Fish Squaw Lake’s stained water under sunny skies
By Dean Bortz
When it comes to fishing north-central Wisconsin counties, anglers have plenty of options, to be sure. So why pass on lakes like Mohawksin, Big Arbor Vitae, Trout, Eagle River chain, Manitowish chain, Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, or Butternut Lake and head to Squaw Lake on the border of Vilas and Oneida counties between Minocqua and Lac du Flambeau?
Well, why not? Actually, there are a number of reasons to fish Squaw. It has strong, naturally reproducing populations of all typical northern Wisconsin game fish species. The lake is relatively shallow with vast sand bottoms (90%) and some gravel (5%) and muck (5%). Squaw’s water might be stained, but it’s also clear. Don’t correlate “stained” with “turbid.” The lake has very good water quality.
That stained quality can work in anglers’ favor in a couple of ways – aquatic vegetation still grows in stained water, but the weed edges set up at shallower depths than in clearer water. Those depths in Squaw range from 4 to maybe 8 feet instead of 12 to 18 feet on lakes with clearer water. That means it’s easier to find fish, according to Kurt Justice, owner of Island Sports Shop in Minocqua.
“The weeds set up tight to shore, so it’s kind of an easy lake to fish – just look for outside weed edges or fish cribs,” said Justice. “It has some structure and even some hazards to watch for, but when you do find wood or gravel, you’re going to find where the fish are concentrating.”
Lakes with stained water are also often considered to have better daytime walleye and muskie action. Anglers don’t have to arrive before the crack of dawn or fish until after dark to make their catches. Justice noted that Squaw has a good summer daytime surface lure bite for muskies.
The most recent DNR comprehensive survey (2003) of Squaw Lake put the adult walleye population estimate at 3.7 fish per acre. That’s a decent number for a lake that isn’t stocked. But, the lake also has slow walleye growth rates, so there are a number of smaller walleyes out there. That doesn’t mean Squaw can’t grow bigger walleyes; it can, it just takes some time. Most of the walleyes from that survey bunched up just below the 14-inch mark, but the DNR crew did fyke net walleyes up to almost 27 inches.
Another decent number? The muskie population estimate from that survey came in at 0.31 adult fish per acre. That number might look awfully small on paper, but it’s not bad considering that the average muskie density on a decent Northwoods lake is about .25 adults per acre. Muskies were not stocked in Squaw for many years, but was being stocked in the early 2000s at a low rate, but one suggestion coming out of that survey was that muskie stocking be discontinued in light of strong levels of natural reproduction.
Muskie growth rates also fall below the northern Wisconsin average for similar lakes. While Squaw does have a reputation locally of being an “action lake” with a decent number of smaller muskies, the lake can grow big fish. Justice knows of 48- and 50-inch fish that have come out of Squaw. Still, most anglers won’t believe that because the lake now has a 28-inch muskie size limit designed to remove some of the smaller esox. The biggest muskies caught in the 2003 survey ran 44 inches.
Squaw also grows both bass species, with smallmouths (good numbers up to 19 inches) being quite a bit more common than largemouths (the biggest fish was 17 inches). The lake also has northern pike, but not in big numbers at all – they’re just slightly more common than the muskies. Several surveyed of the netted pike made it to the 30- to 32-inch range.
As for panfish, Squaw sports the typical black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, and rock bass profile found in most northern Wisconsin lakes. Other species include yellow and black bullheads, white suckers, and redhorse. Justice said crappie numbers are a little lower than many anglers might like, but the size isn’t bad. Squaw now has a 10-fish daily panfish bag limit as part of the DNR’s ongoing panfish regualtion assessment project.
“Squaw doesn’t see a lot of fishing pressure – probably for a number of reasons such as the panfish limit and reputation for smaller walleyes and muskies. It’s also about 15 miles from town and the boat landing is way on the south end of the lake,” he said.
Local DNR fish crews have mostly managed Squaw for walleyes, muskies, smallmouth bass, and panfish.
Because of the water color, Justice suggested those using artificial lures lean toward gold, orange, and chartreuse.
Squaw is fed by Squaw Creek, Stone Creek, and two unnamed tributaries. A low-head dam holds back some of that water as Squaw Creek leaves the lake and heads downstream to the Pike Lake Chain in Price County.
Nearest town Minocqua
Surface area 785 acres
Max. depth 21 feet
Water clarity Stained
Fish species present:
Black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
DNR regional fisheries office (715) 365-8900, the DNR web site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call Island Sports Shop, (715) 356-4797.