Papermouth Powerhouses Of The Cotton State

You're apt to to find at least some crappie action wherever you wet a hook in Alabama's reservoirs. Detailed here are the lakes that should offer the best of that action this year. (April 2006)

In recent years, the state of Alabama has managed intensively for crappie in all its reservoirs. Also, today more than ever before in our state's history, we know the condition, the sizes and the numbers of crappie in each reservoir.

Fisheries biologists test these reservoirs each spring and fall to determine the size of the crappie spawn and the number of recruited fish (those that survive). Using these tests, biologists for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Fisheries Section can predict more accurately how good the fishing is likely to be in spring and fall for years to come. Biologists are anticipating that Alabama's 2006 spring will bring plenty of pole-bending action. Let's look at some of Alabama's more popular papermouth lakes and see what the biologists responsible for testing and recording the crappie in these lakes are predicting.

LAKE EUFAULA

Some crappie in Lake Eufaula in southeast Alabama may die of old age, rather than on anglers' stringers!

"During the third week in October 2005, we sampled the population in the lake and found that crappie were really abundant in Lake Eufaula. We had one of the highest catch rates we've had in Eufaula in a good while," explained Mike Newman, supervisor for District VI of Alabama's Fisheries Section. "We learned that the average crappie weighed from 1/2- to 3/4-pound. Although there are some larger crappie in the 1 1/2- to 2-pound range, we were really surprised at both the age and the number we found."

Lake Eufaula has experienced a boom in its shad population.

"The shad had some really good spawns last summer, so the crappie have plenty to eat," Newman assured.

An age-and-growth study done by Auburn University and followed up by the DCNR Fisheries Section indicated that some of the oldest crappie in the state might live in Lake Eufaula.

"The crappie population in the lake is under-harvested," Newman pointed out. "We've seen crappie at 8 to 10 years of age there, which is unheard of in most populations."

On most lakes, biologists consider a crappie old at 5 or 6 years.

That fact is rather surprising since Lake Eufaula, unlike most other large Alabama reservoirs, has no minimum size limit on the crappie you can keep.

Anglers at Lake Eufaula seem to fish hard for crappie in the spring, but stop targeting the species later in the year.

"We really need some fishermen to come to Eufaula and catch these leftover crappie," Newman added.

Another cause for the abundance of slabs in Eufaula is the habitat the impoundment provides. Plenty of fairly shallow water is available off the old Chattahoochee River channel. And the water offers good fertility and plenty of cover, and adequate spawning areas.

"We have quite a bit of downed timber, fallen trees and stumps in Eufaula," Newman agreed. "When you combine really good habitat with a large forage base, this lake will produce large numbers of crappie."

MILLERS FERRY

"Millers Ferry is the best crappie-fishing reservoir in our district," explained Dave Armstrong, the Fisheries Supervisor for District V in the central section of Alabama. "The lake has very high fertility, stable water levels and numbers of flats on which the crappie can spawn."

Millers Ferry Lake also has plenty of vegetation and cover to go with the spawning flats. Between that habitat and the forage base the fertility provides, this impoundment offers everything a crappie needs to get fat and grow fast.

"We've had some pretty good spawns the past couple of years at Millers Ferry, including last spring's," Armstrong reported. "I think this spring's catches will be above average."

The average-size crappie harvested at Millers Ferry measure 10 1/2- to 11-inches long. As is the case in most lakes, anglers at Millers Ferry fish for crappie primarily in the spring. Yet you can catch big limits of papermouths during August, November and February from this reservoir. Millers Ferry, one of my favorite places to fish crappie, consistently produces big ones throughout the year.

Through the years, the creek channels running out to the main river have been the most dependable places to find crappie. During the summer months, when the weather heats up and current is coming through the lake, you may locate numbers of bigger fish holding just under the lips of the breaks on the channels. Millers Ferry has so many good-looking backwaters that most crappie fishermen overlook the potential of the creek channels during the spawn in spring and then lose interest in the species during the summer months.

"You can expect your average crappie to weigh about 2/3-pound there," Armstrong noted. "We've collected some crappie measuring 13 inches and longer from the lake. In fact, I had one fellow call and tell me he caught a 16-inch crappie, which is really big."

Due to its fertility, this lake always had an abundant supply of shad. But about a half dozen years back, the population took a downturn. In the last two to three years, the shad population has rebounded, giving crappie plenty to eat now and promising more good fishing ahead.

WEISS LAKE

How can we possibly have a crappie-fishing roundup without mentioning the Crappie Capital of the World? For years, Weiss Lake on the Alabama/Georgia border has claimed the reputation as Alabama's tops and one of the most productive lakes in the nation for this species. Crappie fishermen from all over the country flock to this Mecca of papermouth action. And for good reason!

This extremely fertile reservoir has inflows from three different river systems and always has consistently produced big slabs.

"Last spring and fall were really good for crappie fishing," reported Dan Catchings, the District II fisheries supervisor. "Last year's spawn was moderate, but we aren't too concerned. Weiss had a weak spawn in 2004, but a fairly strong spawn in 2003. As long as the lake has a good spawn every two to three years, there are usually enough keepable crappie in the lake to more than satisfy the fishermen coming there."

In 2005, as Catchings noted, anglers at Weiss Lake had very good seasons, and he forecasts another good spring in 2006.

"One of the reasons I can predict a good spring for Weiss Lake is because the lake produced some slow-growing crappie in 2001," the fisheries manager emphasized. "Although a lot of crappie were spawned in 2001, these fish seem to be taking forever to reach the minimum 10-inch length. This year, all those crappie will be more than 10 inches, and some will be up to 11 inches in length."

That heavy nutrient load coming into the impoundment from the multiple rivers supports a heavy shad base for crappie to feed on.

Some Weiss Lake crappie fishermen have expressed concern about the abundance of naturally reproducing saltwater stripers in the reservoir. Their fear is these large fish may be preying on crappie as well as baitfish.

"We checked the stripers during the third week of October 2005," Catchings explained, "and found they were reproducing in the upper Coosa River on the Georgia side of the lake. Food studies we've done indicate that the stripers aren't feeding on the crappie. Stripers feed on shad. Three years ago, Jeff Slipke produced a scientific paper that found no evidence stripers had any negative impact on the crappie at Weiss."

DEMOPOLIS & ALICEVILLE

Jay Haffner, the fisheries biologist for District III in west Alabama, thinks lakes Demopolis and Aliceville are the best in his region. In fact, he goes even further: "I'd say that these two lakes are two of the best in the state."

Haffner pointed to flood waters that inundate both impoundments as reasons for their prolific crappie fisheries. Aliceville Lake and Lake Demopolis flood almost every fall and winter, and the massive influx of water causes them to spill over their banks and into the rich hardwood bottoms along the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Those newly created shallows help to stimulate crappie production and growth.

"Traditionally, the best crappie lakes are ones that flood during the winter months," Haffner reaffirmed. "These lakes historically produce a tremendous number of crappie."

Even when they are at normal levels, both Aliceville and Demopolis have an abundance of backwater regions that hold numerous creek and river channels. There's also plenty of good cover like fallen trees, stumps and grass. Because these lakes in the west-central section of the state have smaller populations living near them, angling pressure is lighter as well.

You'll find some of the best crappie fishing from Boligee south to Demopolis on the Tombigbee River. Many of the little pockets, creeks and sloughs coming off the main river contain loads of crappie. Demopolis also has some large bays, numerous backwaters, oxbows and dead-river areas that hold crappie.

OTHER OPTIONS

Well, there you have it, all the glamour spots for crappie fishing throughout the state. But don't assume that these are the only places for papermouth action in the coming year. Places like the Mobile Delta, Lake Purdy just outside of Birmingham, Pickwick Lake in the northwestern corner of the state, and Guntersville Lake on the Tennessee River are all great options. Each gives up number of the fish and some real slabs as well. In fact, lakes, rivers and streams in Alabama that don't host good populations of crappie are the rarities. Any place you can locate an eddy hole, a deep pool, a tree that has fallen into the water or a stump just under the water, you can expect to find crappie and plenty of them.

Some really fine crappie action can even be found in some of the state's smaller ponds in the State Fishing Lake System. A bonus of targeting these waters is that, like all waters of less than 500 acres in Bama, they are exempt from the 9-inch minimum-size limit for crappie, unless posted otherwise. And as most anglers know, fried 8-inch crappie taste just as good as their larger cousins!

This spring, get a bucket of minnows or a packet of crappie jigs, pick your favorite lake and join the action. The Cotton State has plenty of good waters and papermouths just waiting on you.

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