Gile Flowage more than just another pretty place
Often said to remind visitors of a little bit of Canada in northern Wisconsin with its rocky and convoluted shorelines, the lightly developed Gile Flowage provides sportsmen with a diverse fishery all year long, as well as some waterfowl hunting opportunities in the fall.
The flowage was created in 1945 with the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the West Branch of the Montreal River, a rocky, north-flowing river that once ran unimpeded from its source at Iron County’s Island Lake, to its confluence with the East Branch, and then on to Lake Superior.
The Gile Flowage has a number of landmarks, either on the numerous islands or along the shoreline. Undersized Bay was named for the small muskies that are often found living there. Six Pack Rock is upstream from Sucker Hole Boat Landing and was named for a person illegally fishing before season who narrowly missed being apprehended by a conservation warden. The suspected violator left behind only his six-pack of beer. Wedding Island was named for a famous wedding that took place on its shore in 1984. Deer Spirit Island was named for deer antlers found perched on the island’s south shore despite rough waves that should have washed the antlers away.
In 1967, the Wisconsin state record black crappie was caught from the Gile Flowage. It measured 19.75 inches and weighed 4 pounds, 8 ounces.
Today, the Gile Flowage is known for its wilderness aesthetics and a fishery of bluegills, black crappies, smallmouth bass, walleyes, and muskellunge. The DNR’s Iron County fisheries team surveys the flowage’s fishery regularly. The crew ran brief spring surveys in 2015 and 2017, then summer netting surveys in 2018 and 2019 to assess panfish populations, but they also surveyed any walleyes and northern pike captured during the summer runs.
During 2019 netting efforts, the crew found black crappies ranging in length from 7.5 to 13.9 inches, averaging 9.7 inches.
“These results suggest that black crappies are currently at low densities, but the population exhibits a quality size structure,” wrote Iron County DNR Fish Biologist Zach Lawson in his assessment.
The crew caught 236 bluegills, considered a low catch rate but it was during a summer survey, running from 5.1 to 9.8 inches, with an average of 7.4 inches. Those results rate as a moderate density approaching quality size. Anglers will also find pumpkinseeds up to 7.5 inches.
Perch rank as the least abundant panfish, with the biggest specimens out of the light catch going 11.9 inches.
If walleyes and pike would have been targeted, the team would have set fyke nets right after ice-out. However, crew members weren’t about to turn down a chance to “science” any walleyes or pike caught incidentally to the panfish. The 24 walleyes ranged from 9.7 to 21.3 inches and averaged 14.5 inches. The 20 northern pike went 10.2 to a healthy 42.7 inches, but averaged just 18.5.
The 2018 summer survey found similar results for the Gile’s walleye and pike populations. The crews captured 28 walleyes from 10.8 to 28.2 inches for a catch that averaged 15.9 inches. They caught 23 northern pike that ranged in length from 14.3 to 25.9 inches and averaged 18.1.
Ironically, even though the 2018 black crappie length ranges varied from 2019, the average size was the same at 9.7 inches. The 20 crappies ranged from 5.4 to 13.2 inches. The crew netted just 64 bluegills in 2018 that ran 3.5 to 9.9 inches, and averaged 6.6.
In 2017, the crew used a late spring survey to look at bass and panfish populations and a fall electrofishing survey of near-shore shallows to assess game fish recruitment. That fall they caught 409 walleyes ranging from 4.7 to 21.8 inches and averaging 8.6 inches with 25% of the sample longer than 15 inches. This survey sampled young-of-the-year walleyes at a low rate of 4.9 per mile of shoreline and yearlings at a rate of 12 per mile. Those numbers are below average for a northern Wisconsin lake, but do indicate that natural reproduction is occurring at a rate to sustain an adult walleye population.
The team captured 52 pike from 7.2 to 38.3 inches, averaging 17.6 inches. So, although pike appear to be present at low to moderate densities, here’s another survey that shows some quality fish are available to anglers.
The Gile has a robust smallmouth bass population, with 66% of the catch from 2017 running longer than 14 inches.
The 2017 late spring electrofishing survey sampled a total of 227 smallmouth bass at a high rate of 28.4 per mile of shoreline. The smallmouths ranged in length from 6.5 to 18.9 inches and averaged 14.5. These results indicate that smallmouth bass are present in relatively high abundance and the population exhibits a balanced size structure.
Nearest town: Hurley
Surface area: 3,138 acres
Max. depth: 25 feet
Water clarity: 6 feet
Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
For information: DNR regional fisheries office (715) 365-8900, the DNR web site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call Corkscrew, (715) 561-5645.