Crappie fishing popularity has increased across the U.S. in the past few decades. Crappie are popular because they provide good action when you locate this schooling fish, and they’re excellent table fare. Black crappie were not native to the U.P., their range was expanded further north by widespread historical stocking. Black crappie are in the sunfish family along with largemouth, smallmouth bass and bluegill. Black crappie are closely related to white crappie that are a more southerly U.S. species.
Crappie are known to prefer flooded timber, deadfall tree tops, and weed edges on drop-offs. Sometimes crappie suspend off drop-offs or deeper water (winter) and use sunken structure. Fishing crappie early in the spring after ice out in shallow dark bottom bays where the water warms first is a good technique. As the water starts to warm in the spring they can often be found in or associated with bulrushes or other shallow aquatic vegetation as well.
Many crappie fisheries fluctuate in terms of abundance with year class strength which is often variable. Fishery managers, in the scientific literature, have reported great difficulty with managing crappie fisheries. Many species like trout, walleye, muskie, and some species of panfish are can be managed to maintain fairly consistent high quality fisheries. Fisheries biologists have not had much success in positively influencing black crappie in terms of consistent strong populations and quality size structure. Fisheries with good numbers of larger sized fish can be short lived despite active fishery management and regulations.
Black crappie are now present in a fairly large number of U.P. waters, although the list of lakes where crappie have a good fishable population is much more limited. After reviewing survey information and interviewing the U.P. fisheries management biologists it is apparent that viable black crappie fisheries are more prevalent in the western U.P. than they are in the eastern U. P., although there are several good crappie fisheries in the eastern portion of the U.P.
Cory Kovacs, fisheries supervisor in Newberry, said South Manistique Lake (Mackinac County), a relatively new crappie fishery, is “coming on strong in the last few years.” Black crappie are relatively abundant and their size structure is improving in this 4,000 acre water. Kovacs said they had worked to develop another crappie fishery at Roxbury East Lake (Chippewa County). This small water has a carry down public boat access site.
Darren Kramer, fisheries supervisor in Escanaba, said that, “Little Brevort Lake
(Mackinac County) is a fairly good crappie fishery.” This 144 acre lake is found within a portion of the state forest that is managed as a natural area. The DNR land rules require any boats at Little Brevort to be non-motorized.
Moving west, Kramer noted Triangle Lake on the Hiawatha National Forest has a decent crappie fishery with “good sized fish.” This 166-acre lake is located east of Forest Highway 13 in Schoolcraft County.
Two waters Kramer noted in Marquette County are the Greenwood Reservoir and East Bass Lake. The Greenwood Reservoir is located west of Ishpeming. The reservoir has considerable flooded timber which has been found to be a habitat that crappie often flourish in. The Greenwood has had a noteworthy crappie fishery for decades. Currently Kramer said, “the crappie population has moderated although it has a good-sized size structure.” Kramer went to say that East Bass Lake, east of Gwinn currently has “good sized crappie.” This 217 acre lake is another more recent crappie fishery that has developed.
In Menominee County, Shakey Lakes has had a long-standing crappie fishery. This 284 acre chain of lakes has had a modest population of crappies with some good-sized fish in the most recent survey.
In Dickinson County the best crappie waters are reservoirs. Genes Pond is a 700 acre impoundment of the East Sturgeon River with considerable flooded timber. Genes Pond has supported a fairly strong crappie fishery for decades. Genes Pond has a state forest campground and access site on it and is located in northern Dickinson County. Fisheries surveys indicate that black crappie are now present throughout the four main Groveland Mine “Lakes” although West Lake has the strongest population. In a 2015 survey the West Lake crappie also had a good size structure. The impoundments on the Menominee River are all known for crappie fishing. The Twin Falls/Badwater Impoundment (1120 acres) has been the most notable for crappie in the most recent years.
Some of the better crappie waters in Iron County are also impoundments. Paint Pond/Brule Island Impoundment (774 acres) of the Brule and Paint Rivers supports a good crappie fishery. Additionally, the reservoirs of the Michigamme River system, Michigamme Reservoir (7000 acres), Peavy Reservoir (3500 acres) both have viable crappie fisheries. The Michigamme Reservoir has several log crib reefs with the three westerly reefs being the best for crappie. The Peavy Reservoir has considerable flooded timber in the upper portion of the impoundment which is always a good location to look for crappie.
Natural lakes in Iron County that have viable crappie fisheries include Brule Lake (250 acres), located in the Ottawa National Forest. Brule Lake has had a decent crappie fishery for many years. That fishery declined in the 1990s although it has been rebuilding since then. Tamarack Lake (335 acres) on the Iron/Gogebic County border has been a viable crappie lake for many years. At times it produces a number of good sized crappie. Iron Lake (396 acres) has not been notable for crappie in the past. The most recent fish surveys and fishing reports indicate that crappie abundance has been coming on strong in recent years. Winslow Lake (255 acres) in north Iron County was known for stunted panfish including crappie for many years. An experimental management effort using walleye to provide adequate predation on panfish has resulted in a good crappie fishery with a healthy size structure.
George Madison, fisheries biologist in Baraga, recommended Gogebic County’s Lac Vieux Desert and Langford Lake for “abundant crappie populations.” Lac Vieux Desert is a 4,300 acre relatively shallow lake with numerous weed beds. It is also a border water with Wisconsin. Lanford Lake is a 481 acre relatively shallow lake with a U.S. Forest Service campground. The Cisco Lake Chain which comprises 14 connected lakes, has a total surface area of about 4,000 acres. This extensive Gogebic County lake chain was last surveyed by the Michigan DNR in 2002. That survey caught relatively good numbers of black crappie. Conservation Officer Sergeant Grant Emery covered that area prior to his promotion. Based on his patrol observations and previous fisheries surveys, Thousand Island, Cisco and Record Lakes appear to have fairly strong crappie populations.
The most recent survey available (2007) indicates that crappie are present in moderate numbers in Portage Lake, Houghton County. It will take some searching of good crappie habitat to find them in this 9,640-acre waterway. A stop at the local bait shop may help locate the best locations to catch these fish.
Pricket Dam Backwaters is an 810 acre reservoir in Houghton and Baraga County. This reservoir has considerable crappie habitat with lots of stumps, logs and flooded timber. Pete Sorelle from Fred’s East Branch Outfitters in Kenton, Michigan said, “Last year was a good year for crappie anglers at Pricket Dam,” Impoundment.
Crappie are present in many more waters in the U.P. than this article covers, although at present they are not dominant fisheries. As stated previously, crappie population can be quite variable especially relating to size structure. There are a number of good regional examples of waters where crappie that were a minor species and subsequently their population increased greatly after walleye populations had declined.
DNR Master Angler Award minimum entry for black crappie is 14 inches. The current state record is 4.12 pounds and has been a record since 1947. Crappie in Michigan are at the northern edge of their range, crappie in the central and southern states grow larger. For a few years during my fisheries career I worked as a federal fisheries biologist in southern Illinois and Missouri. Area fishing contests in those central states revealed greater crappie growth potential. Three-pound crappie were relatively common and typically the fishing contest was won by a crappie weighing over four pounds.
As the water warms in the spring, crappie anglers often locate pre-spawn fish in bulrush and other aquatic vegetation beds. The vegetation beds in the northern portion of the lake are often warmed by the sun first, attracting crappie. Crappie spawn between 64° to 68° F in shallow water typically associated with openings in aquatic vegetation. Adult crappie typically feed on minnows and juvenile fish. A maribou “crappie jig” tipped with small minnow or minnow rigged below a slip bobber are popular rigs to fish crappie. If you want fish an action-oriented species and take some good tasting fish home to eat the black crappie fisheries in northern Michigan are a good choice.