Diverse fishery awaits anglers on Pickerel Lake
By Bill Parker
Pickerel Lake is a multi-species lake, providing good fishing for walleye, pike, bass and panfish. It’s located in Newaygo County about three miles north of the town of Newaygo.
“In general, the 2017 DNR fisheries survey of Pickerel Lake found healthy fish populations,” wrote DNR fisheries biologist Mark Tonello in a report following that survey on the status of the fishery. “Despite having issues with stunting in the past, the panfish populations of Pickerel Lake currently exhibit good size-structure… Native predator species like largemouth bass and northern pike were well-represented in the catch and showed satisfactory growth rates. While not overly numerous, walleye from seven different year classes were present in the catch. Most were stocked year classes, although several individuals were from non-stocked years. It is possible that low-level natural reproduction is occurring in some years.”
Pickerel Lake covers 318 acres with most of the shoreline privately owned. Camp Newaygo, a summer camp for children, rests on 104 acres with significant frontage on the eastern shore of the lake. Little Switzerland Resort and Campground, which offers camping and rental cottages, is located on the southern shore of the lake.
Pickerel Lake is in the Muskegon River watershed and is in a chain of four lakes that cover over 600 acres. The chain includes Kimball to the west and Emerald and Sullivan to the east. The only public access site on the chain is on the south shore of Pickerel, off Pickerel Lake Road. Once on the water you’ll have access by boat to all four lakes.
Since Pickerel is mostly surrounded by homes and cottages it gets a fair share of recreational boating traffic, especially on summer weekends. Keep that in mind when picking out a day and time to fish.
Pickerel Lake has an abundance of aquatic vegetation. In the past, there have been problems with Eurasian milfoil and other nuisance aquatic vegetation. Pickerel Lake has also had issues with extensive mats of algae throughout the lake. Chemical treatments have occurred periodically since 1994.
Fisheries management has a deep history on Pickerel, dating back to 1874 when whitefish were stocked by the Michigan Fisheries Commission. The first official record of walleye being stocked into the lake was in 1905. Stocking records between 1910 and 1934 were lost in a fire, but between 1934 and the mid-1940s bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and walleyes all were stocked in Pickerel Lake. Rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout also were stocked before the DNR settled on a consistent walleye stocking program beginning in 1987. From 1987 to 2017, all stocked walleyes were spring fingerlings that are less than 2 inches long. Fall fingerlings were stocked for the first time in 2018 with the release of 1,777 fish averaging about 6 inches in length.
The current prescription calls for stocking 50 spring fingerlings per acre, every other year. The state stocked 16,289 spring fingerlings in 2015, 15,604 in 2017 and 15,953 in 2019.
“The walleye fishery in Pickerel Lake is extremely popular with riparian landowners and local anglers,” Tonello wrote. “In addition, the stocked walleyes are likely helping to keep the bluegill population in good condition for anglers. While a few fish from unstocked years were present in the 2017 survey catch, the bulk of the catch came from stocked years. Therefore, walleye fingerlings should continue to be stocked into Pickerel Lake to maintain the walleye fishery.”
Cisco (lake herring), a threatened species in Michigan, were historically found in Pickerel Lake. However, in the fall of 1986, a very large rain event caused significant mortality of cisco in Pickerel Lake. According to the survey report, “biologists speculate that the heavy rainfall washed excess nutrients off upstream agricultural fields and into the lake, creating an oxygen depletion issue, which resulted in the cisco fish kill. Cisco have not been reported by anglers or caught in any DNR fisheries surveys since.”
The lake has a large population of undersized northern pike, although each year anglers catch large pike. In an effort to help the pike population, the DNR implemented special regulations on the lake, which allow anglers to keep five pike per day and there is no size limit. However, only one may be larger than 24 inches.
Biologists collected 1,268 fish representing 18 species in the 2017 survey.
Rock bass and bluegills were the most abundant species and ranged up to 10 and 12 inches, respectively. There also were decent numbers of crappies that averaged 10.5 inches and ranged up to 12, sunfish that averaged 5.8 and ranged to 8, and perch averaging 8.5 and ranging up to 13.
Walleye, pike and largemouth bass were the top predators collected in the survey. The walleyes averaged 22 inches and ranged up to 25, largemouths averaged 14.4 and ranged to 19, and northerns averaged 19.5 and ranged up to 28.
The drop-off about 30 to 40 yards off the access ramp is a good place to start fishing for walleyes and pike. The weedbed southwest of the access site holds panfish and walleyes, too, along with good numbers of largemouth bass.
Surface area…………….318 acres
Maximum depth…………73 feet
Fish species present:
Bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, walleye, yellow perch.
DNR district office (231) 788-6798, DNR web site wwwmichigan.gov/dnr, Parsley’s Sport and Fly Shop LLC (231) 652-6986.