Spring Spots For Natural State Slabs

We asked the experts at the AGFC what the crappie fishing's going to be like for 2007 -- and we think you'll like the answer. (March 2007)

Photo By Ron Sinfelt

You know, life ought to be simple for crappie fishermen in the great state of Arkansas during the spring. The decisions seem easy enough. For example, the best time to go crappie fishing is . . . well -- whenever you have the time. And then you start either shallow near the shore or deeper into structure. You choose cane poles or spinning gear, minnows or jigs, and peanut oil or vegetable oil for frying your catch. You elect whether to fish alone or with a buddy, and, more important, whether that buddy gets to see where you've been sinking your Christmas trees the past few years.

But when it comes to where to go fishing? That's different. Like all sunfish, crappie tend to get around. They're in rivers, creeks, ponds and vast reservoirs. This year's fishing depends on each fishery's ups and downs in recent years, including water levels, forage, the proficiency of anglers and other predators and countless other variables.

To help with the difficult question of where to catch your first full stringer this spring, we've rounded up 11 folks who know our crappie waters inside out: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fisheries biologists from each of the state's fisheries districts. Here's their advice for springtime crappie action in the Natural State.

DISTRICT 1: NORTHWEST

This is one of the state's smaller fisheries districts, but Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties offer some fine fishing.

"Beaver is the main lake in this district, and you need to go up in the creek arms and feeders and fish any structure you see to catch crappie," said assistant fisheries biologist Stephen Brown.

Eastern Benton County gets the largest share of Beaver Lake, but Carroll County also has a sizeable piece, and the lake even trickles into Washington County. Public accesses are numerous in all three counties.

Lake Bob Kidd in Washington County has historically been a good crappie lake, Brown reported. "The population isn't really dense right now," he said, "but there are some large fish."

Try fishing the standing timber in the middle of the 200-acre lake or deeper waters on the north side. Access is off U.S. Highway 62 or state Highway 156 near Prairie Grove.

For larger numbers of more average-sized fish, Brown recommends 194-acre Lake Fayetteville, which, he said, always harbors a really dense crappie population but feels relatively little fishing pressure. The city-owned lake is within a family-friendly park on the northern edge of Fayetteville.

DISTRICT 2: NORTH-CENTRAL

Biologist Ken Shirley, who has worked in Boone, Marion, Baxter, Searcy, Stone, Izard and Independence counties for many years, picks Bull Shoals and Norfork Lake as his district's top crappie destinations for 2007.

"They both had a huge spawn in 2002, and there are some huge fish in both lakes, but they're getting up there in age now," he said. "The spring of 2007 will be a great year for big crappie on both lakes."

A long and narrow lake, Bull Shoals covers 45,500 acres in Boone, Marion and Baxter counties. Norfork is also long, narrow and full of feeder creeks. The lake covers 22,000 acres, mostly in Baxter County. Because Bull Shoals, Norfork and Table Rock Lake cross into Missouri, consider the $10 White River border lakes license, which enables you to fish in Missouri without a Missouri non-resident license.

DISTRICT 3: NORTHEAST

You'll find an interesting variety of fishing in Fulton, Sharp, Randolph, Clay, Lawrence, Greene, Craighead, Jackson, Poinsett and Mississippi counties. "The crappie fishing in this district is driven more by numbers than by size," said biologist Sam Barkley from his Jonesboro office. "Lake Poinsett has a fairly good crappie population, along with Lake Charles."

Both lakes adjoin namesake state parks. Poinsett's 600 acres lie just off state Highway 163 in south-central Poinsett County, while you'll find 650-acre Charles, which has a 10-inch length limit on crappie, off state Highway 25 in central Lawrence County. Target standing timber and any flooded brush in both lakes.

Shallow Lake Ashbaugh nestles against the Dave Donaldson/Black River WMA in northwest Greene County. "(It) has an emerging population of 3/4-pound crappie," Barkley said.

The district's hottest spot may be at the end of the handicapped-accessible pier on Lake Hogue in western Poinsett County. "When water's running through the pipe between the large and small sections of the lake, they really catch 'em," Barkley noted.

Oxbow lakes along the Black River and Mississippi River can produce astounding numbers of barn-door crappie. Barkley suggests that you approach them from public boat ramps rather than weave your way through private property -- unless you know someone who's very familiar with these areas.

DISTRICT 4: EAST-CENTRAL

This Grand Prairie region includes Woodruff, Cross, Crittenden, St. Francis, Lonoke, Prairie, Monroe, Lee, Arkansas and Phillips counties.

"In years past, one of the better crappie fisheries has been Lake Greenlee here in Brinkley," said biologist Jeff Farwick. "It has lots of good-quality fish. Two years ago, we did a one-day creel survey. The average crappie was 11 inches, and there were three better than 2 pounds. At least half of the boat anglers had a 30-fish limit."

Greenlee covers 320 acres on the eastern edge of Brinkley in Monroe County.

Farwick also recommends 420-acre Storm Creek Lake, atop Crowley's Ridge in the St. Francis National Forest. The soil there has a tendency to erode quickly, enriching the lake with nutrients and causing trees to fall, creating good crappie habitat. The lake is just off the St. Francis Scenic Byway (Forest Service Road 1900) in northeastern Phillips County.

Crittenden County's Horseshoe Lake is among our best crappie waters, but it was 5 to 7 feet low during our interview, so Farwick was wishing for replenishing rains over the winter.

DISTRICT 5: SOUTHEAST

This rambling district extends into Jefferson County and then heads southward into Cleveland, Lincoln, Desha, Bradley, Drew, Ashley and Chicot counties. "We have a few lakes that are always good for crappie," said biologist Diana Andrews.

Perhaps the most reliable is Grand Lak

e in southeastern Chicot County. "A lot of people fish around piers and docks and up into Cornfield Chute and Meyers' Chute, which were tributaries before it became an oxbow lake," said Andrews.

Piers, docks and a few cypress trees on the edges provide most of the visible cover.

Morgan Point Bendway Lake was cut off from the Arkansas River in northern Desha County during construction of Dam 2 in the 1960s. Spring crappie fishing is a bit unpredictable there, but check out deep holes and underwater fish attractors that are marked with buoys during the winter, Andrews said.

At 5,300 acres, Lake Chicot is our largest natural lake, but according to Andrews, its crappie population isn't the equal of that at Grand. However, the fish you catch on Chicot will probably be larger.

Lake Monticello is better in the winter, but anglers cannot cull then, because few of the fish survive the trip from deep water to the surface. Check AGFC regulations before fishing there.

DISTRICT 6: SOUTH-CENTRAL

Better known for deer hunting than for fishing, District 6 includes Dallas, Ouachita, Calhoun, Columbia and Union counties. Assistant biologist Jason Olive recommended Tri-County Lake, near the intersection of Dallas, Calhoun and Cleveland counties, for crappie fishing. "When we sample it, we're always amazed at how many crappie there are," he said.

The stump-filled 280-acre lake is heavily pressured, but continues to produce. It's located off state Highway 205, three miles southeast of Fordyce.

White Oak Lake, which state Highway 387 splits into a 1,031-acre upper lake and 1,645-acre lower lake, straddles the Ouachita-Nevada county line. "Lower White Oak can be a kind of boom or bust lake for crappie, but in 2005 it was phenomenal," Olive recalled. "There was a good year-class of 9- to 11-inch fish then. The anglers took a lot of them out of there, but there'll still be a lot of 11- to 14-inch fish there this year."

DISTRICT 7: SOUTHWEST

Howard, Pike, Sevier, Little River, Hempstead, Nevada, Miller and Lafayette counties cover this distinctive region, where you'll find two of the state's top crappie factories. "Lake Erling is awfully good," said biologist Les Claybrook. "It's really fertile, with lots of structure and lots of good broodstock. Anglers catch a bunch of crappie, but they always leave enough, too."

Erling adjoins the eastern edge of the Lafayette County WMA. "In the spring, just look for buck brush along the shore and up the creek channels," suggested Claybrook. A group of dead cypress trees right out of the boat ramp in IP Park is another hotspot, especially in the winter.

Hempstead, Howard, Little River and Sevier counties all get a share of 29,260-acre Millwood Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir that's so woody that it requires boat channels -- but that also means there's plenty of crappie cover, too. "Concentrate on the main river channels," said Claybrook.

Last winter, Claybrook was hoping for lots of rain to help refill southern Hempstead County's Bois d'Arc Lake, which has been essentially unavailable to sportsmen since it was drawn down in 2000 for what turned into a complete overhaul. Restocked with Florida-strain bass, crappie and other game fish, it's just like a box of Jell-O: All it needs for something good to happen are some water and some time.

DISTRICT 8: WEST-CENTRAL

The Ouachita Mountains strongly influence this district, which includes Polk, Montgomery, Garland, Saline, Hot Spring, Grant and Clark counties. "In this district, you're really dealing with the big Corps lakes that can be hit-and-miss," said biologist Stuart Wooldridge. "They're generally not as productive for crappie as the smaller, more turbid Game and Fish Commission lakes, which get more plankton and nutrients from the timber and soil."

In southwest Grant County you'll find 350-acre Cox Creek Lake. "It's a small lake, but it has some faithful fishermen that'll catch 10-fish stringers of 10- to 12-inch crappie," Wooldridge said.

And here's a crappie hole you probably haven't read about in a magazine for a while, if ever: the Saline River in Grant and Cleveland counties. "At times, it has some nice crappie," Wooldridge said. "Moving water can be a bit intimidating, but it has some brushtops and fallen trees. It also has some areas where you have to watch for logs. And" -- here he laughed -- "there are plenty of mosquitoes, too.

"As for Ouachita, DeGray or Hamilton, there's not one that just jumps out at you for crappie fishing (in 2007). People who know them do real well. Just go around to the campgrounds and talk to the people who come there to fish year after year. They know where to fish."

DISTRICT 9: UPPER WEST

The upper reaches of the Arkansas River and many of its tributaries influence District 9, which covers Newton, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Pope, Sebastian, Logan, Scott and Yell counties.

"There are lots of crappie in Lake Dardanelle," said biologist Bob Limbird. "We had a mild winter, and the shad didn't die off like they sometimes do, so there's a tremendous amount of forage there. You might catch the bigger crappie (in this district) there."

You'll find plenty of public accesses to Dardanelle, a pool on the Arkansas River, in Johnson, Logan and Pope counties.

Blue Mountain Lake covers 2,900 acres in southeastern Logan County and northwestern Yell County along state Highway 10. "It's had low water for the last seven years, so the year-classes of crappie are going to be down somewhat, but it's still a good lake," Limbird said.

Those who like Sugarloaf Lake in southern Sebastian County shouldn't expect much this year. "We drew it down last year, and it hasn't refilled," Limbird said.

DISTRICT 10:

UPPER CENTRAL

This six-county district includes Van Buren, Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, White and Perry counties -- and a mix of fine crappie lakes. Biologist Tom Bly unhesitatingly recommended Harris Brake Lake, Overcup Lake and Lake Conway.

For several years, the AGFC has worked with a citizens' committee to improve 1,300-acre Harris Brake Lake near Perryville in Perry County. "Something's working at Harris Brake," Bly said. "The shad are good, the crappie are good and bass are numerous."

The lake's 9-inch minimum length limit for crappie seems to be working, too. Bly expects anglers to catch plenty of crappie, including some slabs, this year.

Overcup, a 1,205-acre AGFC lake, lies just north of Morrilton in Conway County. Newcomers can target manmade brushpiles marked by signs or fish old stumps that dot the lake. Access for shorebound or disabled anglers is especially good here: it features two wheelchair-accessible fishing piers near Overcup Landing, a mile-long dam and an earthen jetty on the southern shore.

The

AGFC drew down 6,700-acre Lake Conway for several months last year for repairs, and it began refilling with rainwater in December. It may not regain normal water levels by spring, but that may not be a deal-breaker. "It has a lot of fish in it, and it's had heavy spawns," Bly said. "We also stock crappie there every year to fill in between some of the up and down cycles that fish populations go through."

Greers Ferry, a 33,000-acre Corps reservoir in Cleburne County, is great for many species, but it's not the crappie factory that many smaller AGFC lakes are. However, if you look for water with some color in it and fish your way up tributaries, you'll find some crappie.

"Lots of people troll just off the timber that lines major creeks and tributaries," Bly said. Numbering among those tributaries is the South Fork of the Little Red River.

PULASKI COUNTY

Almost 400,000 Central Arkansans enjoy good-tasting municipal water from 8,900-acre Lake Maumelle; the crappie seem to like it, too.

"Not that many people out there target them," said biologist Clifton Jackson, who also heads the AGFC's statewide Family and Community Fishing program. He noted that the crappie in Maumelle are still sizeable, even though you won't run into large concentrations of papermouths there.

Use electronics and maps to find old farm ponds, homesteads and roadbeds that were inundated when Maumelle was impounded. A few folks make illegal fish attractors by sneaking brush and Christmas trees into the lake, according both to Jackson and to Roger Nesuda, who operates the lake's only marina and boat ramp. For special regulations, see the Central Arkansas Water utility's Web site, CarKW.com

Jackson pointed to the Willow Beach area on the Arkansas River as promising, describing it as "a big backwater with slow-moving water that has some nice crappie." Reach it off state Highway 165 in eastern Pulaski County.

Jackson also suggests Clear Lake, a privately-owned oxbow on the Pulaski-Lonoke county line, which he estimates at 80 to 100 acres. "It's a pay lake with great reproduction and the numbers of fish are strong," he said. The cost is a few dollars per person.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

"The Angler's Guide to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Lakes," a packet that provides details and basic maps of all AGFC-owned lakes, is only $3. Call 1-800-364-GAME with credit card in hand, or use good old-fashioned cash at your nearest AGFC office.

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