Just about everybody loves eating fresh crappie filets, but going about acquiring them is a big project in itself -- unless you float your boat on these Michigan lakes. (March 2006)
Crappies have their own little niche in the food chain. They thrive in Michigan's impoundments and drowned river-mouth lakes that are tannic-stained, murky and full of stumps, logs, pilings and other structure. Crappies are also very adaptable when it comes to food. Although they love minnows, papermouths will capitalize on seasonal abundances of insects and other invertebrates when they become available.
Michigan has a number of bodies of water ideally suited to growing big crappies. A lot of anglers don't fish for crappies because they can be difficult to catch. Because of their propensity to suspend in the water column, crappies can be difficult to locate during much of the year. It takes good electronics and knowledge of crappie habits to catch them consistently. The exception is during the spring, when crappies congregate and move into the shallows to feed and spawn. Late March through May is the perfect time to take advantage of their seasonal movements and heightened level of activity.
The following is a sampling of Michigan crappie lakes that are sure to produce hot fishing this spring.
"Deer Lake is probably one of the best lakes in our area for trophy crappies," said Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Todd Kalish. "Deer Lake is kind of kidney-shaped, with a lot of stumps and a well-defined weedline. It's a very good place to fish for crappies in the spring."
Prime locations are in the bays on the north and south ends of the lake in as little as 5 feet of water. Crappies can be found just about everywhere during the spawn. The deepest spot in the lake is 22 feet.
This 490-acre Charlevoix County lake isn't one where you're going to fill a five-gallon bucket, but you will find decent numbers of specks to 14 inches. You can suspend a minnow under a bobber, swim tiny jigs or cast and retrieve small Beetle Spins and micro crankbaits for the biggest papermouths. On the southeast corner, there is a public ramp with parking for eight vehicles.
For more information, contact the DNR Traverse City field office at (231) 922-5280.
BELLAIRE LAKE CHAIN
"I would have to say that Six Mile, St. Clair, Ellsworth, Wilson and Ben-Way lakes are some of the best lakes in our area for crappies," claimed Tom Durecki of Tom's Bait & Tackle in East Jordan. "There are some really nice crappies in those lakes. On the wall in the shop, I've got one 17 1/4 inches that came out of that chain."
The lakes are part of the Bellaire Chain of lakes in Antrim County. The lakes range from 64 to 131 acres in size and are relatively shallow. The deepest spot on these lakes is a little over 40 feet. There are public accesses on St. Clair, Ellsworth and Wilson lakes, but because it is a chain, once you launch on one lake, you have access to all the others.
All of the lakes feature a lot of structure, weeds, and shallow coves and bays that attract spring crappies.
"The crappie fishing is really good right after ice-out, which usually is right around April 1st," said Durecki. Minnows are naturally a hands-down favorite for the specks, but Pinkie Jigs can be productive, too.
For live bait, tackle, and fishing reports, contact Tom's Bait & Tackle at (231) 536-3521. A good map book for locating just about any lake in Michigan is available by contacting Sportsman's Connection at 1-800- 777-7461, or you can go online to www.sportsmanconnection.com.
"I would have to say that Manistee Lake in Kalkaska County is one of the better crappie lakes in our district," claimed DNR fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "Like most of our crappies lakes, these are not trophy lakes. The specks will average 9 to 10 inches, but fish in the 13- to 14-inch range are common."
Manistee Lake, at 860 acres, is not deep. The deepest spot is on the south end and only drops to 18 feet. Crappies can be found anywhere around the subtle contour breaks and weedlines that exemplify the lake, but in the spring, slab crappies definitely relate to the shallow, marshy south-facing north end. Try near Inlet Bay, Northeast Bay and Northwest Bay, and around Hook Point. Another hotspot in the spring is West Bay. Check out the 2- to 4-foot depths and then work deeper. A public access is located on the south end of the lake.
Like crappies everywhere, specks on Manistee Lake love minnows. You can fish them on a plain hook or hooked through the lips on a small jig. Small 1/16- or 1/32-ounce twistertails in white, yellow or chartreuse are good bets, too. The scent-enhanced varieties seem to work exceptionally well.
For bait, tackle and fishing reports on Manistee Lake, contact Jack's Sport Shop at (231) 258-8892.
LAKES CADILLAC & MITCHELL
"Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell are not your typical crappie lakes," claimed DNR 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 shrimp-like creatures called amphipods, and crappies love them. Because of this, you may have better luck with larva like wax worms, spikes or mousies during the open-water season than you would on most lakes. But Mitchell and Cadillac crappies still have a hard time turning up their noses at a lively minnow.
Expect hot spring crappie action on Lake Mitchell in both Big Cove and Little Cove right after ice-out. The coves are shallow and receive a lot of springtime sunshine, which attracts minnows and jumpstarts insect life there.
Another springtime hotspot is on the south end in 5 to 10 feet of water. Use slip-bobbers to suspend live bait, or cast 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. The shallow water here warms quickly, and there is an abundance of stumps and logs to attract forage and crappies. Most people su
spend minnows under bobbers to avoid the snags, but hopping small jigs can be very productive, too. After the spawn and throughout the summer, shore-anglers continue to catch stringers of good-sized specks off the fishing pier on the north end of the lake. Proximity to deep water here attracts schools of crappies.
For more information on Lake Mitchell crappies, contact Pilgrim's Village & Resort at (231) 775-9727. For live bait and accommodations on Lake Cadillac, contact Laura Lee's Landing at 1-800-899-6755.
WEST MICHIGAN DROWNED RIVER-MOUTH LAKES
"A lot of the drowned river-mouth lakes on the west side of the state have very good crappie populations," said DNR Muskegon field office fisheries biologist Rich O'Neil. "All of them are good-sized lakes, which crappies seem to do best in, and they're underfished. Not only do they have pretty decent numbers of crappies, but they are good-sized. I don't think that 14- or 15-inch crappies are all that uncommon in these lakes."
O'Neil said that anglers should find excellent spring crappie fishing on Mona, Muskegon, White and Pentwater lakes.
Muskegon County's Mona Lake is often overlooked by anglers headed to Muskegon Lake or lakes farther to the north. That could be a mistake. Mona Lake, at 695 acres, has a maximum depth of 42 feet and offers plenty of coves, bayous and weedlines that offer perfect crappie habitat. A series of coves along the northwest side of the lake are ideal spring crappie locations, as the shallow water there warms quickly and schools of specks collect there shortly after ice-out.
Another prime weedline is located on the north shore near Fritz's Bayou. Around several islands on the lake's east end is another good place to explore. Crappie fishing on Mona Lake usually gets hot right around April 1.
The main attractions on 4,150-acre Muskegon Lake are the plentiful walleyes, pike and bass. Anglers tend to ignore the lake's great spring crappie action. Crappies gravitate to the shallows right after ice-out in late March or early April. Look to the shallow weedbeds on the north side for early spring action. One of the best areas is right off from Muskegon State Park on the northwest side.
Finding piles of slab wood can often be key to locating schools of crappies. Try looking in the northeast corner where a channel connects Bear Lake to Muskegon Lake. Bear Lake is also worth checking out for specks in the spring.
Numerous boat launches are located around Muskegon Lake. For bait, tackle and fishing maps, contact Shoreline Service at (231) 759-7254.
Typical of most drowned river-mouth lakes, 2,571-acre White Lake is loaded with old pilings, slab wood, deadheads, weedlines and timber that make excellent crappie habitat. Try searching the flat off of Svennson Park that features rocks, wood and weeds, which attract spring crappies. Straight across the lake from between Maple Grove and Montague is an area riddled with pilings, stickups and piers that crappies thrive in. Small jigs, micro-crankbaits and minnows all have their day. Expect plenty of specks in the 10- to 12-inch range, and slabs up to 16 inches aren't unheard of.
There is a public access located on the west side of the upper lake near Montague and a city-owned ramp at Svennson Park on the east shore. For fishing information, contact Armstrong's Sporting Goods at (231) 894-6753.
Pentwater Lake, at 436 acres, doesn't have an extensive amount of shallow water, so finding the prime locations for spring crappies is fairly easy.
One area that attracts schools of specks is off Long Bridge Road where the Pentwater River empties into the lake. Pilings and weeds there concentrate pre-spawn black crappies. A minnow fished under a bobber is the favored method. The area can be fairly easily fished from shore.
Other productive locations include Big Cove and Little Cove on the south and southwest sides of the lake, and in Snug Harbor Marina before the big boats are in. Use a trolling motor to position your boat, and flip small jigs near the docks. One overlooked spot is a little cove on the northeast side along U.S. Business 31.
Anglers can launch a boat at a city-owned ramp on the lake's northeast corner, at Snug Harbor and a launch two blocks off Sixth Street. For more information on bait shops and accommodations in the area, contact the Pentwater Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 869-4353.
"Gun Lake in Barry County is probably one of the better crappie lakes in our district," claimed Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Kregg Smith. "It's probably not the best for numbers, but it has some good-sized crappies in it."
Smith said that one reason the crappies get to good proportions in Gun Lake is that the lake is a bass-dominated fishery, which keeps down the number of small crappies. Look at a map of this 2,680-acre lake and you'll understand why it's such a productive lake for a variety of game-fish species. A great place for spring crappies is off the boat launch near Murphy's Point in Yankee Springs State Park.
A dredged area off the fishing pier there typically draws hordes of specks to the shallows. The emerging weeds off the Marsh Road access on the southwest side are another good spring location. Around the edges of Yankee Springs, Orangeville and Murphy's islands and in Baird's Cove are good places to search for spawning papermouths. The crappies love minnows, but larva on ice-fishing teardrops can be good, too. Find the schools and you can expect to take a bucket full of 12-inch slabs.
For bait, tackle and lake maps, contact D & R Sports Center online at www.dandrsports.com, or call 1-800-992-1520.
"Thornapple Lake has some very good crappie habitat," stated Smith. "It's not really a lake at all, just a wide section of the river. Crappies in the 10- to 12-inch size range are common, up to about 14 inches. The muskies, pike and walleyes tend to thin out the small fish. There are probably more crappies as far as numbers in Thornapple Lake than any other inland lake in our area."
Although it's just a wide spot in the river, Thornapple Lake resembles an impoundment, with a lot of stumps, logs, laydowns and other structure. That's where you'll want to look for crappies in the spring.
A good location is right off the boat launch on the east end in 5 to 10 feet of water. Another hotspot is off the mouth of Mud Creek. Either side of Howard's Point near the center of the lake is a potential crappie factory. Also try anywhere you see stumps adjacent to shallow water and weedlines. A good way to cover water is with a twister-tailed jig. Once you find the schools, you can work them over with a bobber and minnows.
For more information on Thornapple Lake's spring specks, contact Bob's Gun Shop at (269) 945-4106.
WASSEE RIVER IMPOUNDMENTS
"If you're after crappies in any of the Tittabawassee River impoundments, spring is a really good time to go," said Southern Lake Huron fisheries biologist Kathrin Schrouder. "The back bays of these impoundments warm up quicker than the rest of the lake, and that's where you'll find crappies. Wixom Lake is probably the best in the chain, but Sanford is also good."
Both Wixom and Sanford lakes have ideal crappie habitat -- that turbid, murky, strained water with a lot of stumps, wood and other structure. Both lakes have plenty of crappie forage, too. Minnows, young-of-the year white bass, shiners and insects provide the fish with a smorgasbord. Schrouder pointed out that crappies are pretty adaptable when it comes to food.
The impoundments of the Tittabawassee are unique in that they contain both white and black crappies, and they will hybridize. Some of the biggest specimens are hybrids. Crappies in the 17-inch range have been taken from both Sanford and Wixom, but a more typical speck from these waters will measure 10 to 13 inches.
Wixom Lake covers some 1,980 acres and is a maze of flooded stumps and downed trees that crappies love. The two arms of the lake formed by the Tittabawassee and Tobacco rivers both have many coves, drains and inlets that can be crappie magnets in the spring. Try the mouth of these and anywhere you see stumps and timber.
There is a state-owned launch off the east shore off Dundas Road.
Sanford Lake produces spring crappie action similar to Wixom's. Sanford, at 1,250 acres, doesn't have as many creeks, cuts or drains entering it, so the few that do are usually pretty productive. Locals often refer to these bays and cuts as "fills" because many were created by dredging. Sanford also tends to run much shallower than Wixom, so the crappies can be more scattered.
For bait, tackle and information on Wixom and Sanford crappies, call Sanford Sport Shop at (989) 687-5161.
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Cheer up! Spring crappie fishing is just around the corner.