October 04, 2010
After a long, hard winter, don't you feel like doing a little open-water fishing? The crappies in these waters can cure your cabin fever!
By Mike Gnatkowski
Michigan winters can be cold, long drawn-out affairs. Residents who forego the southern sun and endure the wintry conditions look forward with great anticipation to certain rites of spring that indicates that the prolonged ordeal might be finally coming to an end. The first robin in the yard is a sure sign that spring is right around the corner. Skeins of geese headed north indicate that the ice will soon be melting off area lakes. When it does, crappies will be schooling in the shallows. That's a definite sign that spring is here. Hallelujah!
Crappies are one of the first fish to spawn in the spring. Big specks will be inching toward the shallows under last ice. Once the ice leaves, crappies will begin stacking up in shallow dark-bottomed bays prior to spawning. The dark bottom soaks up precious sunlight and warms more quickly than the rest of the lake. Pre-spawn crappies gravitate toward the tepid water.
Sunlight and the warming shallows also jumpstart the food chain. Aquatic insects become more active as water temperatures rise. Minnows invade the shallows in search of the bugs, and crappies aren't far behind. It's a predictable cycle that anglers can take advantage of.
Following is a selection of spring crappies waters that produce the type of action that is a sure cure for cabin fever.
HURON RIVER IMPOUNDMENTS "Crappies are impoundment fish," said Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. "The entire Huron River system offers that turbid, fertile type of situation that crappies love."
While all of the Huron River impoundments offer good crappies fishing, the fishing differs on each one.
"Belleville Lake is probably the best for numbers and moderately-sized fish," claimed Braunscheidel. "You can expect to catch a lot of crappies n the 9- to 10-inch range in Belleville. 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 into south-facing coves and shallows where the wood and dark bottom absorb the sun's warm rays. Braunscheidel indicated that all of the Huron River impoundments have an abundance of minnows and shiners that crappies thrive on.
Access to Belleville Lake is limited. Boaters can gain access at a launch off Huron River Drive on the south side of the lake. A new access off Rawsonville Road on the lake's west end should be complete by this spring. Bank-anglers can access the lake at a fishing park near the dam or at Edison Park.
Crappie populations tend to be cyclic in nature, but right now Houghton County's Otter Lake is booming. Photo by Mike Gnatkowski
For live bait, maps and fishing information on Belleville Lake, contact Bass-N-Sport at (734) 485-2355.
Ford Lake, at 975 acres, is another Huron River impoundment that produces outstanding crappie fishing.
"Ford Lake is another good one for crappies," said Braunscheidel. "The crappies population has been down in Ford Lake in recent years. We don't really know why, but it still produces some very nice crappies."
Located in east-central Washtenaw County, Ford Lake routinely gives up crappies that will top 14 inches. Unlike Belleville Lake, Ford Lake doesn't have a well-defined river channel running though it or a lot of woody debris. Because of this, crappies tend to be more scattered on Ford Lake. In the spring, look for crappies to concentrate in the shallower west end of the lake off points, near the islands, around emerging weedbeds and in the back of bays. You can launch your boat on Ford Lake at an access off Huron River Drive.
Minnows are a hands-down favorite wherever crappies are found and that is true on Ford Lake. Equally productive are tube jigs and safety-pin-type spinners that imitate their favorite fodder.
Then there's Kent Lake.
"You're not going to find a lot of huge crappies in Kent Lake," said Braunscheidel, "but what you will find is a lot eatin'-sized crappies." Expect to catch plenty of specks in the 8- to 10-inch range from Kent.
Located off Interstate 96 in Oakland County, 1000-acre Kent Lake is within Kensington Metropark. Because of its easy access and popularity with anglers, it sees a lot of fishing pressure. Springtime is one of the best times to fish it when its abundant crappies are concentrated in the myriad of coves, channels and bays that exemplify the lake, and fishing pressure is at a minimum.
Shore-anglers will find plenty of access, particularly on the north side of the lake. Stop by the park office to get information on designated fishing areas and other areas that provide access. There are two boat launches on Kent Lake, one on the west side and another on the southeast corner.
Contact the Kensington Metropark office at 1-800-477-3178 for information on park hours, launch fees and restrictions. There is a 10 mph speed limit on Kent Lake, which makes it the perfect place to spend a quiet, sunny spring day filling a bucket with crappies.
WHITMORE LAKE "Whitmore Lake contains very good numbers of crappies and they tend to run a little larger than those on Kent Lake," said Braunscheidel.
Located just north of Ann Arbor on the border of Washtenaw and Livingston counties, 677-acre Whitmore Lake is close to a lot of anglers and receives a lot of fishing pressure. But in spite of the pressure, Whitmore Lake routinely gives up stringers of spring crappies, many of which will push 12 to 14 inches.
In the spring, look for weedbeds in 5 to 15 feet of water. Wear polarized glasses to spot schools of suspended crappies. Big specks can be found just about anywhere on Whitmore, but pay special attention to indentations in the shoreline, docks and points. Suspending a tube jig below a slip-bobber is a proven combination. White, yellow and chartreuse are the best colors.
Contact the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-888-9487 or on the Web at www.annarbor.org for information on bait shops and lodging facilities in
UNION LAKE "Union Lake has mainly a winter fishery for crappies, but I don't see why it shouldn't be good in the spring, too," suggested Braunscheidel.
Union is famous for producing big catches of bluegills, walleyes and bass. Its big crappies are overlooked. Anglers take platter-sized papermouths that regularly top 14 inches.
Oakland County's 465-acre Union Lake is deep, with one hole topping 100 feet, but it also has several humps to rise to within 10 feet of the surface. That's where you want to begin your search for spring crappies. Try the south and east sides of the lake. Minnows are always a good bet when it comes to Union Lake crappies, but you can interest a smorgasbord of panfish by using teardrops and ice flies baited with wax worms.
For maps, live bait and fishing information, contact KD Outdoors at (248) 666-7799.
LAKE ST. CLAIR Improvements in water quality and clarity that have benefited many game fish in Lake St. Clair have also helped the lake's crappie population.
"Lake St. Clair has a pretty good crappies population, but they tend to be really spread out," said Braunscheidel. "The one time when they really concentrate is in the spring. Then they school up in the marinas and canals. Another good location is the St. John's Marsh."
Braunscheidel said that the entire east side of Anchor Bay is a myriad of shallow bays, canals and coves that crappies stack up in from mid-March through May. Big black crappies topping 16 inches aren't unheard of.
Look for spring crappies to crowd into the shallows in Bouvier Bay, Scotten Bay, Pollet Bay, Fisher Bay, Goose Bay and Big and Little Muscamoot bays. Canals and channels that bisect Dickinson and Harsens islands are ideal spring crappies haunts. You can catch the big specks on just about anything you want - live bait, plastic and micro crankbaits.
For detailed maps, fishing information and bait, contact Lakeside Fishing Shop at (586) 777-7003 or on the Web at www.lakesidefishingshop.com.
STONY CREEK IMPOUNDMENT "Stony Creek Impoundment doesn't have a huge number of crappies, but they tend to be very large," offered Braunscheidel. "The impoundment contains both white and black crappies. The whites tend to be the biggest. In fact, a state-record white crappie was taken from Stony Creek a few years back. But you'll get some good black crappies too that will be in the 12- to 14-inch range."
Stony Creek Impoundment, at 489 acres, is located in west-central Macomb County north of Rochester. The impoundment empties into the Clinton River and is maintained by the Lakeville Lake Dam. Fishing, boating and other activities are overseen by the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority. You can reach the Stony Creek Metropark office at (586) 781-4242.
Much of Stony Creek Impoundment is quite shallow. The impoundment reaches 25 feet near the South Dam, but the rest of the lake averages 5 to 15 feet. Because of this, spring crappies can be found just about anywhere. Two spring hotspots are near old fish shelters west of the boat launch on the south side of the lake and off Eastwood Beach. Otherwise, look for locations where hard bottom areas intersect weed edges.
RANDALL LAKE "Randall Lake is one of a chain of seven lakes that is known for its quality panfish fishing, especially crappies," said Southern Lake Michigan fisheries biologist Scott Hanshue. "During our 2000 survey we netted 216 crappies and 61 percent, or 130 of them, were considered 'legal' size. They ranged from 1 to 12 inches and represented 10 different age-classes." Those are all signs of a very healthy crappie lake.
Randall Lake, at 513 acres, is actually composed of three separate basins collectively referred to as Randall Lake. The other two are North and Cemetery lakes. All feature clean, clear water, extensive weed growth and plenty of crappie forage. Fed by the Coldwater River, the chain is located in central Branch County near Coldwater.
Spring crappies on Randall Lake can be found along the copious points, weedlines and coves that characterize the lake. Most anglers use a run-and-gun approach covering a lot of water as thoroughly as possible until they make contact with an active school of fish. Many crappie addicts use small jigs and tubes that allow them to fish quickly without re-baiting all the time. Some of the best action is along the north side of Randall Lake where the spring sun warms the shallows beginning right after ice-out in March. Most of the specks will average 10 inches, but crappies topping 16 inches aren't unheard of.
For information on lodging and bait shops in the area, contact the Branch County Tourism Bureau at 1-800-968-9333 or online at www.discover-michigan.com.
DUCK LAKE "Duck Lake is one of the better crappies lake in the area," said Hanshue. "When we surveyed the lake in 1996 we netted 33 crappies and 88 percent of them were bigger than 7 inches." Not only are there good numbers of crappies in Duck Lake, they're good sized, too.
Duck Lake is about eight miles north of Albion in northeast Calhoun County. Although the lake is largely developed, its marshy shoreline and adjacent weedbeds make it a natural for big, spring crappies. Some of the best ice-out action takes place on the very north end of the lake where shallow, expansive flats attract pre-spawn papermouths. The sunken island in the center of the lake is a good location, too. When weeds get too thick, the deeper south end of the lake is a better bet. Try swimming a minnow-tipped jig over the shallow weeds or anchor and probe the weed edges using a slip-bobber and minnow.
There is a public boat launch located on the northwest side of the lake. For more information on spring crappie opportunities on Duck Lake, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit at (269) 685-6851.
COLWELL LAKE Not all of Michigan's best spring crappie lakes are located in the southern part of the state.
"There are a lot of crappie lakes over in Schoolcraft County," said Eastern Lake Superior Management Unit biologist Jim Waybrant. "The lakes over there seem to be more fertile or warmer and tend to produce better fishing for species like crappies. We just don't have much in the way of crappies in the eastern U.P."
Colwell Lake, at 158 acres, is just one of several smaller lakes located in western Schoolcraft County that produce excellent spring crappie action. Take M-94 north of Manistique and you'll find a crappie highway to heaven. Colwell Lake's current hot crappie action occurred by accident.
"We tried to do a chemical treatment a few years ago and because of a variety of conditions we killed off more of the panfish than we intended," admitted Waybrant
. "Now Colwell Lake is coming back big time and there are some very good-sized crappies in it."
Many of the specks from Colwell will top a foot long. The hottest fishing typically occurs in early June.
For more information on crappie lakes within the Hiawatha National Forest, contact the USFS District Ranger office in Manistique at (906) 341-5666.
OTTER LAKE Good crappie lakes in the western U.P. are about as rare as robins in Ishpeming in January, but there are a few.
"Otter Lake is one that comes to mind when you talk about big crappies," said Western Lake Superior Management Unit fisheries biologist Vern Nurenberg. "Crappies are kind of cyclic and right now the population in Otter Lake is high. You'll find a lot of fish in the 10- to 14-inch range."
Located in central Houghton County, 890-acre Otter Lake is formed by the Otter River, which flows in and out of the lake. A lowhead dam creates the impoundment. Anglers can access the lake on the northeast side or at a boat launch on the west side of the lake. Ice-out produces hot crappie action where the Otter River enters the lake. Ice-out in the Great White North might mean mid-May.
For information on bait shops and lodging facilities in the area, contact the Western Upper Peninsula Convention & Visitors Bureau at (906) 932-4850 or online at www.westernup.com.
KING LAKE Baraga County's King Lake is another lake Nurenberg recommended for big spring crappies.
"A lot of people just don't target crappies up here," said Nurenberg. "The crappies on King Lake are similar in size to those in Otter Lake."
King Lake, at 508 acres, is relatively shallow, with few spots over 15 feet deep, which makes it all perfect crappie habitat. Even though King Lake is shallow, weeds are scarce and finding scattered weedbeds is key to locating concentrations of crappies. If there is wood in the vicinity, it can be a real hotspot. Try out from the boat launch on the north end of the lake near a cluster of islands there. Another potential crappie hole is near the inlet from Little King Lake on the lake's east side. Coves and bays along the west and south shore are good, too. The best fishing occurs in late spring and early summer.
For more information about Western U.P. crappie lakes, contact the DNR's Western Lake Superior Management Unit at (906) 353-6651.
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After a long, hard Michigan winter, spring can't come soon enough, especially if it means catching a stringer of big crappies!
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