September 30, 2010
There are good crappie waters all across the state of Kansas, but not all are created equal. These might be the best of the bunch. (March 2006)
Expectations high, Kansas anglers are likely to be dusting off the rods and reels in anticipation of a successful spring at their favorite fishing holes. Bass and walleye anglers are looking forward to warmer waters, but there may not be a more anxious bunch of anglers than the ones waiting for the crappie to start their spawning activities.
More crappie are caught by Kansas anglers in the spring than at any other time of year, and there isn't a better way to spend a nice spring day than by chunking a minnow and bobber combination into shoreline structure and then watching it suddenly disappear.
While rewarding crappie fishing can be had at many bodies of water in the Sunflower State, certain among those venues are just naturally better than the rest. Some have plenty of nice-sized slabs in the 9- to 10-inch range; a few others turn out real lunkers -- some more than a foot long! An ideally balanced lake would offer a decent complement of both.
Many factors determine fishing success -- among them, water temperature, water clarity, angling skills, fishing pressure, density of fish, and weather. While many of these factors are out of our control, you can increase your odds for success by fishing in reservoirs with solid crappie populations.
Here's a look at some of Kansas' better locales for white crappie, according to the most recent information published by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Lying in north-central Kansas near the Nebraska border, Lovewell Reservoir is a 2,986-acre impoundment with plenty of papermouths.
"Lovewell had been good for crappie back in the '70s," said Scott Waters, a fisheries biologist with the KDWP, "and people just forgot about it. And then in 2000-2001 we had a couple of really big year-classes, and they really started catching a bunch of those the last couple of years."
There were high hopes for last year, but, Waters reports, the fishing was good for a shorter period of time during the spring. He says that the lake was 10 feet low during the previous winter, which concentrated the fish, making them more susceptible to angling harvest.
"The water level was raised about 3 feet in the spring in preparation for irrigation," he explained, "and there was a lot of flooded smartweed and other vegetation all around the lake. There was so much habitat to spawn that the fish were really spread out and not concentrated."
Although some anglers didn't believe that there was much of a crappie spawn last year, Waters sampled the irrigation canal below the dam to estimate the number of fish lost during irrigation releases. "We estimated that we lost about 300,000 young-of-the-year crappie, so that's a pretty high number," he said. "That does indicate there was a pretty good spawn."
Despite the large quantities of fish harvested recently, Waters is optimistic that Lovewell will be a worthy crappie-fishing destination. "I still think there's pretty decent numbers, but I don't think we'll see anything like what we saw in 2004 for a while," he remarked. "I think everything just came together that year to make them real easy to find and catch."
Anglers fishing Lovewell Reservoir can do so from a boat or, in some areas, from shore. According to Waters, one of the more popular hotspots is Montana Creek. "The marina cove area has some brushpiles, and along the shoreline there are some really good areas to try," he said. "And a couple of other areas people don't fish all that often -- but they're pretty good -- are the Oak Hill Area, because we put a bunch of brush in there, and John's Creek on the south side."
Another spot to keep in mind, particularly if water is flowing into Lovewell Reservoir, is the inlet canal, which is a popular hotspot. "When there is water flowing in, that can be a really good spot for catching fish," Waters noted, "because those fish move up into that moving water."
Most folks prefer using minnows, but a few of the more serious anglers opt for jig-fishing, which Waters says ranks as the best springtime technique for catching spawning crappie. "What we saw last year," he noted, "was it was really good during the last part of April, and then the entire month of May was excellent, and definitely the time to be there. It got really crowded on weekends. And there would be a lot of boats stacked into some of those coves. So if an angler can go during the week, that would be better."
Waters reports that apart from a 50-fish creel limit, no special regulations are in force for crappie fishing at Lovewell.
Most anglers think of walleyes or catfish when they think of Marion Reservoir. But that may change, as the 6,160-acre impoundment in central Kansas has also ranked high in recent years for substantial populations of crappie.
"Marion has been a hotspot for the last three to five years," said KDWP fisheries biologist Ken McCloskey. "It's had higher densities before, but it's got a lot of big 10-inch-plus fish."
McCloskey thinks that fishing success for crappie isn't as high as it could be. Most of the fishing pressure in the spring, he points out, is down around the dam and in the Cottonwood Point Area, while few anglers look farther up the reservoir, where standing timber and coves with promising structure can be found.
"Marion has been a hotspot for the last three to five years. It's had higher densities before, but it's got a lot of big 10-inch-plus fish."-- Ken McCloskey, KDWP
"It doesn't have much structure in the lower lake, so that's a difficult place to catch crappie," he said. "Most of the fish I see are in the upper end from Durham Cove on up and in the river."
Structure is the key to finding spawning crappie, as they usually associate with some sort of flooded vegetation or brush. McCloskey advises anglers to investigate areas of the river above the reservoir in the spring and to concentrate both on the shoreline areas for spawning fish and on the edge of the river channel for fish during pre-spawn.
"I'd look at the outside bends and look for downed timber in the water," McCloskey said. "Don't sit in one spot for a long time. And if you catch a couple of fish and that's it, then it's time to move."
While live bait is always popular with anglers out for spawning crappie, McCloskey takes another approach when he fishes. "Someone that knows how to really work a jig can do just as well as they can with minnows by bouncing it along in the timber," he asserted. "I like some kind of weedguard on my jig, but if you don't know the difference between bumping a limb and a fish hit, then it's going to be tougher."
One area that's a popular fishing locale with many anglers is also one that McCloskey would advise you to avoid: the Broken Bridge area of the river. "It's really accessible and that's where everybody goes," he cautioned. "They never get a buildup of crappie there, because as soon as a crappie stops in one of the brushpiles along the edge, somebody catches him. So everyone catches two or three fish, but you don't catch a nice mess of fish. Your best bet would be to fish above or below that Broken Bridge area if you want to catch more fish."
At 12,600 acres Kansas' third-largest reservoir, Perry is a perennial powerhouse of crappie production. When conditions are right, this body of water in northeast Kansas is generally a good bet for robust crappie spawns.
"It's been that way for a long time," declared KDWP biologist Kirk Tjelmeland. "We have traditionally good shad spawns, so we have a good condition of fish, and so we get good production out of them. It's a crappie factory most years."
Low-water conditions during the last few years may have kept Perry from giving up really big numbers and sizes of crappie, but even in down years, it's still pretty good. And since normal water conditions returned last spring, things are looking up once again.
"When we seined last August, I saw the most young-of-the-year crappie that I've seen for a long time," Tjelmeland reported. "We had a lot of flooded vegetation, as the water was rising during the spawn, and it was good."
According to Tjelmeland, Perry can offer the best of both worlds in some years: big numbers of fish as well as big fish. "In some years when we have good year-classes we'll have lots of fish," the biologist said, "and a lot of them will get harvested when they hit 10 inches. Then, a couple of years later, the ones left of that year-class will be big fish. We always have those 2-pound-plus fish running around out there."
Owing to its proximity to the Topeka and Kansas City metro areas -- some of Kansas' and Missouri's biggest concentrations of people -- Perry gets more than its share of fishing pressure. "If you go back and look at creel data, it's probably one of the highest ones," Tjelmeland observed. "These days, fishermen are so mobile that if fish are biting somewhere, they'll get on their phones, and they're there."
Plenty of promising springtime fishing prospects await both boaters and bank-anglers, Tjelmeland believes. "If you've got a boat, either the Rock Creek or Slough Creek area is good anywhere there's habitat," he said. "The past couple of years habitat has been really limited with the low water, but this year there will be lots of 4- to 6-foot flooded cottonwoods and willows, so it will be hard to find a favorite spot, as the fish should be stacked in there. Guys that take off wading around in that stuff fishing in 1 foot to 1 1/2 feet of water will do well."
Other areas known for yielding up nice messes of slab-sided crappie during the spring are the rocky riprap along DJ's and Highway 92 causeway at Slough Creek. "They're not always real accessible to shoreline fishermen, because it's hard to get down the rocks sometimes," Tjelmeland said.
Tjelmeland enjoys fishing for crappie as much as the next guy, and has a favorite technique that produces fish for him year in and year out. "I like putting a tube jig 18 inches underneath a bobber and pitching it out and running parallel to the bank with it on a slow retrieve," he said. "You can put a minnow on there and sit and watch it -- and a lot of people do that, too -- and catch a lot of fish, but I don't care to sit there that long."
Given adverse water conditions over the last few years, Tjelmeland looks for his overall numbers of crappie to be down a little for legal fish compared to normal levels. "But," he added, "I expect in the next two or three years it will be back up there where it should be."
At Perry Reservoir, one of several crappie lakes to have implemented a crappie creel limit more restrictive than the statewide minimum of 50 fish, only 20 fish 10 inches or larger can be kept per day. There are plenty to go around, and Perry should once again provide fine crappie fishing for anyone with an interest.
"Go fishing," Tjelmeland advised, "and don't sit at home and wait for someone else to find them. If the weather is nice, go -- we've only got about three weeks to catch them. You can start right around Mother's Day and 'X' some days on your work calendar -- and go get 'em."
BLACK AND WHITE CRAPPIE: THE DIFFERENCE
Owing to the brilliant dark coloration of breeding white crappie, particularly males, many anglers mistake them for black crappie during the spring. Both types of crappie can be caught using the same tactics, and their flesh tastes exactly the same. And they both grow to large sizes.
The Kansas state record for black crappie -- 4 pounds, 10 ounces -- is one of the oldest records in the book. Hazel Fey caught it at Woodson State Fishing Lake in 1957. The record white crappie is nearly as old. Caught by Frank Miller in 1964 from a Greenwood County farm pond, it weighed 4 pounds, .25 ounces.
While both fish can be found in the same bodies of water in Kansas, there are distinct differences between the two species.
White crappie, the more prevalent in Kansas, can be found in nearly any body of water. They tolerate turbid water conditions and usually relate to some sort of underwater structure such as brush, stumps and trees. Exhibiting five to 10 vertical bands of dark blotches or spots along the sides of their bodies, their most reliable distinguishing feature consists in five or six spiny dorsal fins.
Black crappie, which prefer clear water with vegetation, are less numerous than are white crappie, but in the Kansas Fishing Forecast, Marion and Lovewell came in second and fourth for numbers of black crappie. Their bodies are deeper than that of the white crappie, and their sides are mottled with dark blotches or specks, but with no vertical barring. The most reliable distinguishing feature of black crappie is seven or eight spiny dorsal fins.
KANSAS FISHING FORECAST
The information for the Kansas Fishing Forecast is collected from fisheries biologists' lake-monitoring activities, which include test netting and electroshocking. Tables created for popular species include several indicators of the quality and quantity of various species in different bodies of water; numbers vary by species. Here's the information for white crappie on Kansas reservoirs.
The Density Rating (>8) is the number of fish quality-sized or larger sampled per unit of sampling effort. T
heoretically, a reservoir with a Density Rating of 30 would have twice as many quality fish per acre as a reservoir with a density rating of 15.
The Preferred Rating (>10) identifies how many above-average-sized fish are present. This rating tells which lake is a good bet for bigger fish.
The Lunker Rating (>12) identifies the relative density of lunker-sized fish in the reservoir. A lunker is a certain length of fish considered a trophy by most anglers.
The biggest fish is simply the largest caught during monitoring efforts.
The biologist's rating injects a human factor into the data. This takes into consideration environmental conditions that may have influenced, either positively or negatively, the sampling efforts.
The acreage listed is the total size for that particular body of water.
Anglers interested in numbers of fish should look at the Density Rating. Conversely, anglers wanting bigger fish should consider the Lunker Rating for their best chance at trophy-sized fish. Or somewhere right in the middle might be a better choice: A reservoir with solid numbers in all three categories will provide the best fishing opportunities overall.