Bigger Crappies From Smaller Hoosier Lakes

Webster, Sullivan and Waveland lakes offer big papermouth action on not-so-big waters. Here's the latest! (February 2006)

This fat spring crappie couldn't resist a bright chartreuse jig cast to a nearby sunken brushpile.
Photo by Ed Harp

This year looks good for Hoosier crappie anglers. Since there are quite a few prime waters scattered around the state, on any given day, one or more of them will produce. But not all lakes are created equal. So with that in mind, let's take a close look at three of the best.

WEBSTER LAKE

Our first choice for fine papermouth angling is Webster Lake. This northeastern Indiana venue offers both good numbers and reasonably sized crappies for novice and experienced anglers alike.

Jed Pearson, a District 3 fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), reports a good population of healthy, growing fish. The most common sizes caught by anglers are between 8 and 10 inches. There are "quite a few" harvested every year that will stretch out to 14 inches. And, of course, there's always the possibility -- a realistic one in this lake -- of landing a fish around 15 or 16 inches.

Webster Lake can best be described as five ponds that were flooded when the lake was built. They're big, deep depressions surrounded by shallow, weedy flats that connect each to the other. These flats range in depth from 6 to 8 feet with lips that drop off into the basins. Most of the lips hold depths of 6 and 12 feet. From there, the substrate runs off to depths of 25 feet or more.

The lips around the basins orientate the fish to their environment. Crappies will almost always be found somewhere near these lips. Regardless of the season, most anglers begin their search by fishing the deep-water edges. Depths of 15 to 18 feet are the common starting point.

Even in the cold of winter or the heat of summer, slab crappies won't be found much deeper than that. Webster's waters are green and deeply stained -- turbid might not be too strong a word to describe them -- and, as a consequence, the crappies tend to hold a bit shallower.

Two common techniques are popular on this body of water. The most popular is a minnow hung under a bobber. Nothing fancy here, just add enough weight to keep your minnow down. Some anglers add a brightly colored bead or use gold and red hooks. Another method is casting bright, flashy jigs.

If you choose minnows, work them along the lip. Allow them to drop and swim naturally. Adjust your depth from time to time until you find the bigger crappies. If you prefer jigs, simply cast them out and wind them back with a soft pumping action. Allow your lure to drop naturally from time to time. Vary your speed and depth until you start catching fish.

Pearson reminds anglers to avoid the area near the ramp. Although it "looks real good," it doesn't hold fish. The bottom is nasty muck. The area is best appreciated while looking over your shoulder.

Webster Lake covers 774 acres and is located in Kosciusko County near North Webster. There's a good ramp on the south end of the lake that'll handle most boats. For up-to-the-minute information about the lake, a creditable fishing report and other information about the area, call Pearson at (260) 691-3181.

SULLIVAN LAKE

Southwest a little ways from Webster is Sullivan Lake. This one is rapidly turning into the lake to fish for crappies. If you doubt that, consider these facts: In 2004, 46 percent of the anglers visiting the lake came to fish for crappies. In the same year, 75,000 crappies were harvested. Their total weight was just shy of 12 tons. That's a lot of fish -- and a lot of fun -- from 466 acres of water.

Over the last couple of years, the lake structure has been improved. Christmas trees have been placed around the lake in at least 24 locations. (There may be more by the time you read this.) They'll hold fish year 'round, no matter the season and no matter the water temperature.

There's no map showing exactly where the trees were placed, but they're easy enough to find with your electronics. If you don't have a depthfinder, no worry, just ask at the dock. They'll tell you where most of them are.

On any given day, these fish attractors might offer fast action. They are not all alike, however. Those found along the lake's eastern shoreline are rumored to be the best, especially for big 15-inch slabs.

Other top spots include the weedbeds. There aren't a lot of them around the lake, but those that are there are true crappie magnets. The ones near the riprap that rings the water are especially productive. And they can be effectively fished from shore. Most are within an easy cast of the bank, even for a child.

The baits of choice in Sullivan are minnows fished under a bobber and tiny Doll Fly jigs. Small minnows are the most effective and consequently the most popular. Some anglers mix their sizes, however, and use the bigger ones to attract one of the huge walleyes that inhabit the lake.

Doll Fly jigs are fished under a bobber just like minnows. If there's a nice chop on the water, allow the waves to impart a little action to the jig. If it's slick, give your rod tip a twitch every now and then as you pull the rig back toward your boat or the shore.

Sullivan Lake crappies are notoriously depth and color sensitive. Regardless of where you choose to start fishing, or what you fish with, vary your depth until you find where the big ones are hiding on the day of your trip. As for color, on most days, a bright and flashy hue will catch more fish. Chartreuse and pink are two popular choices. But don't be afraid to try black or shad if the bite is slow.

The lake offers visiting anglers a choice of two launch ramps, six cabins and over 400 campsites. The lake, and surrounding park, is located near the town of Sullivan in Sullivan County. For complete information on fishing Sullivan Lake, contact Lake superintendent Ron Stanley at (812) 268-5537.

WAVELAND LAKE

In the middle of the state, on the west side in Montgomery County, is Waveland Lake. Over the next couple of years, it'll likely emerge as one of the best crappie venues in the state.

In late 2002, the entire lake was renovated. It was drained; all the fish except for largemouth bass and channel cats were killed. The lake was restocked with all manner of fish, including 35,000 fingerling crappies. After that, the largemouths and channel catfish were put back into the water.

The

renovation appears to have been successful. Weedbeds are beginning to take hold and the crappies are growing rapidly in the lake's clear, pristine water. In 2005, limits of crappies -- 25 fish -- around 8 inches in length were common, even ordinary. In 2006, the crappies are expected to reach lengths of 10 inches or more. And, just as important, their numbers are holding strong.

Where's the best area in the lake to fish for bigger crappies? Well, that depends upon the season and the water temperature. When the water temperature ranges from cool to cold or when it's especially warm, most of the better fish will be found on the south end of the lake near the dam. The water is deepest there, 28 feet in a couple of places.

At other times, they'll more likely be found hanging around the old creek channel that runs along the lake bottom. Or you may find crappies near the shoreline, hiding in the trees and stumps close to the bank. Those stumps with some weed growth around them will be the most productive. Some of the best spots to fish are at the northern end of the lake.

Another top choice for shallow- water fishing is along the causeway that crosses the lake. There's a small pond on one side and the main lake is on the other. The causeway is very popular with shore-anglers and often produces some of the best catches of the year.

Like in the other lakes, minnows and jigs are popular bait choices at Waveland. However, unlike the other lakes, in-line spinners are also popular and effective. Sizes ranging from 1/16 to 1/8 ounce are the most common, with white and silver the overwhelming color choice.

Fish them with long casts and slow, steady retrieves. Use the countdown method to vary your fishing depth. If the bite suddenly turns off, try fishing just a little deeper or a little shallower. Don't be in a hurry to move.

There's a concrete ramp on the lake with plenty of parking spaces that'll meet your boating needs. For complete and timely information about Waveland, contact lake superintendent Jim Crum at (765) 435-2073. He'll be glad to answer your questions.

Well, there you have it, three of the best spots in the state for crappie fishing. Select the one closest to you and plan your trip. Crappies are a great sport fish. There are plenty of them, and they can be caught with a minimum of tackle and equipment and they're good to eat. It doesn't get much better than that.

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