Friday, February 17, 2012

Surprise Fly Fishing Opportunity for Crappie

Last night was a great night in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I gave a fun presentation and got to visit with folks I met in previous trips here. Then after a short stopover at one of the Kalamazoo Brewery's with a group of Trout Unlimited Chapter members, Terry Wittorp and I made the hour drive back to his house. Once again road life entailed a late night after a very full day.

As a rule, the morning after I speak somewhere I fly directly home. That is, unless I’m invited to go fishing. A month ago Terry invited me to join him for a day of ice fishing for black crappie. Naturally I said yes. Unfortunately, it’s been too warm here in Michigan to form safe ice to fish on. Who could imagine no ice in Michigan in February? It’s true though. So Terry’s alternate plan was to run north to the Muskegon River. However, the Muskegon meant a long drive and conditions up on this beautiful river aren’t exactly red hot. That’s why at 1 AM this morning we came up with the decision to sleep in and then after a good breakfast, fly fish an open water channel attached to the crappie lake we intended to ice fish on. A place literally minutes from Terry’s house.

I enjoy the heck out of fly fishing for crappie so when Terry suggested this I was thrilled. I fly fish for crappie with a 4-weight rod, a floating line and a small popper. This time of year the popper idea is out because the water is too cold so I rigged a 12 foot level 1X Fluorocarbon leader with two nymphs. My point nymph was a size 14 Hare’s Ear and my dropper was an unknown smaller nymph that I placed about three feet up the leader. In spite of the care and time taken to rig, neither Terry nor I expected to catch anything because it’s still the dead of winter. We simply wanted to make the best of a day.

We hit the unthawed part of the crappie lake at around 10. The weather was ridiculously gorgeous for February in Michigan with sunshine and temps in the upper 40°s, so nice that the day also attracted local crappie anglers equipped with their live minnows and slip bobbers. Terry and I eased our way in on to the end of a dock and launched a cast. All eyes were on the intruders with the funny rods.

From my point of view I could see the tops of some weeds down about five feet deep and as my flies got close to me I could even see them coming through the water. That’s when to my disbelief I saw a crappie honing in on my point fly. Just as I noticed that fish, another sprang from the weeds and nailed my dropper. Ha! I couldn’t believe it! A fish on the first cast when we had low expectations!

Usually when you catch a fish on your first cast the rest of the day generally sucks, but today we continued to produce crappie after crappie. They weren’t by any means the big dudes we hoped for but several made the 10” mark. And for about every six crappie we caught, a colorful bluegill would enter the mix. I even caught what I think is a monster 7” golden shiner. The fact is that any warm sunny day of fishing in Michigan in February is a good one, especially when you can catch more than 50 crappie on fly rod.

The true highlight of our day was that we out fished the minnow dudes. In fact it was so bad that I heard one of them mumble to his friend, “Looks like we need to get us one of those wavy trout rod things”. It was really funny. I should add however, that although bait guys and fly guys often don’t mix well in close proximity, I very much enjoyed fishing and chatting with the locals. These guys were fascinated that I actually came from Idaho and I enjoyed hearing the gossip from around the Sister lakes. It was fun. And while Terry and I released all our crappie, the locals filled a few buckets. That’s how set up the hilarious picture that began the report.

I’ll be headed home tomorrow only to unpack and virtually pack again. Tuesday it’s off to California for a two week tour that starts in Fresno Thursday night. My next fishing is planned in the Delta where me and friend Ben Byng will try to track down some nice striped bass.


  1. Seriously, weird weather. The ice fisherman are hating it!

  2. That looks like fun, my fiance wants to go crappie fishing this summer, and this only reinforced the bug to go.

  3. Erik,

    If the crappie bite is one when I come out I'm in that Sat. We could crappie fish early and switch to carp when the sun is high. Keep an eye on it.