February 15, 2017
Michigan crappie fishing doesn't get the attention that a lot of the other state game fish do. It's not because there aren't a lot of good, quality crappie lakes and reservoirs in Michigan.
Quite the contrary! Good crappie lakes abound, especially in the Lower Peninsula. There are dozens of natural lakes, impoundments and drowned river mouths that hold exception crappie populations. Relatively few anglers target them. Most are off chasing walleyes, brown trout and steelhead in the spring.
Those in the know realize that early spring is the best time to catch a stringer of big specks. One of the fringe benefits of catching spring crappies is that few fish are more delectable than a heaping platter of golden-fried crappie filets.
Following is a selection of spring crappie lakes that produce the type of action that creates a sure cure for the worst cabin fever.
TITTABAWASSEE RIVER IMPOUNDMENTS
Two of the most consistent Tittabawassee River impoundments are Wixom and Sanford lakes. "Both Wixom and Sanford are crappie factories," shared Katherin Schrouder, fisheries biologist at Bay City DNR office. "Certainly all of the impoundments in the Tittabawassee River chain have crappies in them. We used to see both white and black crappies. I haven't seen a white crappie in a long time. I think it has to do with the increased water clarity. White crappies seem to do best in turbid conditions and our waters just seem to be getting clearer and clearer."
Sanford Lake is a long, narrow 1,250-acre impoundment of the Tittabawassee that stretches some 10 miles. It is littered with stumps, weedbeds, and a well-defined river channel that provides excellent crappie habitat. Schrouder said that electronics are invaluable in finding the old river channel and other crappie-holding structure. Ten- to 12-inch crappies are common in both reservoirs and 16- to 17-inch trophies are not unheard of.
There are a lot of stumps, logs and fallen trees that are key to locating concentrations of crappies. Both Sanford and Wixom have gotten clearer and clearer thanks to zebra mussels, but they still seem to have a murky tinge compared to most Michigan lakes.
Prime areas for spring crappies are near locations referred to as the First and Second Fills, off the church grounds on the south end of the lake and off the mouth of Black Creek.
"The fills warm up faster in the spring," offered Schrouder. "They have a darker bottom, which absorbs the sunlight, so they're the first place guys start catching crappie in April."
Once crappies vacate the shallows in May or June, look for structure near the old river channel and deep water. "Crappies will typically suspend over the deepest water in the reservoirs," offered Kathrin Schrouder. "You'll find depths to 30 or 40 feet in front of the dams and crappies will suspend there."
Another hotspots that Schrouder mentioned are near the pilings where the highways cross. Modern electronics with side scan are a godsend for pinpointing suspended schools and for locating structure near the river channel that will hold summertime specks.
Anglers can access the lake at Sanford County Park on the south end of the lake. For bait, tackle and lake maps contact Sanford Sport Shop at 989-687-5161. For information on accommodations in the area contact the Midland County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 989-839-9775 or online at downtownmidland.com/midland-county-convention-visitors-bureau/.
Wixom Lake has two arms formed by the Tittabawassee and Tobacco rivers. Located in south-central Gladwin County, 1,250-acre Wixom Lake contains an incredible amount of structure and lots of fingers and creek channels that warm quickly in the spring. Probing the backs of these cuts is a proven tactic for specks that routinely reach 14 inches. Shiner minnows fished under a bobber are hard to beat, but when the bite is really on, tubes and twistertails can take just as many slabs.
Anglers can access both arms of Wixom from a public ramp located off Dumas Road and M-30 located on the lake's west arm. For information on lodging and bait shops in the area contact the Gladwin County Chamber of Commerce at 989-426-5451.
HURON RIVER IMPOUNDMENTS
"We've kind of struggled capturing crappie during our surveys in recent years," shared Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Cleyo Harris. "Belleville catch rates have not been too bad. Belleville Lake is probably the best for numbers and moderately sized fish," claimed Harris. "You can expect to catch a lot of crappies in the 9- to 10-inch range. There are bigger fish available, though, and you'll catch both black and white crappies."
Belleville Lake covers some 1,270 acres in both Wayne and Washtenaw counties southeast of Ypsilanti. The impoundment features a sinuous river channel that averages 10 to 20 feet deep, with adjacent flats, cuts and bays that are loaded with stumps and downed timber that attract spring crappies. Look for big schools of specks to move in to south-facing coves and shallows where the wood and dark bottom absorb the sun's warm rays.
Harris said Oakland County's 241-acre Wolverine Lake has been one of the better crappie lakes in the region. "Wolverine Lake has been really good for black crappies," Harris pointed out.
Another Oakland County lake, Cass Lake, is not known for crappies, but it's been producing good catches of specks. Shallow Pontiac Lake, better known for its largemouth fishing, is a sleeper according to Harris. Expect plenty of 10- to 12-inch papermouths to be pushing into the channels come spring.
TIPPY DAM POND
If you tried to describe the perfect crappie lake you'd probably come up with something pretty similar to Tippy Dam Pond. Fed by the Manistee and Pine rivers, 1,540-acre Tippy Dam Pond's irregular shoreline, sinuous bends, islands, stumps, downed timber and humps are about as close to the perfect crappie habitat as you can get. And the lake has a good population of black crappies, although they don't draw much attention.
"The last time we surveyed Tippy Dam Pond we found a pretty good population of crappies," claimed Central Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "In fact, I don't know if it was the timing of the survey or what, but we found more crappies than just about anything. They averaged a solid 9 inches and we found them up to 13 inches."
Filled with sunken trees, downed timber and stumps, the impoundment with its current makes ice conditions on Tippy Dam Pond iffy. The warming spring sun quickly erodes the ice in the pond's south-facing bays and coves. They are good places to begin your search. Ideal locations are where the old river channel touches the mouth of the bay.
Again with all the trees, stumps and snags in Tippy Dam Pond casting will result in a lot of lost tackle. Suspending a minnow or a white marabou jig under a slip-bobber should keep snags and break-offs to a minimum.
For maps, tackle and fishing reports on Tippy Dam Pond, contact Pappy's Bait & Tackle in Wellston at 231-848-4142.
"Hamlin Lake has a pretty decent crappie population that is probably under-fished because the bluegill fishing is so good," suggested fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. During recent fishery surveys, crappies collected averaged 10 inches and measured up to 13 inches.
At 5,000 acres, Hamlin actually is two lakes in one. The upper lake is shallow and weedy; the lower lake tends to be much deeper with lots of abrupt dropoffs. Big crappies can be found in both parts depending on the time of year. Look for early spring crappies in the south, middle and north bayous located along the east shoreline of the lower lake. The bayous are shallow, sheltered and they warm quickly in the spring. Hopping a jig or tossing a shiner minnow next to the stumps is a good tactic for crappies there.
Drifting with bobbers and jigs or minnows along the old river channel on the upper lake between Wilson Park and Victory Park is a proven tactic. Locate 8 or 9 feet of water and put your bait about 6 feet down. Limits of 10- to 12-inch papermouths are common. Later in the summer, crappies will suspend along the dropoff near the Narrows and off Ludington State Park.
For fishing reports, live bait and boat rentals, contact North Bayou Resort at 800-261-7415 or online at nbayouresort.com.
LAKES CADILLAC AND MITCHELL
"Lake Cadillac and Mitchell are not your typical crappie lakes," claimed fisheries biologist Mark Tonello, "but there sure are a lot of crappies in them." While crappies up to 15 inches are not unheard of in either Mitchell or Cadillac, the typical specks generally run more in the 9- to 10-inch range. Springtime is the best time to fill a bucket with them.
Unlike crappies in most lakes, specks on lakes Mitchell and Cadillac feed a lot on aquatic insects. Both lakes are filled with a shrimp-like creature called an amphipod and crappies love them. Because of that, you might have better luck with larva such as wax worms, spikes or mousies.
On Mitchell, look to both Big and Little coves right after ice-out. The shallow coves receive a lot of springtime sunshine, which attracts minnows and jumpstarts insect life there. Use slip-bobbers to suspend live bait, or cast scent-enhanced artificials on ultralight gear. There is a state-owned public launch at Mitchell State Park on the east side of the lake.
A popular spring crappie fishery develops along the M-55 causeway on the west side of Lake Cadillac. Both bank fishermen and anglers in boats take buckets of crappies as they move in just after ice-out. After the spawn, shore fishermen continue to catch stringers of good-sized specks off the fishing pier on the north end of the lake. Proximity to deep water there attracts schools of crappies.
For more information on crappies in the Cadillac area, contact the DNR at 231-775-9727.
Southwest Michigan has an abundance of prime crappie waters that include impoundments and natural lakes. "The Randall Lake chain is always a good crappie producer," claimed Plainwell District fisheries biologist Brain Gunderman. The chain includes Randall, North and Cemetery lakes, and Craig, Morrison, Messenger and South lakes, all of which are exceptional crappie lakes in their own right.
Formed by the Coldwater River, Randall Lake's west side is largely undeveloped, but riparian boat docks are a prime location to look for spring specks, too. The backs of coves and boat channels are ideal locations in the spring. Later, look for holes in expanding weedbeds that indicate hard-bottomed pockets.
At 525 acres, Union Lake is little more than a wide spot in the St. Joseph River, but Gunderman said it's one of the most consistent bodies of water in the district for 8- to 11-inch crappies.
For more information on crappies in southwest Michigan, contact the Plainwell DNR office at 269-685-6851.
TROLLING FOR CRAPPIES
While the majority of Michigan anglers cast when fishing for crappies, trolling can be a productive method for covering water, exploring different depths, and presenting multiple lures.
According to Bruce DeShano of Off Shore Tackle (offshoretackle.com), successful crappie trollers currently use two techniques when trolling for crappies. "One technique is called 'pushing' when they use a 3-ounce weight and a spread of spider rods and push the cranks along from the front of the boat.
"The other is called 'pulling' where they use long rods of different lengths to maximize the spread and flatline cranks out the back of the boat. Planer boards are becoming more and more popular.
"The Off Shore OR 12 mini boards with tattle flags are used for pulling cranks. Favorite cranks for us are Berkley Flicker Shads in size 5 and the 300 series Bandit crankbaits. When pulling boards, we use the Precision Trolling Guide (thenextbite.tv/Precision_Trolling) so we know exactly how deep our cranks are running."