February 15, 2012
My friend, Todd Huckabee, holds a couple nice ones we plucked from the brushpiles of Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma, one fine spring morning a few years back. Spring comes earlier on Eufaula than up here in Minnesota, where we've battled our way through one heavy snowfall after the other the past few weeks.
Something popped up on my server the other day that turned my thoughts in Todd's direction. In fact, it conjured memories of 3-pound crappies I've encountered all across the South, from Florida to Arizona. It was an e-mail from Marc Malkin, directing me to Fishhound.com's new list of America's 50-best crappie lakes. Having created many Top 10 Crappie Lake lists for In-Fisherman magazine over the years, curiosity was instantly piqued. Who compiled it? Who was consulted? And were all my favorite Southern lakes still considered worthy of the honor?
Todd will be happy to see Eufaula made the list, as did Lake Fork and Toledo Bend in Texas, the Harris Chain in Florida, Lake Truman in Missouri, and many other lakes I've fished, including Pickwick, Erie, and Kentucky. Most of the lakes from the South that I've mentioned in the past made the list.
The press release from Marc describes the selection process: Fishhound compiled its "50 Best Crappie Lakes" list (http://www.fishhound.com/best-crappie-fishing-lakes) after consulting with a host of industry experts, including veteran outdoor writers, professional crappie anglers, companies like Blakemore and Southern Pro, and organizations such as Crappie USA, Crappie Masters and Crappie Nation.
"We devoted considerable time and resources to develop this list based on feedback from some of the most experienced and knowledgeable crappie throughout the U.S.," noted Rick Patri, Fishhound's vice president, operations. "These are bodies of water that earned well deserved reputations for producing big numbers of fish as well as some real monsters."
Google "Arc Of Slabs." The sociological fallout from that pair of articles I authored for In-Fisherman included a dramatic increase in fishing pressure that forced changes in the way fisheries managers addressed crappie fishing in Mississippi. Where crappies grow fast.
But, with the exception of a couple waters in Ohio and one from Indiana (which are south of "North" at best), few lakes from the North are mentioned by Fishhound. Which is interesting. Speaking of sociological fallout: Crappie anglers travel. Otherwise, my Arc of Slabs construct would have had little impact. When crappie anglers travel north, they find slow-growing crappies. And slowly-changing, reactionary regulations to protect trophies.
My Top 10 lists included places like Red Lake in Minnesota. To be honest, Red belongs on nobody's top-anything list for crappies right now. It's currently experiencing a down cycle, which always corresponds with an up-cycle for walleyes. For the moment , walleyes rule on Red.
But what about Lake of The Woods and Rainy Lake in Ontario? Lake St. Clair? Chippewa Flowage? The Mississippi backwaters? Those are great crappie fisheries by anybody's standards. The reason nobody mentions those places is because big crappie tournaments are rarely held north of the Mason Dixon line. Is that because great crappie waters don't exist up North? Or because fishery managers up north fail to understand the sociological impacts engendered by great crappie fishing?
That's grist for a later post. For now, peruse the following to see how many of these waters you've visited, and how many you need to include on your next bucket list:
Fishhound's 50 Best Crappie Lakes List
1. Grenada Lake, MS
2. Sardis Lake, MS
3. Kentucky Lake, TN
4. Reelfoot Lake, TN
5. Arkabutla Lake, MS
6. Green River Lake, KY
7. Lake Washington, MS
8. Barkley Lake, KY
9. Lake Dardanelle, AR
10. Logan Martin, AL
11. Weiss Lake, AL
12. Nimrod Lake, AR
13. Clarks Hill, GA
14. Chickamauga Lake, TN
15. Patoka Lake, IN
16. Santee Cooper Lakes, SC
17. Eufaula Lake, OK
18. Pickwick Lake, TN
19. Oologah Lake, OK
20. Enid Lake, MS
21. Harris Chain of Lakes, FL
22. Truman Lake, MO
23. Toledo Bend, TX
24. Alabama River, AL
25 Lake Erie, OH
26. Texoma Lake, TX
27. Buckeye Lake, OH
28. Kaw Lake, OK
29. Ross Barnett, MS
30. Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, MS (Columbus, Aliceville, Aberdeen)
31. Douglas Lake, TN
32. Monroe Lake, FL
33. Lake of the Ozarks, MO
34. Lake Fork, TX
35. Neely Henry Lake, AL
36. Kinkaid Lake, IL
37. Rend Lake, IL
38. Shelbyville Lake, IL
39. Conway Lake, AR
40. Lake Greeson, AR
41. Greenwood Lake, AR
42. West Point, GA
43. Oconee Lake, GA
44. Lake Cumberland, KY
45. Indian Lake, OH
46. Lake Talquin, FL
6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi
Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla — it's a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.
2 Lake Erie, Ohio
The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR, dnr.state.oh.us
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the 'Earthquake Lake ' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11„4 pounds and catches up to 23„4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
7 Weiss Lake, Alabama
The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins, markcollinsguideservice.com
8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee
Anglers look forward to the 'Crappie Capital ' living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don't overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve McCadams, stevemccadams.com
9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina
Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13„4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381.
3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma
This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee, toddhuckabee.net
; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com
; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.
5 Lake Fork, Texas
Numbers of slabs from 11„4 to 21„2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon's favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle's Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork's crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis, rickloomis.com
; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, lakeforkmarina.com
1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario
The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, davebennettoutdoors.com
, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, brucescanadianangling.com
10 St. Johns River, Florida
The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can't resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522, castawaysontheriver.com
; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com