Pike Lake chain’s fishery reputation holding steady
By Dean Bortz
The four-segment Pike Lake Chain of Lakes that covers almost 2,000 acres on the border of Price and Vilas counties marks not only the headwaters of the South Fork of the Flambeau River, but also the source of some good year-round fishing for most panfish and other species.
A dam with a 2-foot head adds water to a natural system that existed prior to the logging era when Round Lake was first dammed to serve as the starting point for spring log drives. A renovated log-driving dam still sits at the Round Lake outlet today on national forest land.
The chain is made up of four lakes and their connecting waters – Pike at 806 acres and 17 feet, Round at 726 acres and 24 feet, Amik at 224 acres and 8 feet, and Turner at 149 acres and 12 feet. The chain is fed by two named creeks, Squaw and Little Pine, and a handful of unnamed spring ponds and connected streams.
All fish species can be found in each lake and connecting waters. The South Fork of the Flambeau River below Round Lake also offers fishing opportunities for the same species found in the chain of lakes.
The chain has seen many years worth of attention from DNR fishery crews out of Mercer and now Park Falls. Most recently, the Park Falls team ran spring, summer and fall netting and electrofishing surveys on the chain in 2017 and 2018.
The adult walleye population estimate for the four lakes combined averaged 1.4 fish per acre. The range went from 0.9 adults per acre for Amik and Pike to 1.0 for Turner and 2.1 for Round. That’s below the management goal set in a 2015 management plan for the chain, according to Jeff Scheirer, DNR fish biologist out of Park Falls. The plan was developed with extensive input from the public.
While the numbers might have been down during that survey period, the chain’s walleyes grow nicely. That same plan set a goal of having 20% to 40% of adult walleyes being at least 15 inches long. Round Lake hit that mark (25%) during the early spring survey in 2017.
Pike, Turner and Amik walleyes ran even better in size percentage-wise, but the combined walleye total from those three lakes didn’t come close to Round’s 654 fish. Amik and Turner each had just more than 30 fish; Pike 176. But, for the sake of comparison, fish of at least 15 inches hit 63% in Pike, 72% in Amik, and 80% in Turner. That same trio ran better than 20% of fish longer than 20 inches (27% in Turner, 25% in Pike).
The biggest walleyes in three of the four lakes ran just a shade longer than 28 inches. Turner’s biggest walleye went 25.8 inches. The oldest and largest walleye was a 28.7-inch female from Pike Lake, estimated at 15 years old.
In part because of the lower-than-expected population estimate from that survey, Scheirer suspected recruitment in preceding years had come in below average. There also exists the possibility that some of those walleyes headed into Squaw Creek or Little Pine Creek to spawn and would not have been captured in the crew’s fyke nets.
To gauge recruitment, DNR crews hit the lakes in fall to run near-shore electro-fishing surveys in search of young-of-the year (YOY) fish. Scheirer’s crew in the fall of 2018 logged capture rates of 20, 43, and 17 YOY walleyes per mile of shoreline. Not big numbers, but enough to prove a year-class of natural recruits in Pike, Round, and Turner. Amik came up a bit shy, with only 0.8 YOY per mile.
The Pike Lake chain is a popular muskie fishing destination thanks, in part, to the tannin-stained water that often provides better daytime action than lakes with clear water. The state stocks Pike, Round, and Turner with muskies at a rate of 0.25 large fingerlings per acre in odd-numbered years, but the crew’s fall shocking runs also have turned up wild fingerlings.
The DNR crew netted a total of 40 muskies from the four lakes, with Round accounting for half. Pike offered up 14, with three each coming from Amik and Turner. Those 40 fish averaged 37.6 inches. Pike had a 47-incher; Round a 45-incher. Creel survey results (May through October, 2018) showed anglers logged an estimated 14,322 hours in catching 429 muskies. Three were kept.
The chain has had a reputation of being a crappie destination and the survey bore that out. Fall fyke netting efforts proved crappies to not only be abundant, but they also showed a little size – not huge, by any measure, but decent in the sense that have 15% to 25% were at least 10 inches long.
Turner and Amik showed the best crappie numbers, just as they did on largemouth bass. Bluegill numbers across the chain were light; yellow perch numbers came in too low to consider at any level. Northern pike and smallmouth bass exist at a lower abundance than all other game fish. The biggest pike was 29.5 inches; biggest smallie 16 inches.
Pike Lake chain
Nearest town……………….. Fifield
Surface area………….. 1,905 acres
Max. depth…………………… 24 feet
Water clarity…………… 3 to 6 feet
Fish species present:
Black crappies, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
DNR regional fisheries office (715) 762-3204, the DNR web site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call Island Sports Shop, (715) 356-4797.