Cotton State Crappie Prospects

Finding a place to fish for crappie in Bama is not hard -- the papermouths are virtually everywhere! But some lakes do provide better options for creeling some slabs. Here are a few of those waters.

Photo By Michael Skinner

If recent surveys by Alabama's Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries are any indication, the Cotton State should once again provide some above-average crappie action this year. From large lakes such as Guntersville and Eufaula to some of the small state fishing lakes, the news is good regarding crappie.

At Eufaula, for instance, the numbers are expected to be down a bit from recent years, but the size of the crappie should be rather stout, according to DWFF fisheries biologist Ken Weathers. He said the crappie caught in 2005 should average 10 to 12 inches and weigh roughly 3/4 pound.

"It looks as though there should be a lot of good-sized crappie on Eufaula in 2005," Weathers assured.

Anglers visiting 100-acre Dallas County Fishing Lake this year should expect about the same thing as well: great size but smaller numbers. Despite the lake's diminutive size, biologist Jay Haffner said slabs of a pound or so should be common, which to many anglers will be a welcome change from the myriad 7- and 8-inch fish the lake was popular for over the last two years.

"If you are looking for big fish, Dallas County Lake is the place for you," Haffner emphasized. "But if you want numbers, it is not the place to go."

Whether you're hunting size or quantity this year, several lakes in the state should provide more than ample opportunity to find one or both.

ON THE REBOUND

Crappie numbers are notoriously fickle, often changing dramatically from one year to the next. One year a lake can be brimming with small crappie, and then the next year yields large numbers of fat, healthy fish. The key in this equation is recruitment -- getting a class of fish to last through late fall and winter, increasing the likelihood that they can contribute to the overall fishery the following spring. It is still unclear just what factors most impact recruitment, but issues such as food availability are currently being studied, according to Nick Nichols, assistant chief of fisheries for the Alabama DWFF.

"Nobody really has a good answer on why the population goes up and down," he said. "But it's something that goes on at the fingerling level."

Though the culprit is still unknown, Nichols said his office is currently looking at several ways to offset fluctuating recruitment. One way being considered is closely monitoring reservoirs in hopes of gaining better predictive data, and they are also considering a stocking program, which, he admits, could be a daunting task. Both the size and number of Alabama lakes make stocking a very difficult proposition.

"We are looking at it, but it's not a full-blown effort yet," said Nichols, adding that fisheries managers have worked with a private group to track released crappie on Weiss Lake to examine recruitment.

With the yeoman efforts undertaken by the state to improve the crappie population, it is little wonder that lakes across the state should provide excellent fishing this year. Among those lakes are Guntersville, Weiss and Neely Henry in the northwest portion of the state and Eufaula and Dale County Public Fishing Lake in the southwest corner.

NORTHWEST ALABAMA

A consistent strong performer for crappie, Weiss Lake should not disappoint anglers this year. Several good spawns means the lake will once again be good for crappie in 2005. A fertile lake with plenty of shallow cover, such as lay-downs, Weiss is by and large a crappie angler's dream.

Excellent recruitment in 2001 and 2003 should lead to at least a measure of stability at the lake. In spring, crappie on Weiss are in water 2 to 3 feet in depth, where they are easy targets for a well-placed live minnow. Later in the year, look for the fish along bridge pilings and riprap.

If Weiss Lake does not fit into your angling plans, a great alternate is Neely Henry, an impoundment just downriver on the Coosa River. Though relatively small in size at 11,200 acres, this lake boasts a population of large crappie, according to fisheries biologist Dan Catchings. He said that up to a third of the fish on this lake are over 10 inches, making them ideal for anglers wanting large crappie.

Being part of a riverine system, the crappie in Neely Henry should not be at all difficult to find, but finding large schools consistently is another matter altogether. Fish shallow areas having wood cover in the spring; then in summer start fishing the river channel ledges that have brush cover present. The fish inhabit these areas just about all year.

"It's a great alternative to Weiss," Catchings said of Neely Henry.

Another strong selection for crappie in this part of the state is Lake Guntersville, a reservoir far better known for the large bass that come from its waters than it is for any other fish. But the lake also harbors an excellent population of crappie. An electro-fishing survey done by Alabama fisheries biologists in spring 2004 turned up plenty of large fish, with some 70 percent being above 10 inches, according to Catchings.

"Some of the fish were over 12 inches," he added. "The fish are nice-sized on Guntersville right now."

Great locations for finding a mess of crappie this month on the 69,000-acre reservoir are the large tributaries joining the lake, such as Browns, Town, Mud and Roseberry creeks. This month look for the crappie to move shallow after a warm spell, which should situate the fish near wood cover at the backs of creeks. A well-placed minnow beneath a slip-cork should be the ticket for a quick limit.

In late spring and on into summer, fish bridge pilings, riprap and boat docks with an assortment of marabou jigs and small plastic grubs for the best success.

CENTRAL ALABAMA

In central Alabama, two obvious choices for excellent crappie stick out as the best among many. The bodies of water are Dannelly Reservoir and Dallas County Lake.

Located just southwest of Montgomery, Dannelly Reservoir -- better known as Millers Ferry -- is a 17,200-acre impoundment with a host of great habitats and a strong crappie population. Aside from the numerous brushpiles, which have been strategically placed throughout the body of water, it also has well-defined creek channels, numerous lay-downs and a solid forage base consisting of threadfin and gizzard shad, sa

id Joe Zolczynski, fisheries biologist for the lake.

While fishing should still be good this year, Zolczynski looks for the lake to yield mediocre numbers and size of crappie this year compared to previous years.

"We expect to see a decline, where anglers will see average catches of average-size fish," he forecasted.

Still, that doesn't mean anglers should forgo the lake. Quite the contrary, in fact. Millers Ferry, which is a relatively unpressured lake, still has a great population of both black and white crappie. As the water warms in the spring, crappie can be caught in shallower water farther up creeks such as Chilatchee, Bogue Chitto, Pine Barren and Oak, said Zolczynski. Most anglers use shiners, but white and yellow jigs are a great option as well.

"Dannelly offers a wide span of crappie seasons," the biologist said. "You can catch crappie there just about any time of the year."

The axiom "Good things come in small packages" was obviously created with Dallas County Lake in mind. It is widely recognized as a very good fishery for crappie. But in a way, the lake has been a victim of its own success. The great crappie fishing that has taken place there over the last few years has caused overall papermouth numbers to dwindle.

Therefore, Haffner said, the numbers are down, but the size of the remaining fish should be up considerably, with 1-pounders being the average. Anglers looking to pluck some of these large crappie should start out in spring fishing the numerous trees that have fallen in the water along the shore. These locations are ideal for spawning. Other great locations to try include the main creek channel meandering through the lake and the plentiful brushpiles, which are marked with buoys.

SOUTHEAST ALABAMA

In the southeast portion of the Cotton State, anglers have a veritable smorgasbord of options to choose from for excellent crappie fishing. With reservoirs such as Eufaula, along with public fishing lakes such as those in Crenshaw, Dale and Pike counties, it's unlikely that your itch to catch crappie cannot be satisfied here.

As noted earlier, the most recent sample shows that numbers are likely to be down at Eufaula this year, but fish over 12 inches should be common. But one of the things that makes this 45,180-acre lake so great for crappie is that it receives little angling pressure for the species.

"And really you can catch crappie at Eufaula just about anytime of the year, if you target them," said Ken Weathers.

In spring most anglers on the lake reach the creel limit of 30 fish by trolling minnows and jigs over the lake's abundant brushpiles. Look for areas with water anywhere from 2 to 6 feet in depth. As summer settles in, move to creek channel ledges having brush present in water 20 to 40 feet in depth.

Another southeast Alabama hotspot is Crenshaw County Lake, located near Luverne. It should also be quite good for crappie this year. Though it gets quite a bit of pressure, the 55-acre lake has a good number of 1/2- pound crappie.

The lake really does have all the ingredients needed for good crappie fishing. First, it's actively managed, with biologists liming and fertilizing it to keep both prey and predator numbers balanced. Also, it features a large forage base and lots of wood cover.

The main fishing pier at the lake should be the place you start when fishing the lake. The pier has a fish feeder that serves to attract baitfish and crappie. There are also recycled Christmas trees placed all around the pier.

Other high-percentage locations to try are main-lake points, most of which have a plethora of cover on them. For more information regarding Crenshaw County Lake, call (334) 335-3999.

Dale County Lake is definitely no secret to crappie anglers in this portion of the state. The 90-acre lake, located in Ozark, routinely gives up good numbers of crappie in the 1/4- to 1/2-pound range. According to catch records supplied by the state, in August of 2004 there were 2,900 weighing a collective 900 pounds caught from the lake.

Creel & Size Limits


The statewide total creel limit for black or white crappie is 30 fish per day per angler, either individually or in the aggregate. All crappie harvested must be 9 inches long.

Exceptions to these rules are found on small State Fishing lakes, which have individually posted creel and size limits.

Also, there is no minimum size limits on the waters and impoundments on the Chattahoochee River, on Big Bear Lake in Franklin County, or on Lake Jackson in Florida.

Weiss Lake has a special 10-inch minimum size limit for crappie.

 

Most anglers catch crappie along the edges of the lake, where there is an abundance of cover such as fallen trees and brushpiles. Other very good spots to try include the dam and any brush out from shore.

"They've sunk a lot of lay-downs and Christmas trees for cover," Weathers added.

For more information regarding Dale County Lake, call (334) 744-0588.

Located just 45 miles southwest of Troy, Pike County Lake is well managed for crappie and consistently yields some good-sized fish. Expect to find the crappie there in the 3/4-pound range, with most of the fish being 9 to 10 inches. Unlike some of the other lakes, this one does get a fair amount of pressure, but that does not seem to detrimentally impact the fishing.

One of the best places to start fishing for crappie in spring on the lake is the area near the fishing pier, which is lined with an abundance of brush. Later in the year, however, fish small jigs and minnows along points or in areas with at least 10 feet of water and having some brush.

For more information regarding Pike County Lake, call (334) 484-9610.

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