Natural State Crappie Forecast

Craving a little crappie? We've compiled a roster of 12 topnotch crappie waters guaranteed to make you slab-happy in 2008.(March 2008).

Photo by Keith Sutton

If any time's right for catching crappie in Arkansas, early spring has to be about as right as it gets. Romance stirring in their blood, big slabs move shallow then, and it's there that anglers will find them.

But even the best lakes have cyclical crappie populations. Lakes go through a few years of relatively low yields only to bounce back with strong year-classes of fish. It's boom or bust when it comes to crappie, and a lake full of fish one year can offer only poor prospects the next.

Predicting a good crappie bite is challenging -- but it can be done. Here's a look at the Natural State's best crappie waters for 2008.

NIMROD LAKE

"Nimrod is a spring fishery and a highly fertile lake, so the crappie grow fast," said Bob Limbird, a fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "There's a lot of crappie in the lake, and anglers are doing pretty well."

Nimrod's crappie are both numerous and big. Fish topping 2 pounds are present in the lake, with a lot of 1-pounders also available for the stringer.

The lake may be one of the state's premier crappie waters, though its crappie population is always in a state of flux. Nimrod is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Fourche LaFave River adjacent to state routes 7 and 60 in Yell and Perry counties. The lake has 11 boat ramps and plenty of room to spread out on thousands of acres of water.

A map of the lake's fish attractors is available via the AGFC Web site at www.agfc.com For additional information, contact the AGFC's Northwest Region office, 1-877-967-7577, or the Corps, (479) 272-4234.

BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE

Blue Mountain Lake is another of Limbird's top picks for crappie action this spring. The lake doesn't have the numbers that Nimrod carries, but the fish can be larger.

"Blue Mountain hasn't had the high water over the last couple of years (that) it normally gets," said Limbird. "The crappie are averaging from three-quarters of a pound to a pound and a half, some of them going up to 2 1/2 pounds."

The lake has had good crappie year-classes recently but wasn't regarded as a good fishery until a few years ago. Limbird believes that the stable water levels of a few years ago contributed to a highly successful spawn that's now being tapped by anglers. High water is usually an encouragement to good crappie spawns, so the lack of it on Blue Mountain made the present year-class a pleasant surprise. According to Limbird, this year-class is carrying the fishery, and anglers are reaping the benefit.

The lake is windswept and less fertile than Nimrod, which means finding the fish may be a challenge for some anglers.

Blue Mountain Lake is located off state Route 309 near Havana in Logan and Yell counties in the Blue Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Contact the AGFC's Northwest Region office at 1-877-967-7577 for more information.

BURNT CANE LAKE

"This past spring was hot for crappie on Burnt Cane," said the AGFC's Jeff Farwick. Word of the crappie bite spread quickly, and anglers started to get in on the action at this nine-mile-long venue on the St. Francis River. The fisheries biologist, who encountered four separate fishing parties that boasted at least a dozen crappie each, has seen black, red and green jigs in use, all in combination with chartreuse.

Burnt Cane is relatively clear, though water can back up after heavy rains, muddying the lake and making it difficult for anglers to locate the crappie. The lake covers only 240 acres and is about 100 yards wide at its widest point.

The lake's crappie population has been on the upswing, though the population tends to fluctuate. According to Farwick, one year-class can be strong, only to be followed by a poor spawn. This boom-and-bust population is more the norm than the exception, even on exceptional crappie waters that maintain fairly consistent populations.

Farwick reported that local anglers confirm the upward swing at Burnt Cane. A couple of years ago, the hotspot in the area was Horseshoe Lake, but the attention has definitely switched to Burnt Cane. For more information, contact the AGFC's East-Central office at 1-877-734-4581.

UPPER AND LOWER

WHITE OAK LAKES

"Both Upper and Lower White Oak (Lakes) are good crappie bites," said Jason Olive, a fisheries biologist with the AGFC. "These lakes haven't been known in the past as good crappie lakes, but they've really come on now. I've been expecting them to fade out, but they're still going strong."

According to Olive, these lakes, which are separated by a dam, are producing first-quality fishing. Two-pound fish are common in the upper lake, while the lower lake has higher quantities of fish. Historically, spawning success has varied on both lakes. Three good year-classes are now in the system, and anglers are having a great time on the water.

Biologists score crappie populations in a given lake on the basis of several factors including size, growth rates and numbers. In the fall of 2006, a fisheries survey was conducted on the upper lake with surprising results. Upper White Oak Lake's crappie scored higher than any other population in the state.

"We're seeing fish that are 2 years old that are 10 inches, and the 3-year-old fish are even bigger," said Olive.

Hit the brush around the boat docks on both lakes this

spring.

Upper and Lower White Oak lakes cover a combined 2,600 acres in Ouachita County off state Route 387 in White Oak Lake State Park. For additional information, contact the AGFC's South-Central Region office at 1-877-836-4612.

LAKE GREESON

"One of my top crappie picks would be Lake Greeson, based on the amount of artificially placed tree tops and crappie condos that are in the lake," said AGFC fisheries biologist Les Claybrook. "The lake has a decent crappie population and a history of good crappie fishing."

Spring crappie with reproduction on the agenda can be found along shoreline vegetation and woody cover. The visiting crappie angler may find that until the quarry is close to shore, the slabs can prove tough to locate

. Various colored jigs and minnows under a bobber are among the proven bait selections. The sizes of the crappie here are respectable and quantity should be good throughout 2008.

A long crappie pole to reach into close shelter can be an asset. Keep boat and shoreline noise to a minimum and use a stealthy approach when targeting these spooky fish.

Lake Greeson is located in the Lake Greeson Wildlife Management Area in Pike County. The lake is four miles northwest of Murfreesboro off state Route 19 on the Little Missouri River. For more information, contact the AGFC's Southwest Region office at 1-877-777-5580.

MILLWOOD LAKE

"The next lake I'd recommend would be Millwood," said Claybrook. "Crappie fishing is generally very good but especially during the winter and spring."

Look for slabs in what are called the "crappie tops" along the Little River and the Saline River channels in the winter, and then up around the button brush in the spring. According to Claybrook, the population is holding its own, and the crappie are usually large.

The best bet for finding crappie is to use electronics to help locate the submerged treetops that local anglers have placed. Minnows and insects are attracted to the shelters, and the crappie follow them in.

The lake is a Corps impoundment on the Little River covering 29,000 acres, most of which has standing timber and is ideal crappie habitat. Slabs will relate to the woody shelter where they can be tempted to bite a jig-and-minnow or jig-and-tube combination.

Millwood is in Little River, Hempstead, Howard and Sevier counties about seven miles east of Ashdown. A dozen boat launches serve anglers. For more information, contact the AGFC's Southwest Region, 1-877-777-5580, or the Corps, (870) 898-3343.

LAKE ERLING

"Lake Erling has historically produced very good crappie fishing, especially during the winter months," said Claybrook.

Bodcau Creek runs through the lake, and submerged brush along this creek should hold plenty of crappie. There are also several other feeder creeks that flow into the lake, and these should produce a substantial number of crappie in the spring.

Currently owned by International Paper, Lake Erling has lots of standing timber and scattered cover. Though Erling is not in his management area, fisheries biologist Stuart Wooldridge gives the lake exceptionally high marks.

Lake Erling covers 7,000 acres in Lafayette County just east of Bradley off state routes 29 and 160. The lake may be one of the Natural State's best crappie lakes this year. Contact the AGFC's Southwest Region office at 1-877-777-5580 for information.

DeGRAY LAKE

"The key is the brush tops," said Wooldridge of Arkansas' DeGray Lake. "The western end of the lake is more turbid than the eastern end, so crappie will utilize the brushpiles. In the eastern end of the lake, the water is clearer and the habitat changes. There is hydrilla and other vegetation that the crappie will use in preference to the brushpiles."

The black crappie spawns at DeGray have been very good for several years, and the fishery offers up fish in several year-classes. The 2004 year-class is producing some nice-sized slabs.

The Shouse Ford and Brushy areas of DeGray are great spring hotspots, said Wooldridge -- but be prepared for company, as lots of other anglers have also gotten wind of the opportunities there.

Try minnows under a light float or bobber for the best results.

DeGray Lake is part of the newly established DeGray Wildlife Management Area. It's located near Amity in Clark County. Contact the Hot Springs Region at 1-877-525-8606 for additional information.

HAMILTON LAKE

"We saw a lot of nice crappie last spring -- and we're talking 12 inches," said Wooldridge. "The tree-top brush tops start to group up crappie during periods of lower water in about 10- to 12-foot depths. Though these are primarily fall spots, spring crappie can sometimes be caught here as well."

White crappie dominate the scene, said Wooldridge. Whites prefer more open water than do the weed-loving black crappie, and Hamilton fits the bill nicely. Weeds aren't overly abundant, and the crappie relate to docks and other manmade structures.

The lake is a busy one. Residences, cottages and businesses line the shoreline. Anglers and recreational boaters share the lake's 7,200 acres, which can be crowded, especially on weekends.

Hamilton Lake is in Garland County near Hot Springs. It's 18 miles long and accessible from state routes 7 and 70 and Interstate 270. Call the AGFC's Hot Springs Region at 1-877-525-8606 for more information.

GRAND LAKE

"The best crappie lake in my area is Grand Lake," said AGFC fisheries biologist Diana Andrews.

Grand Lake is an old oxbow off the Mississippi River with a healthy crappie population. Jigs and minnows are the typical crappie fare. The lake doesn't have a lot of submerged vegetation, but it still continues to churn out the slabs.

Grand Lake has a pea-green coloration, suggesting that little sunlight penetrates the depths. Lily pads are about the only plant life that can grow here, and anglers can often take crappie from the pads. The stalks harbor minnows and other small prey, providing an overhead sense of security.

Successful crappie techniques here include dropping minnows into the holes between lily pads and fishing along the outside edges of the beds.

According to Andrews, there's a healthy range of crappie in Grand Lake, with some nice slabs mixed in. The lake covers nearly a thousand acres in Chicot County. Access is off state Route 8 and U.S. Route 65 near Eudora. Call the AGFC's Southeast Region at 1-877-367-3559 for additional information.

LAKE CHICOT

Crappie at Lake Chicot are larger than those in neighboring waters, thanks to a 10-inch minimum-length limit, according to Andrews.

Spring crappie hunters will do well to start in the Connerly Bayou. The slabs move up into shallow water to spawn early on in the spring. A minnow under a bobber or a brightly colored jig tipped with a minnow are proven baits. A small spinner can sometimes tempt these big slabs as well.

Spring spawning can take place anywhere there's shallow water with emergent vegetation or woody cover. Crappie nest in several feet of water, though the depths can change depending on weather conditions.

Lake Chicot is small enough that anglers exploring the lake can probably find the crappie, especially during the spawn. The minimum-length limit at Chicot allows fish to

remain in the lake until they reach spawning size and ensures a relatively stable population.

Lake Chicot is located in Lake Chicot State Park in Chicot County. Access is off U.S. Route 82 near Lake Village. For more information, contact the AGFC's Southeast Region at 1-877-367-3559.

BULL SHOALS LAKE

Though it is better known for smallmouth bass than crappie, this huge reservoir does hold a good population of papermouths that are large by anyone's book.

"Bull Shoals crappie are 11 inches plus," said AGFC fisheries biologist Ken Shirley, "due to a huge year-class of crappie in 2002. However, poor spawning success since then means that the number of crappie has fallen due to angler harvest and natural mortality. Those fish are nearing the end of their life span, but 2008 should be a good year for the big ones, followed by a rapid decline."

Bull Shoals isn't an easy nut to crack when it comes to finding the slabs, said Shirley. In a lake this size, anglers do best in the spring, when the fish are in the shallows and easily accepting of angler offerings.

After the spawn, Shirley recommends targeting the 400 brushpiles scattered around the lake. They've been submerged along a contour following about a 25-foot depth below conservation pool and are marked with blue signs along the shoreline. Implementing the brushpiles was a monumental effort, and about 100,000 trees were sunk to create the fish attractors.

Later on in the spring, crappie will relate to standing timber in water as deep as 50 feet. Electronics are the only way to be sure an angler is on the trees. Crappie move up to the thermocline in the late summer, when oxygen levels in deep water are low.

Bull Shoals covers 71,000 acres and has 1,000 miles of shoreline. For more information, contact the AGFC's North-Central Region at 1-870-297-4331.

Visit the AGFC's Web site at www.agfc.com for more information on the state's crappie opportunities.

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