Crappies thriving on Gladwin County’s Ross Lake
By Bill Parker
Calicos, crappies, papermouths. Call them what you want, they are robust fighters and delicious table fare. It’s rare when you can find both black and white crappies in the same body of water, but Gladwin County’s Ross Lake is one of them.
But that’s not all you’ll find. Ross Lake serves up a mixed bag of angling opportunities ranging from perch, bluegills and sunfish to largemouth bass, northern pike and catfish. And don’t forget about those crappies – mostly blacks, but a few whites, too.
“Overall, the fish community and recreational fishery of Ross Impoundment is adequate. There is ample opportunity to catch black crappie, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, channel catfish, and the occasional bass or northern pike,” wrote DNR biologist Kathryn Schrouder in a report summarizing a 2018 survey of the fishery on the lake. “These together with the nongame fish species like suckers and bullhead provide diverse fishing opportunities. The location of this impoundment in the village of Beaverton and the developed park and access site make Ross Lake a perfect spot for a family fishing trip.”
Located in southwest Gladwin County at the town of Beaverton, Ross Lake is an impoundment on the north, south and middle branches of the Tobacco River. Those three rivers and the Cedar River flow into Ross Lake. The outlet is the Tobacco River, which flows into the Tittabawassee River.
As with most impoundments, fish habitat is abundant. There are lots of submerged stumps and aquatic vegetation in the form of milfoil, lily pads, bulrushes, reeds and cattails. The turbidity of the water limits the growth of submergent vegetation. Drop-offs are gradual, except in areas of the river channel.
Ross Lake was formed in 1919 when the Ross brothers constructed the Ross Impoundment Dam.
Fisheries management on Ross Lake dates back to at least 1937, where stocking records show plants of bluegills, bass, perch and walleye. Over the years, the lake has been chemically treated with rotenone to remove rough fish populations and stocked with a variety of fish including catfish, steelhead, largemouth bass, brown trout, crappies and bluegills.
The DNR has been stocking walleyes in Ross Lake since the 1970s and muskies since 1984. However, due to low production of both species those practices have stopped. The last walleye plant was in 2017 and the last muskie plant was in 2016
“Long-time stocking programs for northern muskellunge and walleye are not producing the desired results or any fishery,” Schrouder wrote. “Recommendations are to discontinue these plants. Native predators are occupying the same niche.”
The 2018 DNR survey recorded a total of 785 fish including 24 species.
Black crappie was the most abundant species captured in the survey. They ranged up to 12 inches in length, averaged 8.6 inches, and were growing slightly above the state average. About 68% were 7 inches or bigger.
White crappies, although not nearly as abundant, ranged between 6 to 8 inches and averaged 6.9.
According to Schrouder, black and white crappie do hybridize, so it is possible to see crappies with intermediate characteristics between the two.
There were good numbers of bluegills in the survey. They ranged up to 6 inches, but averaged just 3.6. Good numbers of pumpkinseed sunfish were found in the survey nets, but they averaged a tad shy of 5 inches and ranged up to 6. Rock bass were found in low numbers. They ranged up to 8 inches, and averaged 6.1. Light numbers of yellow perch were caught, but they were good-sized fish, averaging 8.1 and topping out at 12 inches.
Smallmouth and largemouth bass were found in good numbers. Smallies ranged between 4 and 19 inches and averaged 12. About 36% were legal sized at 14 inches or bigger. Largemouth bass ranged up to 16 inches, but just 13% were legal size.
The pike population was healthy, with fish averaging 27.1 inches and ranging up to 40.
“Northern pike were represented by 6 age classes (2-8),” Schrouder wrote. “Age-growth data indicated that northern pike were growing 0.5 inch above state average, which is rare in shallow impoundments or lakes. Age distribution indicated sufficient recruitment with good representation of ages 2 through 8.”
Good numbers of channel catfish also showed up in the survey. They ranged up to 32 inches and averaged 25.8.
No walleyes or muskies were collected in the survey.
Crappies can be found all over the lake. Look for stumps and submerged trees and work the areas with jigs and minnows. Light and chartreuse colors work well in the turbid water.
The hole in front of the dam is a spot worth checking for northern pike. Spoons and live bait are both good options.
Public access is available through a township park located at the east end of the lake off M-18. It features a gravel ramp, a beach and a picnic area.
Nearest town Beaverton
Surface water 294 acres
Maximum depth 19 feet
Water clarity Turbid
Fish species present:
Black crappie, black bullhead, bluegill, brown bullhead, common carp, channel catfish, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, golden redhorse, rock bass, smallmouth bass, white crappies, white suckers, yellow bullhead, yellow perch.
DNR district fisheries office (989) 684-9141, the DNR web site www.michigan.gov/dnr, Larry’s Bait and Sport, (989) 426-7205.