Chalk Hills still offering walleyes, smallies and muskies
Editor’s note: The Menominee River is a boundary water between part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Anglers often purchase licenses for both states, which enables them to fish the entire river. The Chalk Hills Flowage offers some quality fishing on the Wisconsin side of the river. A nonresident annual fishing license for Wisconsin is $50 and a daily is $10. There is also a four-day license ($24), 15-day license ($28), along with family, military, and student discounts.
Wisconsin DNR Report
Chalk Hills Flowage was created on the Menominee River in Marinette County in 1927 to generate power for surrounding communities and industry. The Chalk Hills dam and hydroelectric facility are now owned and operated by We Energies. The federal license to operate the dam was issued in 1997 and expires in 2037.
Generally, little development occurs within the impoundment boundaries but upriver Miscauno Island (93 acres) and adjacent river shoreline contain about 70 homes and a resort. The states of Wisconsin and Michigan own extensive, undeveloped property near Pemene Falls. There are three boat launches and two wilderness campground areas. Shoreline fishing areas exist along several miles of the flowage and below Chalk Hills dam.
The Wisconsin DNR and Michigan DNR have stocked the flowage and upstream waters on the Menominee River. Wisconsin DNR stocked over 74,000 lake sturgeon into the Menominee River upstream of Chalk Hills dam from 1982 to 2017. Sturgeon exist upstream and downstream of the dam, but no legal sturgeon have been harvested by hook-and-line anglers in this flowage or the Menominee River upstream to Sturgeon Falls dam.
The Michigan DNR has done extensive muskie stocking in the Chalk Hills flowage. Over 16,000 fingerling (5 to 7 inches) hybrid muskellunge were stocked from 1979-82. In addition, a northern strain of muskellunge was also stocked from 1985 to 1997. Those fish ranged from 6 to 11 inches. Wisconsin resumed muskie stocking in 2016 and annually stocked 477 to 843 fall fingerlings (10 to 11.8 inches) through 2019.
Some 18,600 small fingerling walleyes were stocked in 2015. In 2016 and 2018, fall fingerling (6 to 8 inches) walleyes were stocked at about 8,000 per year. According to a Wisconsin DNR report, the operation of this dam does affect the fishery. The presence of the dam impedes upstream and downstream fish migration, likely impinges and entrains fish through the turbine operation, and alters the morphology of the river channel.
Prior to 2019, the most recent fish surveys occurred in 2006 and 2012. Two electrofishing surveys were conducted in June and September of 2019. A Wisconsin DNR electrofishing boat was used during evening surveys with two experienced dip-netters. For each evening a total of six miles were surveyed. All species were netted in June but only walleyes, northern pike, and muskellunge for the September survey.
The crew netted 30 walleyes during the June survey and 48 walleyes in the fall. Both surveys were dominated by juvenile walleyes less than 15 inches. Only 6% of the walleyes were longer than the size limit of 15 inches. Young-of-year (YOY) fall capture rate was 7.8 walleyes per mile. The length frequency is comparable to a fall of 2019 electro-fishing survey on Grand Rapids Flowage, located about 25 miles downstream, and had a similar walleye stocking effort. Both impoundment surveys revealed a fishery dominated by juvenile walleyes, with few adults. The average length at age of walleyes sampled in 2019 was comparable to other northern Wisconsin lakes.
Smallmouth bass were only sampled in June. The crew netted 61 smallmouths from 3.4 to 18.5 inches and they averaged 14.4 inches. The June 2019 late spring length frequency results for Chalk Hills were similar to the late May 2018 Grand Rapids length frequency. Although, the percentage of smallmouths in the 17- to 20-inch groups was higher for Grand Rapids than Chalk Hills. The average length at age of smallmouth bass sampled in 2019 was similar to the northern Wisconsin lakes average for ages 1 through 5, but Chalk Hills smallmouths displayed slower growth at age 6 and older.
Fingerling muskies were stocked just before the fall survey. Based on similar size of the 27 muskies caught during the September survey, it can be assumed these fish originated from the 2019 stocking. These muskies were captured up to a few miles from the stocking sites. Only one other muskie was netted at 25.7 inches and aged at 3 years.
Chalk Hills supports a good fishery with evidence of natural reproduction for several species. The walleye and smallmouth populations appear strong. There is also good evidence of survival of stocked walleyes from 2014, 2016, and 2018. Limited numbers of northern pike were observed, but natural recruitment was evident. The Wisconsin DNR plans to stock walleye and muskie fingerlings in the fall of 2020.
Chalk Hills Flowage
Nearest town: Amberg
Surface area: 866 acres
Max. depth: 30 feet
Water clarity: Turbid
Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, sturgeon, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
For information: Wis. DNR regional fisheries office (715) 582-5000, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call A&K Bait & Tackle, (715) 732-9595.