Spring crappies on the Chain
Local lakes hold plenty of fish
By Greg Seubert
When it comes to fishing, there’s a chance that Terry Nellis has been there and done that.
That includes spending lots of time in his boat at one of his favorite destinations, the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes.
Yes, that’s the same chain of 22 connected lakes near Waupaca that turns into party central each summer.
Nellis, who lives near Waupaca, spent a recent spring day in search of bluegills and black crappies on some of the Chain’s lesser-known bodies of water.
“There are so many different lakes, so many different opportunities,” he said after checking out Miner, Dake, Beasley, Columbia, Sunset and Otter lakes.
“This is way different than most people are used to,” he said. “You live on a lake. Here, you live on or have a cottage on 22 lakes. Your fishing experiences can vary from a bobber and worm off the end of your dock to row trolling for trout in Long Lake.”
Nellis launched his boat from the Miner Lake landing, one of a handful of public landings on the Chain. Others are located on Columbia, Taylor, Dake, Marl and Manomin lakes. There is also a landing for canoes and kayaks only on McCrossen Lake.
“I like it early in the spring simply because it’s not busy,” Nellis said. “The walleye season is pretty much done (on the Wolf River) and the white bass season hasn’t started. The crappies are usually the next fish to bite. You can catch them on Shadow Lake in Waupaca, but the crappies out here on the Chain usually run bigger and there’s no fishing pressure. You don’t have to have expensive equipment. You can get by with a No. 8 hook, a minnow and bobber. Anything and everything usually works here.”
Nellis avoids the Chain during the day in the summer as boat traffic picks up, but said it’s still worthwhile for anglers to at least check out.
“You might have trouble at a landing and the townships around here are getting more and more strict about not parking on the sides of the road,” he said. “It’s very difficult to find a landing that has parking. There are some nice landings here, but not many places to park.”
That won’t keep Nellis from fishing the Chain early or late in the day.
“I still love this fishery in the summer,” he said. “I love to come out early in the morning as soon as the sun comes up and throw topwater baits for bass. The nicer bluegills by then are off their beds and a little more difficult to catch, but the little ones are easily accessible. If you have young kids, you can go by just about any dock, catch bluegills and keep them satisfied.
“Mainly, I come out here in the summer to catch and release bass,” he said. “I love to come out here at 9 at night and fish until 1 or 2 in the morning and throw big-bladed spinnerbaits for bass.”
He’ll return to Miner and Dake lakes each winter to fish for bluegills and crappies.
“Miner and Dake lakes are not really big lakes, so they’re easy to explore in the winter,” he said. “You have to punch a lot of holes and use your electronics, but you can find some really nice bluegills. Are they huge? Nine- and 10-inchers are nice bluegills in my book. If they’re bigger than my hand, I can eat them.
“The crappies have been OK,” he added. “I have found a half-hour before daylight to about 1 1/2 hours after sun-up and then it’s time to go home. It seems like the fish disappear after that. Then, about a half-hour to an hour before dark, the fish will turn on again out here.”
Nellis accesses the two lakes from the Dake Lake landing off of Cleghorn Road.
“It’s a 300-yard walk from the landing to a good fishing spot,” he said. “There are lots of good fishing spots here, but that’s the one that I prefer. You can come out here and catch big northerns in the winter if you prefer to sit and watch tip-ups. Bluegills are above-average to excellent. I’ve had 15-inch crappies and they’re fun to catch on a tip-up or jig pole.”
Nellis has had plenty of success over the years on the Chain, but said it’s underfished.
Summer boat traffic
“This is more of a resort and vacation area,” he said. “There are a number of guys who have been fishing the Chain for much longer than me. We all think it’s a great fishing destination, but in the summer, it just gets too busy with water-skiing, tubing and really heavy boat traffic. Many lakes are slow, no-wake here. They are fishable in the summer, but there’s still a lot of boat traffic.”
An alternative is trying the Upper Chain, which includes Pope, Manomin, Marl, Knight and Orlando lakes.
“When I had my canoe, I would take it on the Upper Chain,” Nellis said. “There is excellent fishing up there, but it needs to be out of a canoe, fishing kayak or little jon boat with a trolling motor. If you have a cabin on one of the lakes of the Upper Chain, it’s very secluded. I might have to look into a fishing kayak just so I can go up there and fish.”
Although the fish didn’t cooperate on his last Chain fishing trip, Nellis will be back.
“I simply love this out there just because it’s early in the year, a lack of people, a lack of fisherman,” he said. “I can fish 10 or 12 lakes without going to the Upper Chain and all of them have fish in them.”