Trophy panfish highlight Otsego Lake’s diverse fishery
By Bill Parker
Not many lakes can produce 33 Master Angler catches in the past two years.
Otsego County’s Otsego Lake can. The lake is just shy of 2,000 acres, but still holds its own against much larger lakes when it comes to recent MA awards. Of Michigan’s top five lakes in terms of size, only Houghton (with 20,044 acres of surface water) has more Master Angler awards over the past two years.
If you’re in the market for a Master Angler bluegill you wouldn’t be swimming in circles if you gave Otsego Lake a try. Between 2018 and 2019 a total of 24 ‘gills meeting Master Angler requirements (10 inches or larger) were registered by anglers fishing in Otsego. All the ‘gills were between 10 and 11.5 inches long.
Otsego Lake anglers also registered three pumpkinseed sunfish (9.5 to 10 inches), two yellow perch (14.13 and 15), two smallmouth bass (21 and 22 inches), one northern pike (40.63 inches), and one walleye (31.25).
“Otsego Lake contains a very diverse and stable fish community that is based on both natural reproduction and stocking,” the DNR wrote in a summary of the most recent survey of the fishery in Otsego Lake. “Natural reproduction is based on maintaining or improving existing conditions within and around the lake that support required habitats for successful spawning and nursery areas. Natural reproduction sustains yellow perch, rock bass, bluegill, smallmouth bass, and black crappie. Northern pike numbers are sustained by natural reproduction with assistance from the rearing marsh operations. Walleye, muskellunge, and lake sturgeon populations are dependent on stocking.”
The DNR’s current management prescription according to the summary calls for continued use of the pike marsh, and continued stocking of walleyes, muskies, and sturgeon.
Between 2018 and 2019, the DNR stocked 480 sturgeon ranging between 2 and 19 inches, 2,958 muskies averaging 9.33 inches each, and 111,723 spring fingerling walleyes averaging 1.8 inches.
Complimenting the quality Master Angler opportunities on Otsego Lake is a diverse and relatively robust fishery.
In the survey of the lake biologists collected 19 species of fish. There were very good numbers of bluegills to 10.8 inches, white suckers to 22, rock bass to 11.5, walleyes to 26, and yellow perch to 10.9.
The survey nets also turned up good numbers of northern pike to 35 inches, smallmouth bass to 18.8, and largemouth bass to 20.1. Fair numbers of crappies and pumpkinseed sunfish to 8 inches, sturgeon to 30, brown and yellow bullhead, and carp were also found.
Otsego Lake rests in southwestern Otsego County about three miles south of the town of Gaylord. A long, relatively narrow glacial lake, it features 1,972 acres of surface water and has a maximum depth of 23 feet. About 85 percent of the lake is less than 15 feet deep.
There are no natural inlets or outlets on Otsego Lake.
In 1972, following lakeside flooding brought on by high water levels, an outlet tube and control structure was installed by the local lake association, connecting Otsego Lake with the North Branch Au Sable River.
Aquatic vegetation is abundant and includes chara, potamogeton, milfoil, and lily pads.
With abundant private homes and two public campgrounds on its shore – Otsego Lake State Park and Otsego County Park – the lake is busy year-around. Each park features a boating access site.
Fisheries biologists documented management efforts on Otsego Lake dating back to its first survey in 1927. Stocking records indicate that walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and bluegill were planted in Otsego between 1933 and 1945.
=Walleye stocking efforts resumed in 1991.
Northern pike were stocked in the 1950s and early ’60s, and the 31-acre pike rearing marsh was established at the north end of the lake in 1966 and is still in use today.
According to the summary report, “The marsh is flooded each year at ice out with adult northern pike captured during the spawning run and transferred into the marsh to spawn. The fingerlings are then released approximately four weeks later.”
Lake sturgeon have been stocked periodically beginning in 1982 and Otsego now offers anglers a rare opportunity to fish for lake sturgeon on an inland lake. The season is open July 16 through March 15 and the minimum size limit is 50 inches. The statewide harvest limit is one sturgeon per angler per year.
Otsego Lake has long had a reputation for having a large white sucker population.
“To address this issue, northern muskellunge were prescribed for stocking and the first fall fingerling plant was introduced in September 2006 …,” the DNR wrote. “The goal of this management action is to diversify the predator base to utilize the abundance of large white sucker and provide an additional angling opportunity.”
Panfish anglers target the shallows in the spring with worms, crawlers, leeches, and small spinners. Ice anglers fare well in 8 to 15 feet of water using wax worms and mousies.
Walleye anglers catch fair numbers of fish through the ice, but concentrate their efforts around emerging weeds in the spring. Those trolling crankbaits and nightcrawler harnesses along and over the weeds report good action.
Surface water area…1,972 acres
Maximum depth………….23 feet
Fish species present: black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, brown bullhead, carp, white sucker, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, smallmouth bass, lake sturgeon, walleye, yellow perch, yellow bullhead.
For information: DNR district fisheries office (989) 732-3541, the DNR’s website http://www.michigan.gov/dnr, Jay’s Sporting Goods (989) 705-1339.