minimum of 10 percent of the walleye that hatch from these eggs are stocked back into the Flowage.
The number of walleyes produced naturally will vary from one year to another. This variability is not caused by spawn-taking operations, but is a result of such phenomena as water temperature changes during the spawning period.
The site now occupied by Lake of the Falls Campground has been used for camping since the early 1900's. In 1957 development of the west side campground as part of Iron County's park system began. More progress came in 1967 with the development of campsites on the east side, including a well and electrical hookups.
Please feel free to visit the falls and old fish hatchery site on the west side of the park. Also, you are welcome to picnic, camp or just enjoy the park if you like. Daily park use and camping permits are available from a park caretaker.
The Turtle River was one of the travel routes used by the Indians for many years prior to arrival of the fur traders. It was also used by French voyageurs as a secondary route to Lac du Flambeau. The main fur trading route into the region followed a combination overland and water trail from the mouth of the Montreal River on Lake Superior through present day Mercer, down the Manitowish River to the Bear River and then upstream to Lac du Flambeau.
Boating on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage can be memorable in many ways. You do need to exercise caution the Flowage has an abundance of stumps, logs, and rock bars. Water levels continue to be raised or lowered to benefit downstream hydroelectric plants. Even if you think you know your way around these changing water levels mean you must slow way down in some areas. A guide is recommended for first time visitors - activities like water skiing and jet skiing have some areas, but very limited.