3 Booming Hoosier Crappie Lakes

From Mississinewa Lake to Patoka, plus one more hot pick, here's where you'll find our state's finest papermouth action right now.(April 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

As we motored to the best crappie spot on the lake, I was hopeful that we'd get into a "mess" of crappies and the bite would be "on." My fishing partner cut off the 25-horsepower outboard a few yards from our destination and switched on the trolling motor. Under electric power, we glided quietly and swiftly into place. As we hovered over the crappie hotspot, I lowered the bow anchor as Ed Lewandowski slipped the stern anchor over the side.

Avoiding any possibility of being called a first-cast-at-the-honeyhole hog, or first-cast-at-a-new-place hog, I waited until Ed picked up his rod and prepared to make his first cast. He was using a small spinner tipped with a bee moth. I was throwing a white-headed, plastic-tailed jig, also tipped with a bee moth.

After casting to a choice-looking spot, I let the jig sink to the bottom. The water's depth was about 7 feet. I reeled in the jig at a slow rate, allowing it to fall a few feet before retrieving it. I kept repeating the process when then, suddenly bam, I got a hit. I set the hook, but then there was a pause in the tug of war between man and fish -- the characteristic un-hit of a crappie . . . I thought to myself. These so-called un-hits, as Ed likes to call them, occur when the fish after taking the bait swims up, instead of down, creating an absence of force on the line.

After resetting the hook, the fight was on and as I got the fish to the boat, I was pleased to see what turned out to be a 14-inch slabside at the end of my line. I carefully landed it by hand (though it's always better to use a net) and we were off to what turned out to be an outstanding session of crappie catching. We caught both black and white crappies, although we caught more of the white ones than black ones.

Black and white crappies can inhabit the same body of water, but in general terms, black crappies prefer water with less turbidity, while white crappies, on the other hand, prefer water with more turbidity. Regardless of what type of crappie you seek, they both relate significantly to stemmed-aquatic vegetation like lily pads or trees with plenty of branches that have fallen into the water. And this is why it's important to be intimately familiar with a slip-bobber rig when fishing for crappies. Slip-bobber rigs give you the ability to lower your bait under a bobber to any depth.

"We located a school of crappies one time in a downfall with braches in about 20 feet of water," Lewandowski said. "The fish were suspended about 12 feet down, and the only way we could get to them in the branches was to use slip-bobbers, and we caught plenty of them this way."

A good tip for crappie fishermen is to use a fishing line that is transparent, and hence undetectable to the wary eye of a slabside. Many of the fishing-line manufacturers offer lines that are almost invisible, and many of these lines have small diameters, too.

Crappies are found throughout Indiana, and there are plenty of public lakes that offer outstanding crappie fishing and good infrastructure to support anglers fishing from boats and from shore. Some of these Hoosierland public lakes are good enough crappie hotspots that they have attracted the attention of the American Crappie Association (ACA). Moreover, the ACA has put several Hoosierland lakes on its tournament list -- and that is a good thing!

The ACA is a great organization that arranges, conducts and manages crappie tournaments throughout the country. The events held in Indiana are actually qualifying events in the ACA's Region 3 for the Super Bowl of competitive crappie fishing, which is the Cabela's Crappie USA Classic held in September each year. Of course, there are qualifying events held in many other states, too.

Actually, the ACA conducts 45 events annually in over 20 states! The tournaments are divided up into four regions. Each region conducts a minimum of two qualifying events in the fall, and six qualifying tournaments in the spring. Last year, the ACA conducted two events in the spring on Indiana waters. Last April, a tournament was conducted on Patoka Lake, and other tournaments were conducted on Salamonie, Mississinewa and Huntington reservoirs.

The ACA states that their purpose is to establish and expand a family-oriented, cost-effective and competitive arena for amateur and semi-pro crappie anglers as the foundation to promote and market products and services. It is interesting to note that the ACA held a total of four tournaments in Hoosierland during 2006.

One of the most accomplished outdoorsmen I know once said there is a very simple rule for having (harvest) success when hunting and fishing. And that rule is: Fish where there's fish (i.e., the species you are fishing for) and hunt where there's game. If we apply that rule to crappie fishing, we can use the ACA's choices of lakes for its tournaments as a springboard to get us "on" crappies.

There is little doubt about it . . . the ACA is simply not going to select lakes for a crappie tournament that have poor crappie population levels. To prove this out, you can look at the tournament results on the ACA's Web site (www.crappieusa.com). You'll be pleased to see what the tournament champions and big-fish winners hauled in.

Using the ACA's picks, and Indiana's Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists' input as our primary criteria, let's now take a look at crappie hotspots in the north, central and southern parts of Indiana.

NORTH

Salamonie/Mississinewa/Huntington

(Roush) Reservoirs

As mentioned above, the ACA held a crappie tournament on this trio of reservoir-type lakes in 2006. These three reservoirs are located very close together, and this means you can target one of them or all three of them on a crappie-fishing weekend.

Each of these crappie-producing impoundments "hangs" off the Wabash River (or a tributary of the Wabash) and each of these are orientated in a north-to-south direction near and south of state Route 124 in the northern tier of the state. The largest city in the vicinity is Fort Wayne.

For the purposes of this article, we'll examine Mississinewa in detail, but please remember Salamonie and Roush are both crappie producers as well.

Located in Wabash, Miami and Grant counties, Mississinewa Lake has a surface area of 3,180 acres during summer pool, and of the three reservoirs, it is often thought to be the best for crappie fishing. This is backed up (at least in part) because Thomas Nim

rick and Robert Williamson won the Amateur Division of the ACA tournament in 2006 while fishing Mississinewa.

These slabside seeking angers took a total of 6.53 pounds of crappies (please note no more than seven fish total are allowed for weigh-in purposes). These fishing champions were fishing brush in 8 to 9 feet of water with the fish suspended 3 feet off the bottom. Nimrick and Williamson utilized a vertical-jigging technique with 1/16-ounce red and orange jigheads to come away in first place.

During the tournament, Deb and Dave Gregory won the Semi-Pro Division; they scored big by using black/chartreuse jigs. The big-fish award went to the amateur team of Nimrick and Williamson with a 1.64-pound crappie. The crappies caught were predominately white papermouths.

Water temperature at the time of the tournament was in the 62- to 64-degree range. When water temperatures start warming to 60 degrees (Fahrenheit), the crappie action can really pick up because the warmer temperatures stimulate the crappie's metabolism. This is one of the main reasons that tournaments are held in the early part of the year when warming temperatures spark the crappie bite.

Mississinewa Reservoir is about 11 miles in length, and 3/4-mile wide at the widest point. It, too, is loaded with structure elements and fingers and coves that crappie fishermen look for. But in terms of why Mississinewa is such a hot crappie fishery, we have to thank the Army Corps of Engineers.

NORTH

Salamonie/Mississinewa/Huntington

(Roush) Reservoirs

As mentioned above, the ACA held a crappie tournament on this trio of reservoir-type lakes in 2006. These three reservoirs are located very close together, and this means you can target one of them or all three of them on a crappie-fishing weekend.

Each of these crappie-producing impoundments "hangs" off the Wabash River (or a tributary of the Wabash) and each of these are orientated in a north-to-south direction near and south of state Route 124 in the northern tier of the state. The largest city in the vicinity is Fort Wayne.

For the purposes of this article, we'll examine Mississinewa in detail, but please remember Salamonie and Roush are both crappie producers as well.

Located in Wabash, Miami and Grant counties, Mississinewa Lake has a surface area of 3,180 acres during summer pool, and of the three reservoirs, it is often thought to be the best for crappie fishing. This is backed up (at least in part) because Thomas Nimrick and Robert Williamson won the Amateur Division of the ACA tournament in 2006 while fishing Mississinewa.

These slabside seeking angers took a total of 6.53 pounds of crappies (please note no more than seven fish total are allowed for weigh-in purposes). These fishing champions were fishing brush in 8 to 9 feet of water with the fish suspended 3 feet off the bottom. Nimrick and Williamson utilized a vertical-jigging technique with 1/16-ounce red and orange jigheads to come away in first place.

During the tournament, Deb and Dave Gregory won the Semi-Pro Division; they scored big by using black/chartreuse jigs. The big-fish award went to the amateur team of Nimrick and Williamson with a 1.64-pound crappie. The crappies caught were predominately white papermouths.

Water temperature at the time of the tournament was in the 62- to 64-degree range. When water temperatures start warming to 60 degrees (Fahrenheit), the crappie action can really pick up because the warmer temperatures stimulate the crappie's metabolism. This is one of the main reasons that tournaments are held in the early part of the year when warming temperatures spark the crappie bite.

Mississinewa Reservoir is about 11 miles in length, and 3/4-mile wide at the widest point. It, too, is loaded with structure elements and fingers and coves that crappie fishermen look for. But in terms of why Mississinewa is such a hot crappie fishery, we have to thank the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The Corps had the reservoir drawn down for six years, and it is loaded with trees," said Region 4 fisheries biologist Ed Braun. The trees Braun is talking about are now underwater, and they are providing outstanding structure for the crappie population. Whenever there is a drawdown of a lake or reservoir, it is usually good news for the long-term health of the fish that will inhabit the water when the lake or reservoir is filled back up. This is because terrestrial plant life returns and eventually becomes structure, and the soil is enriched by the natural cyclic pattern of plant life, and then decay.

"There are mostly white crappies in Mississinewa; there are black crappies too, but 99 percent are white crappies," Braun noted. "There are a lot of nutrients in the water at Mississinewa."

These nutrients add to the turbidity of the water, and this is one of the main reasons the crappie population at Mississinewa is predominately made up of the white crappie. White crappies prefer turbid water, while black crappies prefer clearer water conditions.

The infrastructure for supporting anglers at Mississinewa and the other reservoirs in the vicinity is outstanding. There are seven public-access boat ramps at Mississinewa Reservoir, which makes getting into the lake at various locations a breeze. It is recommended to obtain a map of this crappie hotspot before you hit the water because of its large size.

If you want to combine a family camping trip with a crappie-fishing trip, this trio of reservoirs is a great place to do it because of the many recreational outdoor activities and facilities that are available. Camping is readily available.

With these reservoirs being so close together, it affords crappie anglers the opportunity to easily switch over to one of the other reservoirs in a short period of time. For more information on Mississinewa Reservoir, call (765) 473-6528.

CENTRAL

Monroe Lake

Located in beautiful Brown and Monroe counties, Monroe Lake is 10,750 acres in size, and is Indiana's largest reservoir.

An angler/creel survey was conducted on Monroe Lake in 1998. Crappies were the third most abundant fish caught, coming in at 11.6 percent of the total catch recorded. Moreover, an angler creel survey was conducted in 2000 and crappies turned out to be the most abundant species caught. During this survey, an incredible 85,258 crappies were caught from May 3 through Oct. 31 -- now that's a heck of a lot of crappies!

The ACA knows about the good crappie fishing at Monroe Lake and held a tournament here in May of last year. The team of Rick Solomon and Mike Walters entered the biggest crappie caught during the event. It weighed in at 2.31 pounds! The winners of the Semi-Pro Division, Jim and Bob Raymer, came in with 12.56 pounds of crappies. They were fishing in 12 feet of water and were using purple and chartreuse jigheads.

In the Amateur Division, the winners were Joe McWhorter Sr. and Jr. This team came in with 9.15 pounds of cra

ppies (with no more than seven crappies entered). The father and son team was trolling hair jigs baited with minnows and targeting brushy areas where the water is 12 feet deep. As you can tell by the creel weights of the above winners, there are some pretty decent-sized crappies in Monroe!

The weather was typical of springtime in the midsection of Indiana: sunny with air temps in the upper 60s during the afternoon. Water temperatures were between 64 and 65 degrees, and the water was stained.

If you're going to fish Monroe Lake, it is a really good idea to get a map of this large body of water so that you can navigate to and from crappie hotspots; you'll find one of these hotspots in the finger that Jacobs Hollows drains into. You can also go to the ACA's Web site (www.crappieusa.com) and get detailed information on how and where the competitors caught their fish at Monroe, and other lakes where ACA competitions were held. The DNR office number for information about Monroe Lake is (812) 837-9546.

SOUTH

Patoka Lake

Patoka Lake is located in the southern reaches of Indiana, and the Hoosier National Forest surrounds it. This crappie hotspot stretches out across the counties of Dubois, Orange and Crawford, and has a water-surface area of 8,800 acres. Patoka is near Jasper.

A fish survey was conducted on Patoka Lake in 2000; it revealed that a large crappie population was present here. Additionally, a fish harvest (creel) survey showed that from April 3 through Oct. 31 (2000), 75,635 crappies were caught at Patoka Lake.

Patoka has also caught the eye of the ACA. A crappie-fishing tournament was conducted on Patoka in May of 2000 and it drew in many competitors. Creel weights in the various divisions reflected this crappie fishery's good health. The Big Fish Award went to Jerry Grimes of Nashville, Indiana, and Charley Ridlen of Avoca for catching a 2.55-pound crappie.

Because of its large size, Patoka affords crappie anglers numerous places to fish. Many of the coves are loaded with timber, making them prime spots for crappies. However, it was reported that in the springtime the best place to fish for crappies is in the Patoka River arm from the Walls Lake ramp upstream. This portion of the lake is aptly called the "Walls" area, and it was here that many of the tournament winners fished. Crappies will come into this area in the spring to feed and spawn.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages four state recreation areas at Patoka. The Newton-Stewart State Recreation Area is the most developed of the four. There are numerous boat ramps located around the lake, and from personal experience, this writer can tell you the ramps are pretty steep. However, they do have serrations cut across them to aid with traction when you're putting your boat in the water or taking it out. The parking lots at the ramps that I used were large, well kept and easily accessible from the main roads around the lake. There is plenty of camping available nearby in the aforementioned recreation areas, too.

The number for Patoka is (812) 685-2464.

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