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Downstate Crappie Hotspots

Downstate Crappie Hotspots

Springtime means it's crappie time! You can catch your share of slabs on these waters.

By Mike Gnatkowski

Crappie fishing is simple. That's one of the reasons it's so much fun.

You don't need fancy equipment to catch crappies. In fact, one of the best rigs ever invented for crappie fishing is just an old cane pole with a length of monofilament. There's been many a crappie that has met its maker at the end of this simple rig. Most of us opt for a little more sophisticated outfit. Ultralight spinning or spin-casting rods and reels are perfect for crappies. Crappies aren't known to be great fighters, but on the end of one these combos, even a modest speck will give you a pretty good tussle.

Crappies aren't too fussy about what they eat either. You can catch them on a variety of live baits and artificials. Tiny micro baits that imitate minnows or insects are death on carnivorous crappies. It's pretty hard to beat a jig of some kind for crappies. You can use tube jigs, twistertailed jigs or just plain, inexpensive marabou jigs and take plenty of big crappies. One reason for jigs' effectiveness is that they imitate a crappie's absolute favorite food - minnows. Of course, if you're really serious about catching a mess of slabs for the frying pan, it's hard to beat real minnows for bait.

Crappies can be found in a variety of lakes, but they do best in impoundments that are fairly turbid and contain a lot of timber, stickups, weedbeds and other structure. During the early spring, you'll find them close to shallow south-facing bays. Crappies spawn just after ice-out. It's in these tepid bays that they will be spawning, and the warming waters there attract the minnows that crappies love. During the summer, crappies retreat to deeper water, but they still relate heavily to structure and will often suspend around downed timber and brushpiles. In fall, they move back shallower around timber and weedlines. Spend a little time searching and you can find good crappie fishing just about anytime.

Following is a selection of Michigan crappie waters that are proven producers.

Catching crappies can put a smile on any young Michigander's face! Photo by Mike Gnatkowski

"Stony Creek Impoundment is one place that has the potential for producing some trophy crappies," said Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel.


Braunscheidel's observation is based on the fact that just a few years ago Stony Creek Impoundment produced the state-record white crappie, a beast that weighed in at 3 pounds, 6 ounces.

Braunscheidel said that while you don't catch 3-pound crappies from Stony Creek Impoundment every day, the lake does give up some respectable specks. "Most of the crappies you catch from Stony Creek will be 10 to 12 inches, but 14-inch crappies aren't all that unusual."

Stony Creek Impoundment, at 489 acres, is part of the Detroit Metro Park System, which means there is plenty of good access for both boat-anglers and bank-anglers. Located in west-central Macomb County, Stony Creek Impoundment is formed by Stony Creek and is fed by the West Branch of the Clinton River and McClure Drain. Where these waters enter the lake is a great place to search for spring crappies.

Stony Creek Impoundment is somewhat unusual in that it contains both white and black crappies. Prime summertime locations are near the inflow and outflows of Stony Creek and near fish shelters that have been placed in the reservoir just off the southeast corner near the boat launch and off Eastwood Beach.

The key to finding crappies in Stony Creek Impoundment is to locate scattered stickups and drowned timber. If vegetation is nearby, so much the better. The fishing is usually uncomplicated - a slip-bobber suspending a minnow will do.

For more information on access and park rules, contact the Stony Creek Metro Park at (586) 781-4242.

Crappies love turbid water. For whatever reason, crappies do best in waters that are murky and stained and where visibility is limited. Add a twisting river channel, some downed timber, stumps, an island, marshy backwaters, and a few docks and canals and you'll have what amounts to crappie heaven. That's exactly what Belleville Lake is.

"Belleville Lake not only has better than average numbers of crappies," said Jeff Braunscheidel, "but they are better than average size." Crappies up to a foot long are common in this 1,270-acre impoundment of the Huron River, and specks topping 14 inches aren't unheard of.

Belleville Lake features plenty of flats, stumps and timber that are perfect crappie habitat. Schools of crappies relate heavily to the old river channel during the summer and winter months. In the spring, look for papermouths near the entrances of channels and back in the channels themselves because they warm first. A shore-fishing site on the impoundment's north side features several brush shelters that hold crappies throughout the year. Belleville Lake has populations of both black and white crappies.

Belleville Lake crappies are like crappies anywhere - they love meat. Jigs tipped with minnows are a steady producer here, and a lively shiner minnow suspended below a slip-bobber is more than most Belleville Lake crappies can resist.

For information on lake access, bait shops and amenities in the area, contact the Belleville Area Chamber of Commerce at (734) 697-7151.

"The Stringy Lakes" are located in northeast Oakland County near the town of Oxford. This chain of lakes is actually made up of Squaw, Long, Clear and Tan lakes, but locals just refer to the small chain as "Stringy Lakes." What the lakes in this chain have in common is that they are all great crappie lakes.

"All of the lakes in the chain have very good numbers of crappies and they are of better than average size," confided biologist Jeff Braunscheidel.

You can reach the Stringy Lake Chain by going west of Oxford to the intersection of Sanders and Drahner roads. There is a small public access on Squaw Lake. Cartoppers or canoes are the best bet for exploring the chain. It is also a great place to kick around in a float tube. In the spring when the crappies invade the shallows, anglers can enjoy great action fly-fishing with rubber spiders, or tiny ultralight lures on spinning gear.

Contact the Orion Area Chamber of Commerce at (248) 693-6300 for information on bait shops, motels and other amenities in the area.

"Loon Lake is another lake that comes to mind when you mention crappies," said Braunscheidel. "Loon Lake has always had a reputation as a good panfish lake, but it's particularly good for crappies."

Loon Lake, at 243 acres, has depths up to 70 feet, plenty of sloping contours and dropoffs, submerged islands and stump-covered flats that create perfect crappie habitat. Recent surveys indicate that the lake is full of 9- to 11-inch specks, and papermouths topping a foot are common.

One of the most productive areas is right off U.S. 10 or Dixie Highway. Located just east of Drayton Plains, Loon Lake receives a steady flow of nutrients from the Clinton River, which flows through it. Anglers can rent a boat from Drayton Plains Boat Livery right on the Clinton River. Contact them at (248) 673-3407.

A prime area for spring crappies on Loon Lake is off a point on the south side and near the islands on the east end. Stumps there attract spring crappies. During the summer months try near the dropoffs on the north side and in the middle of the lake over the sunken island there. Anglers looking to explore can reach several other lakes via Loon Lake that offer additional opportunities.

For more information on Loon Lake and other southeast Michigan crappie lakes, contact the Lake Erie Management Office of the DNR at (734) 953-0241.

Michigan's largest inland lake at over 20,000 acres, Houghton Lake is an "everything lake." You really don't know what you're going to catch when you wet a line in Houghton Lake, but in the spring there's a pretty good chance that it will be a crappie. The lake serves up excellent crappie action from ice-out through May.

"The crappie fishing on Houghton Lake can be outstanding from mid-April until mid-May, even late May during a cold spring," said crappie fanatic Abe Erin. Erin said the key is when temperatures in the canals reach 55 degrees. That's when Houghton's crappies begin moving into the canals prior to spawning and to bulk up on minnows that are also attracted to the warming waters. Erin said that crappies up to 14 inches are common, and his personal best is a dinner-plate-sized 17-incher.

Many anglers key in on the area on the south side of the lake near the Houghton Lake Marina. Just about any canal has potential, but anglers should be aware that most are privately owned and anglers need to gain permission first. A better bet is to launch a boat at one of the many public accesses located around Houghton Lake and then probe the canals from a boat. Keep moving until you make contact. Find a hot school and you can fill a bucket up in a hurry. Small crankbaits, live minnows and jigs will all take Houghton Lake's spring crappies.

For the names of bait shops, motels and marinas in the Houghton Lake area, contact the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at (989) 366-5644.

"The impoundments of the Thunder Bay River near Alpena have some pretty good crappie populations in them," claimed Gaylord District fisheries biologist Dave Borgeson. "Last time we surveyed them, Ninth Street, Seven Mile and Four Mile ponds, all of them, had better-than-average populations with good size structure."

Crappies between 10 and 11 inches made up the bulk of the survey in Ninth Street Pond. Crappies up to 12 1/2 inches were collected from Four Mile Pond, and Seven Mile had oodles of specks between 8 and 11 inches, with some that topped 14 inches.

The huge number of crappies in these impoundments is really no surprise. The ponds are cluttered with islands, stumps, weeds and timber, and take on that characteristic strained tinge that crappies thrive in.

Covering some 392 acres, Ninth Street Pond in particular is a myriad of coves, bays and fingers that offer more crappie-holding areas than a lake four times its size. Seven Mile Pond has similar structure and more room with 1,530 acres of crappie habitat. Four Mile Pond is the smallest of the three at 98 acres, but it is no less productive for crappies.

Most of the fishing pressure for crappies takes place in the winter. In the spring when crappie fishing peaks, local anglers are off chasing walleyes and salmon. It's fairly easy during May to take a limit of tasty crappies by tossing jigs and minnows, or slip-bobbers baited with minnows, anywhere you can find 5 to 10 feet of water. Most of the impoundment averages 10 feet of water or less. Later during the summer when weeds infest the lake, anglers can still make good catches of slabs if they use their electronics to locate the main river channel and then jig near the edges of it.

The premier crappie lake in the Thunder Bay River Chain of impoundments is Fletcher Floodwater. Like the other impoundments in the system, Fletcher's 8,970 acres are a hodgepodge of stumps, timber and weeds that crappies find inviting.

Dean Robinson of Jack's Landing said that Fletcher is among the best lakes in the state for trophy crappies.

"Fourteen-inchers are not all that uncommon in Fletcher," said Robinson, "and you'll take some in the 16- to 17-inch range."

Fletcher's myriad of stumps and downed timber means that you can find crappies just about anywhere in the lake, but in the spring look to the shallows on the south-facing side of the lake.

"The fishing usually heats up right after ice-out in late April," said Robinson. You can often see the crappies hovering just below the surface, soaking up the spring sunshine. The fish can be very spooky, so use stealth, polarized glasses and long casts to keep from spooking the fish. During the rest of the year, concentrate on structure found along the old river channel. Jigs and minnows will do the trick.

For accommodations and fishing advice for Fletcher Floodwater crappies, contact Jack's Landing at (989) 742-4370 or on the Web at For information on bait shops and amenities near other Thunder Bay River impoundments, contact the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce at (989) 354-4181 or

"For a while there, Lake Mitchell was coming on real strong for crappies," said Steve Knaisel of Pilgrim's Village and Resort in Cadillac, "but in recent years Lake Cadillac has been the hottest lake for crappies."

The first place that Lake Cadillac's crappies make an appearance is along the M-55/M-115 causeway, which divides the lake. The rocky shoreline there combined with scattered weeds and wave action causes minnows and warm water to collect there. The water is 12 to 15 feet deep and the crappies tend to suspend 3 to 4 feet down during the day. Early and late in the day the crappies will be just under the surface. The best fishing is often only 50 or 60 feet from shore and bank-anglers generally do as well as or better than the boat-anglers. You'll know when the crappies are

in; the causeway will be lined with anglers.

The fishing is uncomplicated. A minnow below a bobber is all you need. Others suspend small K&E Pinkie jigs or twister-tailed grubs.

"The crappies in Lake Cadillac will generally average 10 inches," said Knaisel, "but I've measured honest 16-inchers."

Access to Lake Cadillac is easy via a new city park located on the east end of the lake. For live bait and fishing reports, contact Pilgrim's Village and Resort at (231) 775-5412 or Laura Lee's Landing at (231) 775-2648. Details on other accommodations and amenities in the area are available by calling the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 775-9776 or Information on Lake Cadillac crappies and other area lakes can be had by calling the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the DNR at (231) 775-9727.

* * *
Springtime means it's crappie time. Grab your minnow bucket, a handful of jigs and a spinning outfit, and get ready for some good eating.

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