Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Jackson County (T3S, Rl-2W; Sections 19, and 24)
Surveyed September 9-18, 1991
Michael P. Herman
Big Wolf Lake is located in central Jackson County approximately 8 miles
southeast of the city of Jackson (Figure 1). This lake is one of nine
in a chain of lakes, collectively called the Michigan Center Chain. From
east to west, the lakes in this chain include Mellencamp, Little Wolf,
Big Wolf, Olcott, Little Olcott, Moon, Price, Round, and Center Lake.
There are some relatively narrow and low bridges between these lakes,
but most fishing boats are able to access all of the lakes in the chain.
Big Wolf Lake is part of the Grand Headwaters watershed within the Grand
River Basin. There are two inlets to Big Wolf Lake. Willow Creek enters
the lake on the northeast end and a navigable channel exists on the southeast
end, connecting to Little Wolf Lake. The outlet of this chain of lakes
is located on Center Lake's northwest end. The outlet flows in a westerly
direction for approximately 2 miles before emptying into the Grand Rivar.
Marl and pulpy peat are the predominant substrate types. There are some
scattered areas of sand, gravel and fibrous peat near shore. White and
yellow water lily, Myriophyllum or milfoil, and several species
of pondweed are the most abundant aquatic plants found in the lake. All
are moderately abundant.
Big Wolf Lake is approximately 376 acres in size and has a maximum depth
of 45 feet. Because of the extensive shoal areas that are characteristic
of this lake, more than 50% of the water is less than 10 feet deep. Several
submerged islands exist throughout the lake and serve as prime spawning
areas for many fish species. Bluegills in particular make use of these
areas and, in the spring, large numbers of them are harvested by anglers.
The terrain surrounding Big Wolf Lake is gently rolling and is mainly
farm fields with scattered woodland areas. The shoreline is approximately
70% developed with about 200 mostly permanent residences. The remaining
undeveloped shoreline is a combination of sedge and cattail marsh and
The Michigan Center Chain is served by three boat launching sites. There
is a DNR public launch with parking for 30 cars located on the north end
of Center Lake, just off Napoleon Road. A second boat launch, owned by
Leoni Township, is located on the extreme west end of Center Lake off
Hoyer Road. The third boat ramp, a fee launch site, is located at the
Wolf Lake Marina on Wolf Lake's west end. Boats can be rented from Butterfield
Landing which is located on Little Wolf Lake. The DNR has recently purchased
land on the southwest part of Wolf Lake and plans to develop a state access
site in 1993.
Bluegills and largemouth bass were stocked in Big Wolf Lake in the late
1930's and early 1940's. The practice of stocking bass and bluegills was
popular in many area lakes during this time period but was discontinued
after research showed that stocking these species was not necessary. Walleye
fingerlings were stocked in 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989, and 1991. In most
cases, subsequent electrofishing and netting surveys resulted in the capture
of few walleye. Tiger muskellunge were stocked in Michigan Center Lake
every other year from 1967 through 1978. Tigers were also stocked each
year from 1979 through 1983. A few tiger muskellunge were reportedly caught
by Big Wolf Lake anglers during the years muskies were stocked in Center
Lake. This stocking program was discontinued in 1984 because of poor angler
A pike marsh was constructed on the north end of Michigan Center Lake
in the early 1970's but it was only used for one or two years. Use of
this pike marsh resumed in 1982 and it has been operated every year since.
Annual production over the last 10 years has averaged approximately 4,500
4-inch pike fingerlings. All have been stocked into Michigan Center Lake,
but because of the connecting channels, Big Wolf Lake has undoubtedly
benefited from this pike rearing facility. Anglers occasionally report
catching northern pike in Big Wolf Lake.
Historically, Big Wolf Lake has received intense fishing pressure throughout
the spring and summer months, mainly for bluegills, crappie, and largemouth
bass. Anglers are quite successful, despite intensive use of the lake
by power boats and jet skis. There is a steady winter fishery for yellow
During the spring, large numbers of carp cruise the shallows and become
challenging targets for hook-and-line anglers, archers and spear fishermen.
For approximately 30 years, a carp carnival has been held on the Michigan
Center Chain of lakes, usually over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The current state record carp (61.5 pounds) was speared with a bowfishing
arrow from Big Wolf Lake in 1974.
Big Wolf Lake was last surveyed in September of 1991 with five standard
8 x 5 x 3-foot trap nets, three 125-foot experimental gill nets, and five
standard frame, small mesh fyke nets. All gear was fished for 2 nights,
except that only two gill nets were fished the second night of the survey.
Gamefish species captured in descending order of abundance included bluegill,
black crappie, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, bullhead, largemouth bass, walleye,
northern pike, and rock bass (Tables la, 1b and 1c).
Bluegills comprised nearly 60% of all fish caught in trap nets and averaged
6.4 inches long. Over 75% of the bluegills caught were at least 6-inches
long, an acceptable size to anglers (Table la).
Bluegills are targeted for sampling in inland lakes because of their
role in determining fish community structure and overall Sportfishing
quality (Schneider 1981). Even though the goal of lake surveys is to sample
all fish species and all sizes present, many times the bluegill population
is the only one adequately sampled because bluegills are typically the
most abundant. Recently a ranking system has been developed that allows
fish managers to get an idea of the relative quality of a lake's fish
population. On a scale of 1 to 7, (Schneider 1990), the quality of the
bluegill population in Big Wolf Lake was calculated as 4.0 or "average".
Based on growth analysis using fish scales, bluegills caught during the 1991 survey exhibited growth rates that were slightly below the state average (Table 2). Although bluegills are somewhat slow growing, growth is not considered to be poor.
Black crappie caught in trap nets averaged 8.0 inches long. Nearly 80%
were 7 inches long or what anglers consider to be "keeper" size. Fish
scale analysis showed that crappies were growing just above the state
Pumpkinseed sunfish averaged 6.0 inches in length and just over half
were of acceptable size to anglers. Fish scale analysis confirmed that
these fish were growing near the state average rate.
Twenty-eight walleyes (ages I-VI) were captured in trap and gill nets
and they averaged nearly 13-inches in length. Eight of these fish were
legal size (15 inches) but only one was larger than 16 inches. Walleyes
caught during the present survey exhibited growth rates that were 1.3-inches
above the state average.
Although relatively few yellow perch were caught during the present survey,
consistent angler reports of good summer and winter perch catches suggests
that a much larger population of this species exists. Since bluegills
are reported to be difficult to locate in winter, anglers concentrate
on the more available perch. Yellow perch were caught with all gear types
and averaged 7.7 inches. Over 90% of all perch caught were at least 7
inches long, or what most anglers consider to be a size they will keep.
Relative to the state average, the perch in Wolf Lake are somewhat growing
but this growth is not considered poor.
Relatively few bullheads were caught, but they averaged over 11 inches
and over 3/4 pound each. Anglers report occasional good catches of bullheads
after dark using a variety of baits. Bullheads are abundant and large
in size but are sought by only a few anglers, despite being fun to catch
and good to eat.
In general, few largemouth bass are caught during surveys using trap,
gill, and fyke nets. Only 29 largemouth bass averaging 7.2 inches were
captured; they ranged in size from 2- to 18-inches. Verified by scale
analysis, bass caught during the present survey exhibited growth rates
that were 1.2-inches below the state average rate. Moderately slow growth
of bass is typical in lakes within this district with similar morphology.
Intense competition for food resources coupled with relatively high recruitment
of bass are factors which may account for the observed slow growth patterns.
Additionally, removal of the faster growing bass by anglers in heavily
fished southern Michigan lakes may also contribute to slow growth.
Largemouth bass are one of the most sought after gamefish in many southern
Michigan lakes. Numerous bass clubs, as well as local anglers, fish the
Big Wolf/Michigan Center Lake chain for this species during the open water
Only eight northern pike were captured but they averaged an impressive
27 inches. For most age groups, pike growth trends were well above state
average rates, although not enough fish per age group were captured to
be statistically significant.
Interviewed anglers report consistent bluegill and bass angling success
during the open water months. Anglers also report that the early spring
fishery for crappies is underutilized. Good numbers of 8-10-inch crappies
are reportedly caught from shallow bays and channels during the month
of April. Although winter fishing is only fair for bluegills, ice anglers
report very good success in catching 7to 9-inch yellow perch, mainly in
shallow water areas off the lake's north shore. A few northern pike are
incidentally caught on tip-ups baited with shiners or small white suckers.
Survey records show that species composition has remained relatively
unchanged since this lake was first surveyed in 1957. Growth trends for
bluegill, largemouth bass, yellow perch, pumpkinseeds and black crappie
are comparable to those from the 1987 trap and gill net survey of Big
Wolf Lake. No other historical growth data is available for comparison.
Age composition and survival characteristics of all species listed in
Table 2 appear to be normal based on scale sample frequencies. The longevity
of all species appears to be low to average.
Big Wolf Lake was stocked with walleye fingerlings in 1983, 1985, 1987,
1988, 1989 and 1991. Although a few of these fish have survived to legal
size, very few have been reported by anglers from any lakes in the chain.
Based on this information, and the low number of walleyes captured in
surveys since walleye have been stocked, it appears unlikely that they
will ever create a significant fishery. A study to evaluate walleye stocking
in Region III lakes is currently underway and will be completed in late
1992. The Walleye Management Committee will then make recommendations
regarding future walleye stocking strategies.
Big Wolf Lake presently supports very good populations of bluegill, yellow
perch, crappie, and largemouth bass for angling. Although most fish caught
are not large in size, anglers are very satisfied with the existing fishery.
Report completed: March 2, 1992
Schneider, J. C. 1981. Fish communities in warmwater lakes. Michigan
Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Research Report 1890, Ann Arbor.
Schneider, J. C. 1990. Classifying bluegill populations from lake survey
data Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Technical Report
900-10, Ann Arbor.
Table la.-Number, weight, and length indices of fish collected
from Big Wolf Lake with trap nets, September 18&endash;20, 1991.
Table 1b.-Number, weight, and length indices of fish collected
from Big Wolf Lake with gill nets, September 18-20, 1991.
Table 1c.-Number, weight, and length indices of fish collected
from Big Wolf Lake with fyke nets3, September 18-20, 1991.
Table 2.-Average total length (inches) at age, and growth relative
to the state average, for six species of fish sampled from Big Wolf Lake
with all gear, September 18-20, 1991. Number of fish aged is given in
Table 3.-Estimated age frequency (percent) of fish caught from
Big Wolf Lake with trap nets, gill nets, and maxi-mini fyke nets1,
September 18-20, 1991.
Last Update: 08/06/02