Giant Southern Crappies
December 08, 2015
A "slab" crappie has different connotations in various parts of the country. Anglers in some regions classify a 13-incher as a slab, while others use the term for fish surpassing 15 inches. South of the Mason-Dixon line, where the waters are fertile and the growing season is longer, 2-pound southern crappies take slab honors.
Crappies are available in nearly every state, but southern lakes generally produce more and bigger ones than anywhere else in the country. If you're looking for giant crappies or numbers of quality fish this spring, head to the traditional big-fish waters and some new hot spots throughout the South. Of course, there are exceptions to that general advice. We have many trophy-class fisheries across the North, including into Ontario, as you see in In-Fisherman Field Editor Gord Pyzer's article, "Grant Crappies North," in this Guide.
Stokes McClellan has been fishing tournaments and catching slab crappies on this North Carolina-Virginia reservoir for the past 10 years. "The lake is good for outstandingly big fish," McClellan says. "Thirteen- to 15-inch fish are common. On a practice day a few years ago, one of the competitors caught a 4.16-pounder."
2011 promises to be another good year for quality crappies at Kerr. McClellan says the lake is full of black and white crappies in the 11â„2- to 13â„4-pound range. The best big-fish tactics in spring include shooting docks with jigs and slow-trolling or longlining with 2-inch Charlie Brewer Sliders and Bass Pro Shops Triple Ripple grubs.
This storied crappie producer has been in a down-cycle lately, but the Alabama reservoir still contains a fair amount of 2-pounders and some 3-pound fish. "The last couple of years produced bad spawns and people have not been catching the numbers of crappies they've been used to," says local guide Darrell Baker. On his guide trips during the spring, Baker's clients catch mostly 10- to 11-inch crappies for their 30-fish limit. "The most 2-pounders we ever had in a 60-fish catch was about 8 to 10, which came in late February," he says.
Casting a minnow or jig with a cork in the shallows is a popular way to catch springtime crappies on Weiss, but the most efficient tactic for slabs is longline trolling for suspended prespawn fish.
The emergence of new habitat could be a boon for crappie fishing on this reservoir along the Mississippi-Alabama border. "Pickwick's starting to get a lot of grass and that's great for the environment" says local guide Brad Whitehead." The fishing this year should be exceptional as a result. It wasn't uncommon in a day of guiding last year to have a 2- to 23â„4-pound fish. Out of a 20-fish limit this spring, you could catch 8 or 10 that hit the 21â„4- or 21â„2-pound mark."
Spider-rigging with hair jigs is Whitehead's favorite way to catch slabs in the spring. Casting jigs in the shallows also produces some hefty crappie during the spawn.
A drought in Mississippi four years ago has become beneficial for this southernmost link on the I-55 chain of premier crappie reservoirs. When sections of the lake dried up, the exposed bottom was regenerated with weed growth and willows, which were inundated by recent wet springs.
"This is the third year of high water," says Kent Driscoll, who guides on all three of the I-55 reservoirs of Grenada, Sardis, and Arkabutla. "On these Corps of Engineers lakes, when we get high water we typically get highly successful spawns. The number of age-classes that make up the 12-inch and longer fish is going to be phenomenal."
The forage base of shad also has benefited from the recent years of high water, so there is plenty of food to boost crappie growth. A 12-inch minimum-length limit imposed during the same year as the drought also has helped Grenada's big fish boom. "Combine all of these factors and you are talking about unbelievably strong age-classes of fish," Driscoll says. "We will continue to see 15- to 16-inch crappies for at least the next two or three years."
For big fish at Grenada in spring, dip jigs or minnows with long poles alongside stumps or buckbrush. Spider-rigging about 3 to 6 feet deep targets big suspended females.
Driscoll believes this middle link of the I-55 chain has experienced the greatest size increase in its crappies due to the recent high-water years. Last fall, his clients were catching more 13- to 15-inch fish than he has seen in 20 years.
"The neat thing about Sardis is the number of quality fish," he says. "It's not uncommon in the spring to catch a 20-fish limit and have to release only four or five under 12 inches, with three or four of the keepers over 2 pounds. That is a big rebound from where the population has been in the past." Sardis' turnaround has also been the result of the 12-inch minimum length limit and heavy weed growth in the upper end of the lake where most of the crappies spawn.
Spider-rig trolling in the standing timber of the creeks, and dipping minnows or jigs in clusters of standing timber in the sloughs, take Sardis slabs in spring.
This I-55 chain lake annually produces crappies in the 21â„2- to 31â„2-pound range. "Arkabutla is a more difficult lake to fish because the water is so much darker," Driscoll says. "Whenever heavy wind or rainfall muddies the water it becomes much harder to fish. So the good news with Arkabutla is because it's more challenging to fish, it gets a lot less fishing pressure and the trophy potential is always there. In a 20-fish limit, having 5 fish over 21â„2 pounds with a shot at 3-pounder isn't uncommon."
Spider-rig trolling with 21â„2-inch Southern Pro Umbrella Tubes tipped with minnows, or dipping jigs and minnows, are the best bets for catching Arkabutla's springtime slabs. Work stake beds and brushpiles near ditches in bays and creeks.
Lots of threadfin shad and plenty of cover make Arkansas' Millwood Lake a big-crappie factory. "This is a warm, shallow lake with an average depth of 5 feet, along with lots of sloughs and nutrients," says guide Lance Fleming, who has to his record an 181â„4-inch crappie from Millwood. His clients on spring trips usually catch four or five 2-pounders in a 20-fish limit. To catch big prespawn fish, dip jigs around shallow brush tops and green cypress trees.
Habitat management by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has improved the size of crappies on this reservoir. "We have seen a lot more crappies over 2 pounds," says guide Jerry Blake. "Two-pounders used to be uncommon here, but more crappies that size are being caught now, especially in the spring. We weighed one for a fisherman last spring that tipped the scales at 3 pounds 12 ounces — the biggest we have ever seen."
Fishing minnows under slipfloats or dipping hair jigs along chunk rock banks in coves works best for Greeson's big spawners.
Plenty of baitfish and stump habitat contribute to the trophy-size crappies in this Tennessee fishery. "During prespawn, you see a lot of 2-pound fish," says tournament competitor Wade Mansfield. "You don't get a lot of 3-pounders; but out of 60 fish (two limits), about 7 of them are over 2 pounds."
Spider-rigging with minnows or tube jigs 3 feet deep over stumps in 6 feet of water takes the biggest springtime crappies at Reelfoot.
Once renowned for the outstanding size of its crappies, this massive reservoir has experienced a slight downturn in trophy production. "Two-pounders aren't as plentiful as they used to be because of the fishing pressure," guide Richard Williams says. "Until 5 or 6 years ago, people started fishing in spring and when the spawn was over they didn't go out again until the next spring. Now they're fishing all winter long and catching the bigger fish then."
In spring, Williams' clients now catch a 30-fish limit that typically includes two to four crappies in the 2-pound range. The best tactics for prespawn slabs are longlining and spider-rigging.
John Neporadny Jr., Lake Ozark, Missouri, is a freelance writer and contributor to In-Fisherman publications.