September 07, 2017
By Dan Johnson
Choosing the top states for trophy crappies is a tough task, because the continent is currently blessed with an abundance of A-list crappie waters. Most states offer opportunities for slabs — if you know where to look. The trick, often enough, is finding either lightly pressured fisheries, where crappies wax fat over time, or booming big-water Meccas where the system's sheer productivity provides mind-numbing numbers of panzer-class crappies.
To narrow our options, we scoured recent records of the In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards Program, which recognizes readers nationwide for outstanding catches, for trends in trophies. We consulted a variety of other sources as well. From these findings we offer, in alphabetical order, a rundown of top contenders for the crown of America's Top State For Giant Crappies. And thanks to a couple of fine border fisheries, we actually doubled down and threw in an extra pick, for a total of 11 great states for crappie fishing — but who's counting?
Don't see your home waters on the list? Don't worry. If you and a few fishing buddies enter behemoths for the 2018 Master Angler Awards, who knows, you might nudge the needle enough for your state to make the cut among next year's finalists of where to find crappie--giant crappie!
Sunshine State crappie fans have no shortage of choices when it comes to slab-producing fishing holes. The short list of hotspots includes the St. Johns River, Harris Chain, lakes Harney, Kississimmee, Monroe, Rodman, Talquin, Toho, and Orange, but you could spend a lifetime exploring all the options. Contacts: Guide Steve Niemoeller (St. Johns), 386/846-2861, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com; Guide Mike Baker (Orange Lake) 352/625-1180, thecrappiefisherman.com; Florida FWC
The Land of Lincoln is also home to stellar crappie fishing, with lakes such as Kinkaid, Rend, and Shelbyville routinely ranking high among the country's finest fisheries. But what finally pushed it onto our list were two straight 17-inch-plus entries in the Master Angler Awards Program. In fact, the state topped Region 1 and national entries in 2011 and 2012 with 17½- and 17-inch giants. The largest of those fish was from Crystal Lake, the other from a farm pond. Contacts: Guide Clint Taylor (Rend Lake), 618/731-0323, crappieextreme.com; Guide Steve Welch (Shelbyville), 217/762-7257, lakeshelbyvilleguide.com.
Our selection of the Hawkeye State might surprise a few anglers, but In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards don't lie. Already in 2013, the state broke the 17-inch barrier with a gravel pit slab landed by Austin Hronich of West Des Moines, and since 2010 it has produced at least one award winner topping 16 inches each season, and twice has seen multiple 16-inchers recognized. Almost invariably, these fish are credited to a "farm pond" or "pit," highlighting the potential of the state's small waters. However, a number of natural and manmade lakes offer excellent opportunities, as do oxbows and backwaters of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Contacts: Iowa Department of Natural Resources, iowadnr.gov; Guide Kevan Paul (Clear Lake, Storm Lake, Spirit Lake, East and West Okoboji), 641/529-2359
As a bonus to readers and in hopes of preventing a border battle over the fabled "Crappie Capital" of Kentucky Lake, I lumped these two states together for this entry. Both are worthy of top 10 status in their own rights, but together the options are nothing short of phenomenal. Besides Kentucky Lake, which is primed to produce big catches of quality-sized fish, including slabs topping 2 pounds, Tennessee offers the stump-laden fishery of legendary Reelfoot Lake, plus Pickwick, Chickamauga, Douglas, and numerous other gems. Kentucky's assets include Cumberland and Green River Lake. Did I mention that the states also share Barkley? Crappie fans could do far worse than plan a trip tag-teaming these two states' fine fisheries. Contacts: (Kentucky Lake) Guide Randy Kuhens, 270/703-6133, kicknbass.net; Guide Steve McCadams stevemccadams.com
Upper Red Lake's fishery may be a shadow of its former self, but other big waters including Mille Lacs and Rainy lakes, along with the St. Louis and Mississippi rivers, to name a few, more than take up the slack. Plus, countless smaller natural lakes across the state offer solid chances for 1½- to 2-pound-plus fish for anglers willing to tap systems with healthy numbers of older year classes, and avoid the crowds when possible. Need proof? Troy Smutka's Lake Waconia 16½-incher (pictured) was the second-largest crappie entry among all 2012 Master Angler entries. Contacts: Guide Dick "The Griz" Grzywinski, 651/771-6231, fishwiththegriz.com; Guide Jeff Sundin, 218/246-2375, jeffsundin.com.
Home to the unrivaled "Arc of Slabs," which includes the hallowed waters of Arkabutla, Enid, Grenada, and Sardis, the Magnolia State could easily argue for top honors on the list. Perhaps nowhere else on the planet do anglers have a better shot at catching big white crappies, including giants topping 3 pounds. In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange notes the fishing is good year-round, but peak fishing starts in mid- to late March for prespawn giants. Contacts: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.
In-Fisherman friend and crappie guru Todd Huckabee's home lake — Eufaula — is among the best on the planet for slabs topping 2 and even 3 pounds. But the lake's shallow, muddy, fertile waters are only part of the reason the Sooner State claimed a spot on our list. Fort Gibson is another, given its ability to kick out 2-pound-plus white crappies, especially when riding a year-class boom. Grand, Kaw, and Oologah are standouts, too. Contacts: (Eufaula) Guide Todd Huckabee, toddhuckabee.net; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528; Larry's Bait and Tackle (Fort Gibson), 918/478-3225; Guide Rocky Thomas, Jr. (Grand, Oologah) 918/837-0490, thomasguideservice.com.
Don't let the world-class bass fishing fool you, the Lone Star State is a stellar destination for oversize crappies as well. Phenomenal Lake Fork is a prime example. Numbers of slabs topping 2 pounds are possible in a variety of seasons and settings, from the early summer brushpile bite to the late-season deep-water blitz near the dam. Other top options include Cedar Creek, Choke Canyon, the Concho River, Falcon, Lake O' the Pines, O.H. Ivie, Richland Chambers, and the border waters of Toledo Bend — just to name a few. Contacts: Guide Ivan Martin (Lake Fork), 918/260-7743; Guide Terri Moon (Lake Fork), 903/383-7773; Texas Parks and Wildlife, 800/792-1112, tpwd.state.tx.us.
9. Virginia/North Carolina
Like Kentucky and Tennessee, these two states share one of the world's top crappie lakes. In this case, it's Kerr Lake, also affectionately known as Buggs Island. This border treasure offers amazing numbers of fish to 1¾ pounds, along with an honest shot at 2- and 3-pound trophies. Other Virginia standouts include Anna and Briery Creek, while North Carolina highlights include Falls of Neuse, High Rock, and Jordan, among other fine waters. Contacts: (Kerr Lake) Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381; Guide Jerry Neely (High Rock), 704/678-1043.