There is no doubt that springtime is the best time of year to catch crappies. Put yourself in the right place by fishing these hot bites. (March 2007)
Photo by Scott Maloch
Crappies are not an easy fish to catch. Their propensity to suspend in the water column during much of the year makes them difficult to find -- especially if you don't have a boat and have limited knowledge of how to use your electronics. Even then, crappies can be a here-today, gone-tomorrow proposition. The one time you can count on crappies being in one location is in the spring.
Crappies pack into the shallower water in the early spring for two reasons: They are there to feed and to spawn. Crappies are one of the earliest fish to spawn. They can be found in the shallows right after ice-out. Melting ice, warm sunlight and prevailing winds draw schools of papermouths to the shallows in search of minnows and aquatic insects that also congregate in the warmer water. Warming temperatures and increasing sunlight also prompt crappies to begin carrying on the family name. However, specks do not build spawning beds like many panfish, but instead they are "broadcast spawners," so look for them in the shallow emerging weeds right after ice-out.
Crappies are very common in most Michigan lakes, but if you want a sure-thing hot bite, head for these waters.
TIPPY DAM POND
If you tried to describe the perfect crappie lake, you would 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 is about as close to the perfect crappie habitat as you can get. Not so coincidently, 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 of the Department of Natural Resources. "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 current that flows through the impoundment means that ice conditions on Tippy Dam Pond are often iffy. The warming spring sun quickly erodes the ice in the pond's south-facing bays and coves. These are good places to begin your search. Ideal locations are where the old river channel touches the mouth of the bay. Use a surface temperature gauge to locate the warmest water you can find early in the season.
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 will keep snags to a minimum, and is an effective combination for the crappies.
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 underfished because the bluegill fishing is so good," suggested Tonello.
During the most recent fishery survey in 2004, biologists collected 104 crappies that averaged 10 inches and measured up to 13 inches. But this was compared with over 900 bluegills that were netted during the survey.
Hamlin Lake, at 5,000 acres, is basically two lakes in one. The upper lake is shallow and weedy, while the lower lake tends to be much deeper, and has a lot of structure. Big crappies can be found in both parts depending on the time of year.
One of the best locations to look for early spring crappies is in one of the bayous located along the east shoreline of the lower lake. South, Middle and North bayous are shallow, sheltered and warm quickly in the spring. North Bayou is filled with stumps and is open to the main lake. Hopping a jig or tossing a shiner minnow next to the stumps is a good tactic for crappies there. The Middle and South bayous are connected to the main lake by a tunnel. The Middle Bayou has many stumps, whereas the South Bayou has more emergent weeds. Both spots are good for specks through May.
Anglers do well by drifting with bobbers and jigs or minnows along the old river channel in the upper lake between Wilson Park and Victory Park. Locate 8 or 9 feet of water and put your bait down about 6 feet. 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 1-800-261-7415, or online at NBayouResort.com.
PERE MARQUETTE LAKE
Pere Marquette Lake has that dark tannic-stained look that crappies love. Add to that the many old slab docks, pilings, weeds and seawalls, and you have all the makings of a topnotch crappie lake.
This Mason County lake sees surprisingly little fishing pressure other than during the fall salmon and steelhead runs. Only occasionally will you see anyone fishing the lake. PM Lake's slab crappies are a secret that's shared by few anglers.
Early spring finds slabs up to 16 inches packed into the shallow reeds and bulrushes found on the south end. The crappies collect there right after ice-out to chase schools of minnows and to spawn. The papermouths stay through May. Expect a lot of crappies from 10 to 12 inches and larger. Use a slip-bobber and a small jig tipped with a minnow. Work the bobber through the reeds while allowing the jig to fall when it reaches an opening in the vegetation.
Late in the spring and summer, schools of crappies take up residence around the myriad of structure that the lake affords. Probe around the old slab docks on the west side of the lake, near the old pilings and slab docks off Peter Copeyan Park and the Ludington Yacht Club, and behind the car ferry. Try along the docks in the marinas, too. Jigs and minnows are deadly combinations.
For information on bait shops, public access and accommodations in the area, contact the Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-542-4600, or online at Ludingtoncvb.com.
Oceana County's Silver Lake is a relatively structureless lake with a maximum depth of 25 feet. Silver Lake has been heavily stocked with walleyes in recent years, but as weed growth has
increased, panfish populations have flourished, too, and especially the crappies.
A hotspot for papermouths just after ice-out on Silver Lake is right off Hunter Creek on the east side of the lake. Pre-spawn specks are attracted to the creek's outflow. Crappies up to 14 inches aren't uncommon. The crappies also work their way up the creek into the channel that averages 4 or 5 feet deep.
Later in the late spring and summer, crappies can be found relating to the defined weedline that develops in the 10- to 20-foot depths. The slabs can be found suspended then. Use a bobber suspending a jig or minnow. Tiny crankbaits and Beetle Spins take some of the biggest fish.
For more information, contact Pere Marquette Sport Center in Ludington at (231) 843-8676. Camping is available at Silver Lake State Park.
Fishing on Newaygo County's Fremont Lake has improved dramatically for a number of species.
One reason for this is the better pollution controls that have improved discharges from septic tanks and industrial waste. With better water quality, fishing opportunities have blossomed on Fremont Lake, especially for crappies. Fremont Lake is intensively managed for walleyes, but other species like papermouths have also responded.
"Most anglers fish for walleyes and perch on Fremont Lake," claimed DNR fisheries biologist Rich O'Neil, "but there are definitely plenty of crappies in the lake, and people don't really fish for them. Fremont is good overall for panfish."
O'Neil said you won't find too many giant crappies in Fremont Lake, but specks in the 10- to 12-inch range are common.
One hotspot for spring crappies on Fremont is right out from the boat launch on the south side of the lake. A dark bottom, marshy habitat and warming water draws crappies to this area shortly after ice-out. The bays and shallows all along the east side of the lake can be good, too. Later in the year, look for crappies to suspend off structure and weedlines found on the northwest side of the lake in 15 to 25 feet.
For maps, fishing reports and live bait, contact Backwoods Sport Shop in Fremont at (231) 924-5562.
CROTON DAM &
HARDY DAM PONDS
Impoundments typically have good crappie habitat. That's very true of Croton Dam Pond and Hardy Dam Pond. As impoundments of the Muskegon River, both bodies of water feature plenty of logs, stumps and laydowns, plus deep water and fertile shallows -- and a lot of forage.
"The main emphasis on both Croton and Hardy is walleyes, perch and smallmouths," O'Neil said, "but both have decent populations of crappies that people really don't fish for."
Hardy Dam Pond is the biggest of the two. It spans some 18 miles, has 3,750 acres and depths approaching 110 feet. The pond's graceful bends, cuts, islands and coves are great places to prospect for spring crappies. Look for south-facing coves and bays that have feeder creeks running into them. Work the stumps and other structure there until you make contact. When you do, you'll often find big schools of 10- to 12-inch specks. Use twister-tailed jigs, grubs, marabou jigs or minnows, which can be fished "clean" or on a jig. There are five boat launches on Hardy Pond.
Croton Dam Pond offers similar opportunities forcrappies. Not as deep as Hardy Dam Pond, Croton features plenty of bays, stumps and structures where you're likely to find spring crappies. The Little Muskegon arm of the pond has some particularly good crappie habitat. Look for the warmest water you can find in the spring adjacent to structure. Later in the year, crappies will suspend near the old river channel. Use your electronics to locate schools of crappies and set up a drift to target them. Most fish will average 9 to 12 inches. There are two boat launches on Croton Pond near the dam.
For more information on Croton and Hardy ponds, contact Parsley's Sport Shop in Newaygo at (231) 652-6986.
Branch County's Union Lake is an impoundment of the St. Joseph River that is loaded with crappies.
"Union Lake has a ton of crappies in it," said Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jay Wesley. "In fact, I'd say that Union Lake probably has an overabundance of crappies in it. They don't run real big, but there certainly is a lot of them."
Most of the crappies you'll catch on Union Lake will run 7 to 9 inches, but you can fill a bucket in a hurry.
Union Lake's 525 acres are shallow, with few spots over 10 feet, so it all can be productive water in the spring. The stumps and timber are very accessible, and crappies will stack up near the wood in the spring. The east end of the lake where the St. Joe River comes in can be hot for specks right after ice-out. Gradually, as the waters warm, crappies tend to migrate toward the deep water found near the dam. Slip-bobbers and minnows or jigs are perfect for working the 5- to 10-foot depths that dominate the lake and the structure that the crappies relate to.
"Center Lake just east of Jackson has a pretty good crappie population," Wesley stated. "Last time we surveyed it, we captured 145 crappies and they ranged from 5 to 12 inches, so there were several strong year-classes present."
Center Lake, sometimes called Michigan Lake, is located in Jackson County near Michigan Center. The 850-acre lake is relatively shallow, with few spots over 15 feet, and is fed by the Grand River. Besides excellent crappie fishing, the lake is a good producer of largemouth bass, northern pike and panfish.
Center Lake features many coves, bays and well-defined weedlines that are prime locations to search for spring slabs. Start in the back of the bays just after ice-out and work deeper toward the weedlines and islands as spring progresses. Stumps on the south end draw crappies in search of forage and spawning habitat. The structure found around a 28-foot hole in the southwest corner is a good location to look for suspended crappies during the summer months.
For information on Center Lake and other southern Michigan crappie lakes, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the DNR at (269) 685-6851.
FORD LAKE &
"Both Ford and Belleville lakes have that turbid, stained water and a lot of stumps and timber that crappies do well in," said Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Gary Towns.
Impoundments of the Huron River, both Ford and Belleville lakes are home to a diversity of game fish, but are well known for their spring crappie fishing.
Belleville Lake, at 1,270 acres, contains both black and white crappies. Look for the papermouths to pile into the bays that feature extensive stumpfields along the old river channel. Of the Huron River impoundments, Belleville probably produces the most consistent fishing and biggest crappies
. Most will measure 10 to 13 inches, and 16-inch slabs are not unheard of.
Like Belleville, 975-acre Ford Lake has many stumps, timber and flats that attract spring slabs. Most of the black and white crappies will average under a foot long, but bigger specimens are common. Pre-spawn crappie action on this Washtenaw County lake peaks from late March through mid-May. Crappies can be caught throughout the summer by working the deep inside bends of the old river channel, particularly where you find woody structure.
For information on access and fishing on Belleville, Ford and other lakes in the Huron River Chain, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit of the DNR at (734) 953-0241.
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Warm spring sunshine and melting ice means it's time to go crappie fishing. Make sure you go where the hot bite is going on.