Springtime's Best Crappie Waters

Catching spring crappies can be easy if you concentrate on Michigan's best hotspots for papermouths. Here's where to catch your limit pronto.

Dean Shippey of Eaton Rapids, Mich., hefts a Sanford Dam crappie. Photo by Kenny Darwin.

When spring crappies go on a feeding spree the action can be fast-paced and there is no better way to enjoy the arrival of warm spring weather than spending time on your favorite waterway catching tasty panfish. But the boom-and-bust nature of crappie populations can keep you looking for new hotspots and unless you want to leave success to chance, knowing where there is productive fishing is the critical key to success.

I grew up catching bass and panfish on the Tittabawassee system below the Sanford Dam and Wixom Lake spillway using a cane pole, bobber and plain hook threaded with an earthworm dug from Grandma's garden. Back then, the fishing was easy and stringers filled fast. The same holds true today, although the tackle I prefer is an ultralight spinning outfit, custom float that is extra sensitive and fluorocarbon line tipped with a tiny jig.

Here's a rundown of productive crappie waters across the state where you can enjoy the fishing fun with family and friends in spring 2009.

SANFORD LAKE AND DAMS
According to fisheries biologist Jim Baker, there is good public access, and you can drive to the dam through the new Sanford Park and schools of big fish are waiting to be caught.

"There are good numbers of crappies available below the Sanford Dam, and in Sanford Lake and you can catch them from shore or boat," Baker said. "Anglers can target schools of slab crappies in the deep swirling water below the Sanford Dam in early spring and even better fishing is available below the Wixom spillways as spawning fish swim upriver from Sanford Lake through the Tittabawassee system and congregate below the manmade structures. Anglers can reach the spillways by parking along M-30 and walking to the dam. The east dam is larger and holds more crappies when spring rain brings spawning runs. The west spillway can be quite shallow until melting ice and snow along with rain causes the water to flow over the concrete structure and draw crappies from below."

Fisheries biologist Kathrin Schrouder recommends hitting the Sanford Dam or Wixom spillway early in the season when spring runoff cause crappies to charge upriver. Then try the shallows in Sanford or Wixom lakes and concentrate efforts around fallen trees, sunken logs, points and any structure that provides spawning habitat for spring crappies. When water temperatures increase, move to the main impoundment and work the channel edges.

"The last fisheries survey found that crappies averaged more than 8 inches, and plenty of slabs topped the 1-foot mark," Schrouder explained.

There is a public boat launch at the Sanford Dam. Use the public access boat launch on Dundas Road for Wixom Lake. Wixom Lake is around 2,000 acres in Gladwin County near the small town of Edenville. For more information, contact the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit office in Bay City at (989) 684-9141, or the Gladwin Chamber of Commerce at www.gladwincountychamber.com.

SESSIONS LAKE
"The most recent DNR fisheries survey showed crappies were both numerous and large in Sessions Lake with nearly 35 percent of the catch in the 11-inch size range," said fisheries biologist Amy Harrington. "Plenty of fish were smaller, indicating strong year-classes are on their way up and should provide good fishing in the future."

Jordan Conner, a well-known local pro who fishes Sessions, describes last year's fishing as very good.

"The reservoir was standing trees at one time and there are still lots of dead trees and stumps that crappies love. The fishing was so good last spring that you could catch your limit in less than an hour and folks were consistently taking 12-inch slabs."

Conner recommends the traditional crappie baits -- small minnows, wax worms and itsy jigs tipped with plastics or wigglers.

"Try dancing the offering near sunken wood and if you want some fishin' fun, schedule outings on calm, sunny weather, wear polarized sunglasses to cut the glare of the water and motor along the west shoreline in search of crappies," he said. "You will find them stacked on sunken trees, along the dropoff. Cut the electric motor and cast tiny jigs tipped with plastics and watch the big slabs zoom from the cover and smack the falling lure. Sight-fishing for crappies is my favorite technique for finding big hogs and locating hotspots for limit catches."

The 100-acre lake offers plenty of bank-fishing. A state park permit is required. It has a boat launch and a no-wake restriction. Sessions is well known for camping, with 100 campsites, more than four miles of hiking trails and a fishing pier.

The Ionia Recreation Area is located on West David Highway, four miles east of Saranac, in Ionia County. Call (616) 527-3750. Make campground reservations by calling (800) 447-2757.

LAKE MITCHELL
"One of the best black crappie lakes in the northwestern Lower Peninsula is Lake Mitchell," said fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. According to him, Mitchell is just as good as neighboring Lake Cadillac, which is highly respected for fantastic crappie catches.

"Some of the best fishing occurs just after ice-out when pre-spawn crappies congregate near open-water areas. Most are good sized, ranging from 8 to 12 inches with some slab 14-inchers mixed in," he explained. "Anglers should try the outlet of the state park channel on Mitchell's east shoreline off M-115. Little Cove on the north shore is also good. Spawning takes place on the edges of weedbeds and savvy fishermen use electric motors to cover water and find active schools.

"There isn't a lot of shore-fishing, because access is difficult to find. Most fishing is done from a boat."

Boat launches are located on the east shore at Mitchell State Park and the Selma Township launch on Little Cove.

For updated fishing information, visit www.pilgramvillagefishing.com and click on "Fishing Report." For more information, call the Cadillac DNR or Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727.

LAKE CADILLAC
Tonello refers to Lake Cadillac as Michigan's most popular crappie lake and fish can be found all over the 1,150-acre lake in Wexford County. One hotspot is at the west end near the causeway, where crappies congregate in the current and offer shore-bound anglers fun adventures. Another good location is at the east end of the lake near the c

ity dock and along the pavilion and Four Winns Center.

"Excellent fishing occurs during spring as warm weather causes water temperatures to rise into the 50s and crappies move to shallow spawning locations," Tonello said. "When water temperatures climb into the low 60s, crappies begin spawning chores and peaks when temperatures reach 66 degrees. Late spawners can still be located when water temperatures hit the 70-degree mark."

Boat launches are located on the north side off North Boulevard and the east side off Lake Street.

For more information, call the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727.

HARDY DAM POND
"Another top producer is Hardy Dam Pond," Tonello said. "Crappies can be caught all over the lake when spring arrives and warming water tends to drive schools into the shallows for spawning."

According to Shane Ward, a well-known fisherman in the area, "Small jigs colored pink and white are the hot ticket for limit catches. My favorite is a white jig with pink feathers, a 1/64-ounce Little Nipper made by Lindy Little Joe. Northland Tackle makes some fantastic crappie jigs, too, and my top choices are the Firefly and Gypsy jigs. When the water is stained, I prefer a larger lure like the Beetle Spin or a small tube jig and small plastic tail that quivers like an injured baitfish and excites crappies into slamming the offering."

One of the best places on the pond is South Mitchell Creek outlet. This is a spot where Ward has seen anglers hauling slabs on a consistent basis. Other hotspots include stumpfields, fallen trees or submerged vegetation that is thick enough to draw crappies in the mood for romance.

Hardy has a reputation for catches of large perch, bass and northern pike.

For more information, contact the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727

TIPPY DAM POND
"Don't overlook the great crappie fishing available above Tippy Dam, a large pond that supports some of the best inland warmwater fishing in the area. I've seen anglers pulling limits of slab crappies from the Pine River arm and consistent catches from the many points and bays that are highlighted by fallen trees partially submerged that create ideal crappie spawning habitat," Tonello said.

Tippy Pond is a huge impoundment on the world-famous Big Manistee River that covers 1,550 acres with a multitude of coves, winding rivers, hidden pools and fish-holding structure.

Contact the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit for more information at (231) 775-9727.

LAKE OVID
"Sleepy Hollow State Park is highlighted by Lake Ovid, which is one of the best crappie lakes in my region," reports fisheries biologist Kregg Smith. "Good catches come from the deep water found close to the dam and along a stumpfield located between the island and the west shore."

Smith said the north end of the lake is thick, bordered by deep water, and along these beds is where you will find crappies during spring. The south end of the lake has crappies, too, but fast-growing weeds and shallow water support a short fishing season.

"My favorite crappie technique is sight-fishing using polarized sunglasses to spot fish and dropping a tiny jig tipped with a live minnow in their faces," explained Jose Rios, a Lake Ovid regular. Rios takes his kids fishing with him on a weekly basis and the group has a technique that catches big crappies and a lot of them.

"I use my custom-made steelhead rods 10- to 12-foot long with 6l-pound clear fluorocarbon line spooled on spinning reels," Rios said. "By standing in a 14-foot boat, I can locate hotspots, see fish and flip my offering on the exact spot where slab crappies will glide upward to the fall¬ing bait and gulp the quivering minnow. When the sky is overcast, or wind puts ripples on the water, I switch to a light bobber and drift my minnow presentation in productive pockets of clear water found in the center of weed patches."

Lake Ovid covers 412 acres in Clinton County. The lake is shallow and full of weeds. Deep water is found north of the boat launch. Lake Ovid is a popular bluegill lake and you can also catch muskies and bass.

There is a boat ramp on the west side and a no-wake restriction is in place. For more information, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit at (269) 685-6851.

HOLLOWAY RESERVOIR
Holloway was created by damming the Flint River and flooding a forested valley, leaving a vast stumpfield, which is ideal habitat for crappies. Come spring, fish congregate in protected bays, inlets or backwaters that tend to warm faster than the main reservoir. Once you find fish, catching them can be somewhat easy, if you keep some important points in mind.

Holloway is fed by the Flint River, and melting snow and ice or rain can cause the reservoir to become strained. Turbid water requires adjusting your fishing strategy. Use brightly colored jigs, tubes or plastics. Fluorescent presentations will put more fish in the livewell. Holloway's choices for crappie lures include white, chartreuse and lime green.

"Holloway has an excellent population of crappies with most running from 8 to 10 inches," said DNR fisheries biologist Joe Leonardi. "The lake offers superb fishing with little spring flooding and miles of undeveloped shoreline highlighted by blowdowns, sunken logs and emergent vegetation that attracts and holds crappies through the spring spawning season."

Al Fisher, a local pro, started fishing for crappies in the 1960s when the population was low, but today he says the specks are booming.

"Back then, I used a cane pole and black nylon line and fishing was tough," he said. "Today, I prefer 8-pound clear monofilament, a 7-foot medium-light-action rod and spinning reel."

Holloway has given up several fishing secrets over the years: Most importantly, you should use a lure that crappies can see with ease in brownish stained river water.

"My hottest colors are fluorescent lime green and white 1/8-ounce jigs tipped with a white wax worm or feisty minnow," he said. "If the fish are in deep water, I cast the jig and let the offering swim toward bottom and twitch the rod tip to excite crappies into gulping the falling bait. If the fish are shallow, I prefer to scale down to a 1/64-ounce jig and suspend the bait about 4 feet below a slip-bobber that can be moved deeper or shallower depending on the depth water where I'm getting strikes."

Holloway covers 950 acres in Lapeer and Genesee counties, 10 miles northeast of Flint. There is a large park and boat launch on the southwest corner near Hasler Creek.

For more information, call the Lapeer State Game Area DNR office at (810) 245-1250.

STONY CREEK
"Crappie numbers

are very solid in Stony Creek Lake and the growth rates average an inch faster than the rest of the state," said DNR fisheries biologist Jim Francis. "Crappies in a recent survey averaged 9.6 inches. One was over 13 inches and weighed a pound and a half, a vast improvement over a 1980s survey where the largest crappie was 7 inches.

"The state-record crappie came from Stony Creek Lake in 2000 and weighed more than 3 pounds and measured an amazing 19.5 inches. Stony has a reputation for serving up slab crappies."

Tom Anderson, a Stony Lake pro from Troy, said, "Stony has clear water, so use a live minnow 6 feet below a bobber, dorsal hooked with a No. 10 Octopus hook. This presentation allows the minnow to swim freely and draws big slabs from hiding."

Stony Creek Lake is north of Rochester Hills in Macomb and Oakland counties with an average depth from 6 to 15 feet and 24 feet deep near the outlet. Fish structure holds plenty of crappies on a point north of the boat access. Stony covers about 500 acres and is highlighted by crappie-holding stumps and sunken trees. A boat launch is located on the southeast corner near the dam.

For information, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit at (248) 359-9046 or the Huron-Clinton Metro Authority at (800) 477-2757.

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