Big slabs are available in waters all over the state. Here's where to get in on the action near you.(March 2008).
Photo by Greg Keefer.
Even on the best waters crappie populations explode and recede, a phenomenon that everyone agrees takes place, but no one really knows why. A lake may be full of fish one year, left high and dry the next and a few years later, anglers are hauling them out by the bucket again.
A number of factors -- food, angling pressure and environmental conditions -- may contribute to the ever-changing nature of crappie populations.
Crappies usually enjoy successful spawns following a high-water period and once a large year-class is established, they may dominate the fishery for several years until the inevitable downswing comes. These cycles typically last as long as five years before they come full circle.
The boom-and-bust nature of crappie populations keeps everyone guessing, and unless anglers want to leave success to chance, knowing where to fish in a given season is crucial.
Here's a look at waters across the state that seem promising for 2008.
"Spider Lake is one of the best crappie lakes in my area," said fisheries biologist Todd Kalish of the Traverse City DNR office. "There are good numbers, decent-sized fish and good production in this fertile, eutrophic lake. You can pretty much expect to catch crappies in Spider Lake at any time of the year."
Though a small lake, Spider maintains a fairly consistent crappie population, Kalish said. In the majority of smaller waters, the success of year-classes of fish may vary widely, depending on a variety of environmental conditions. Spider is one of those old standby waters where crappies are almost always available, especially in an area where good crappie lakes are far and few between.
If the weather is still nippy, crappies may respond by being tight-lipped.
Crappie expert Curt Harvey has caught plenty of them in his 60 years and he has found the key to unlocking a tough bite.
"One thing that will slow a crappie bite is a severe cold front," Harvey said. "Crappies will simply move out to the mouth of the bay and wait for a warm-up. They can still be caught, but fishing slow and more precision in bait presentation is required. Where you find suspended crappies under these conditions, use a small slip-float and a minnow. This simple presentation will almost always outfish other baits on a tough-bite day."
The public boat launch is off Weber Road on the southwest side of the lake.
Spider Lake covers 459 acres in Grand Traverse County.
For more information, contact the Traverse City DNR office at (231) 922-5280. (Continued)
"One of the best black crappie lakes in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula is Lake Cadillac," fisheries biologist Mark Tonello said.
According to Tonello, crappies may be caught all over the lake, but several spots are worth checking -- at the west end of the lake near the M-115 causeway and the Four Winns center on the east end of the lake.
Shorebound anglers do well by fishing from the M-115 causeway and from the city dock near the pavilion in downtown Cadillac.
Boat launches may be found at Kenwood Park on the north side of the lake and near the downtown area on the east end of the lake.
After ice-out, crappies aren't yet in the mood to make little crappies, Harvey said. Water temperatures are still in the 40- to 50-degree range and crappies are just beginning to move into the warming shallows. After the water temperatures reach the low 60s, the spawn begins especially when the water warms to 66 to 68 degrees. When the water reaches 70, the late spawners are finishing up.
Tonello recommends anglers check online at www.pilgrimvillagefishing.com/fishingreport.html for the report that is published by the Pilgrim's Village Bait Shop.
Lake Cadillac covers 1,150 acres in Wexford County. Boat launches are found on the west side of the lake near Hwy. M-55, the north side off North Boulevard and the east side off Lake Street.
Call the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727 for additional information.
No more than a stone's throw from Lake Cadillac, crappie anglers may easily overlook this lake. According to Tonello, Lake Mitchell is just as good as its neighbor.
"Crappies are caught throughout the year," Tonello said. "The best times are through the first ice, last ice and the early-spring open-water season."
The crappies in both Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell are good eaters and usually range in size from 8 to 12 inches. Occasionally, some larger fish are caught.
Crappie anglers will find several spring hotspots. Near Mitchell State Park on the lake's eastern shoreline off M-115 is a good place to start. Little Cove on the northern shore is also a best-bet spring hotspot. Plenty of spawning takes place along the eastern shoreline in various locations and is a great backup if the other spots aren't producing.
"Most crappie fishing is done from a boat," Tonello said. "There isn't a lot of public access from the shoreline."
Boat launches are found at Mitchell State Park and the Selma Township boat launch on Little Cove.
Call the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727 for more information, or visit www.pilgrimvillagefishing.com and click on "Fishing Report."
Tippy Dam Pond
"Another top crappie water is Tippy Dam Pond," Tonello said. "Crappies can be caught all over the lake."
Pink and white are standard colors for experts like Curt Harvey, though a little experimenting is always in order.
According to Harvey, Northland Tackle makes outstanding crappie jigs that work well under a bobber. The Gypsy Jig has a tinsel-type body construction, while the Firefly jig has a feathe
r body, and both should be in the tackle box. When Harvey feels the need to add a little flash in stained water, he ties on a Whistler Jig with a Power Grub or even a time-honored Beetle Spin. Small tube jigs and tiny plastic tails that quiver in the water round out Harvey's arsenal.
One of the best places on the pond is the Pine River arm. This is one spot where Tonello has seen anglers hauling in slabs on a fairly consistent basis during the spring.
Anglers can attribute bite-offs to the fairly abundant northern pike.
Tippy Pond is an impoundment on the Manistee River covering 1,540 acres at full pool.
For more information, contact the Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727.
"Lake Ovid is one of the good crappie lakes in my area," fisheries biologist Kregg Smith said.
Surveys taken in the lake have produced plenty of nice-sized crappies in good numbers.
A stumpfield between the west shore and the island will sometimes produce early-season crappies. The southern end of the lake and the bays are where the submerged vegetation is thick, and up along some of these shorelines is where crappies will be found when romance is on their minds.
"Longer rods and weighted bobbers allow you to propel your bait farther out, while shorter rods can be used in tighter quarters, such as bank-fishing or brush fishing," Harvey said. "I prefer to use Fenwick rods and any number of open- or close-faced Abu Garcia reels spooled with brightly colored line so I can see it when the line hits the water."
Lake Ovid covers 412 acres in Clinton County. The lake is shallow and is 10 feet at the deepest point.
There is a boat ramp on the west side of the lake.
For more information, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit in Plainwell at (269) 685-6851.
"Most of our waters in this area have crappie growth that is at state average or above and Sessions Lake is one of them," Kregg said.
Weedy shorelines, manmade structure and woody cover are great places to dunk a simple minnow rig. According to Curt Harvey, anglers will find it hard to beat a gold hook and minnow combination.
"This combination works doubly well in muddy springtime water," Harvey said. "You can tweak this set-up by using the liveliest minnows you can get hold of. I'll hook the minnow through the dorsal fin with a fine wire Tru-Turn gold hook. But then again, on some days, I'll hook them in the tail or in the lips, depending on what the crappies are calling for. I like to have a selection of different-sized minnows, as slabs can be very selective. I love bobbers and floats, but there are times that crappies are so fickle that you can't use them. You'll have to go without a float and just dunk the minnow here and there where you think a fish might be waiting."
Sessions Lake is located in Ionia County east of Saranac. It covers 110 acres with public access on the southwest shore.
Call the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit for more information at (269) 685-6851.
"There's not a lot of crappies in Caro Lake, but if you're looking for a wallhanger, this is where to look for it," fisheries biologist Jim Baker said. "There's a lot of big fish in this lake. We've seen some crappies up around 15 inches."
Though most aren't this big, larger fish are more the rule than the exception.
Another rather unique feature of Caro is that it's the only lake in Baker's unit where the black and white crappies have naturally hybridized.
"They spawn in the same areas at the same time and it just happens by accident," Baker said.
A basic 8- to 10-foot rod for long casts to fish docks, tree limbs and other heavy cover works well here. Shorter rods may be used for brush and spots that don't have much elbowroom. All kinds of small snap bobbers and floats will work.
This area of Michigan has several impoundments like Caro Lake with good populations of crappies. Most of these lakes are for the numbers, while trophy hunters should concentrate their efforts on Caro.
Caro Lake is an impoundment of the Cass River in Tuscola County. It covers 200 acres of water with a public access on the northeast side of the lake off Gun Club Road.
For more information, contact the Bay City DNR office at (989) 684-9141.
"This is another of Michigan's big-crappie waters and the problem is finding them," biologist Baker said. "The fish are large and there are a lot of them, but to say they're spread out over a lot of water is an understatement.
"Several years ago as a DNR technician, I checked a boat with one fisherman in it for his catch. I asked him how he'd done and he said 'fairly well.' I opened the 4-gallon cooler and all I could see was fish. There were 22 crappies in there with the smallest being 12 inches and the largest measuring 15 inches."
Baker never forgot that sight.
Spring crappies may be transitional moving from deep water into the warming shallows. By May, the fish concentrate near marina basins and river mouths where a bobber and minnow account for most of the fish taken.
"You won't catch a lot of them, but there's a lot of them out there," Baker said.
Try fishing in the Lower Quanicassee River, Sunset Bay Marina, the Lower Sebawaing River and Bayshore Marina where you can pay a fee and fish from the shoreline.
For more information, call the Bay City DNR office at (989) 684-9141.
Holloway is an impoundment on the Flint River with plenty of crappies in it, fisheries biologist Joe Leonardi said.
"Holloway has a good population of crappies with a lot of them running from 8 to 10 inches," he said. "The lake is traditionally a good crappie water with minimal flooding and plenty of undeveloped shoreline which crappies like."
Finding a protected bay, inlet or backwater that warms quickly after ice-out is where anglers will find early-season crappies that are eager to bite. Catching them is mostly common sense.
"When I started crappie fishing I had a 15-foot cane pole, nylon line, a gold hook and a bobber," crappie pro Curt Harvey said. "I still find myself going back to this basic setup with some new wrinkles. My cane pole is now a telescopic 16-fo
ot lightweight fiberglass pole with 10-pound Fireline."
Look for typical blowdowns, emergent vegetation and protected backwater along the shoreline. The water can be turbid, a fact to keep in mind when selecting jig colors. Bright and flashy can sometimes put more fish on the stringer.
Holloway covers 954 acres in Gennessee and Lapeer counties. Boat access is below the dam on the southwestern end of the lake.
For additional information, call the Lapeer State Game Area DNR office at (810) 245-1250.
"Our fisheries in southeastern Michigan aren't tremendous, perhaps due to the fairly intensive angling pressure we have," Gary Towns, supervisor with the Lake Erie Management Unit, said. "This lake has a very large population of smaller fish and a very few huge ones. Some of these crappies are up to 18 inches plus.
"This is a brood-stock muskie lake and I'll bet the muskies and anglers keep the crappie population cropped off at about 7 inches. That means there are tons of small crappies but only a few big ones. Every so often, a few of those big crappies get past the muskies. Some of these crappies are larger than any I have surveyed in my 25-year career with the DNR."
The bigger crappies will often be a few feet deeper than their younger counterparts. Whether the larger fish earned the right to pick the prime feeding spots or are just naturally warier is anyone's guess. But while reaching down past the smaller fish to tangle with the larger ones can be a challenge, hooking a huge crappie will make it all worthwhile.
Larger minnows may be the ticket to avoiding smaller fish. A minnow too large may result in a bite-off from one of the cruising muskies.
Lake Hudson covers 502 acres in Lenawee County. It's one of the state's top muskie waters, so crappies slid under the popularity rating.
For more information, call the Lake Erie Management Unit at (248) 359-9046.
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To find downloadable lake maps, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr and select "Inland Lake Maps."
For information on lodging, contact the Michigan Travel Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (888) 784-7328 or online at www.travel.michigan.org