Joel Nelson says northern lakes are plentiful, so they are usually less crowded.
Crappie are in most waters, usually predictable and can be caught. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
Gaylord, Michigan for Fishing and Fun
by Tim Huffman
Michigan has good crappie fishing, but you don’t hear much about it. Walleye and smallmouth are king, with bluegill not far behind. The lowly crappie takes a back seat and is usually a product of ice fishing. Less pressure is a big advantage for those who choose to catch crappie. The following tactics to apply to most of the northern states to find and catch crappie starting at ice-out.
“It happens around the first to mid-April,” says pro angler and educator, Joel Nelson. “You can catch crappie even when there is ice floating around, but the fish will still be deep, probably suspended up at 25 feet in 50 or 60 feet of water. The fish won’t be too active in the cold water. You can catch a few using bobbers and minnows.”
Nelson says within a couple of weeks, pre-spawn will take place. By the end of April, the crappie will be moving up to the shallows. The bite is in full swing. Crappie enjoy the warming waters.
“A lot of pencil reeds and shallow weed beds are prime locations,” said Nelson. “The crappie can be shallow a couple of weeks before they spawn. This is when a lot of people catch them. Crappie may be in the weed beds in eight to 15 feet of water. Pre-spawn is a fun time.”
The crappie move in and out until temperatures get in the lower 60’s when the crappie start spawning. Action is full speed for a few weeks. They will stay in water four to six-feet deep until they spawn and move back out to the flats with weeds.
“Weed beds are great, but as you ease further south in the state, look for brushy cover. Crappie love it and prefer it over everything else,” says Nelson. “A brush pile can literally hold hundreds of crappie during spawn and post-spawn. Pencil weed is good because it grows on sandy bottoms that are hard and make good spawning ground. This movement will last until about the end of May. The fish have spawned out and are moving out.”
Nelson says, “Early on, right after ice-out, we are fishing a float and small stuff. All presentations are slow. A tiny minnow on a jig is a good choice. You must put it on top of the crappie because they are not going to be chasing a bait while the water is cold.
“By the first of May, small tube jigs and small plastics are good for catching the active males that come alive. Retrieves can be a little more aggressive, but I’m still fishing a small bait below a float. I pull the float and pause, letting the jig swing down below it. When spawn starts, it’s time to slow down again. When they leave beds, the water is warming so presentations can speed back up some, but don’t over-do it.”
Nelson’s equipment includes a St. Croix Panfish, 7-foot, light power, extra-fast action. The length and power allow bobbers and tiny jigs to be casted a long distance. His reel is 1000-series for a larger arbor (spool). He uses 4-pound-test fluorocarbon, sometimes 6-pound in heavy cover. He says his rod and setup is a good one-outfit-does-all choice for crappie.
“I use a Northland Thumper Crappie King jig a lot. I usually don’t find colors to be too important unless fish are very negative. I use chartreuse or other loud color in stained water. In clear water, I use a firetiger, white or a pink/white combination. When fishing is tough, like right after a cold front, I like dull brown or silver. If fish are in a normal mood, color isn’t as important as a good presentation.”
Gaylord and Surrounding Area
An outdoor writer event last fall took my wife and I to Michigan. We went to Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island, Traverse City and spent a week in Gaylord for a conference. I fished one day while she floated the Sturgeon River. We did the touristy things while there, too, and had a great trip.
One of my highlights was a visit to Gaylord’s City Elk Park, a 108-acre contained area where 40 elk roam. You’ll see bulls weighing over 800 pounds. The herd can also be viewed at their feeding location on live cam found on Gaylord’s Tourism website.
Pigeon River Country State Forest, just a short drive from Gaylord, offers a different, unique wilderness experience. It’s home to one of the largest free-ranging elk herds east of the Mississippi. September and October are the most active months when the bulls are on the move and bulging. Another good time is late April through early May when elk are active during daylight hours. Weekends can be crowded in the spring and the fall.
Gaylord has resorts, hotels, campgrounds, along with their great rivers and lakes. Houghton Lake is another good fishing spot 45 miles south of Gaylord.
Hiking and biking trails are abundant. My wife can confirm the good shopping of all types. We visited a few great places to eat, including over-indulging on chocolate and hand-dipped ice cream at the Alpine Chocolate Haus.
Jay’s Sporting Goods is a large, one-stop store for fishing, hunting, hiking, camping and outdoor wear. While at Jay’s, check out Cops & Donuts coffee shop.
Whether you’re into a Tap Beer Trail, winter skiing, golfing, shopping or enjoying a day fishing, there are many fun things to do in Gaylord and the surrounding area. For more information visit Gaylord’s website or the Houghton Lake website.
(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing, writing and photography since 1988. He is Senior Writer for CrappieNOW Digital Magazine, freelance writer and book author. His new 2022 book is Crappie Annual & Product Guide. Books are available at Grizzly Jig Company, Amazon or link to his website http://monstercrappie.com)