The Best Of Show Me State Crappie

The Best Of Show Me State Crappie

Wherever you turn in Missouri, first-rate crappie fishing is nearby. Join the author on a tour of top crappie waters.

The game fish that qualifies as No. 1 in a region is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, and in Missouri a case could be made for the catfish, the bass or the crappie deserving that title. However, if the top game fish were decided based on how many fish of a species anglers catch, crappie would be the certain top choice.

It would seem that obtaining the makings for a meal of fresh crappie filets would be relatively easy; after all, crappie are widespread across the Show Me State. But, on the other hand, crappie numbers in any given body of water are subject to wide swings in terms both of size and of number.

With that in mind, Missouri Game & Fish isn’t about to leave readers to choose fishing destinations by flipping a coin. This forecast is based on the best data available at press time. However, be advised that weather, water levels and a host of other factors can play havoc with long-range forecasting.

It should also be noted that, while we strive to report Missouri’s oftentimes impoundment-by-impoundment angling regulations accurately, mistakes can occur. It’s an angler’s responsibility to know that Lake Fishhook has a 15-fish daily limit with a 10-inch minimum-length restriction, even if printed material found anywhere other than what’s posted at the lake says otherwise.

With those preliminaries out of the way, let’s take a spin around Missouri and sample some of the state’s crappie fisheries. For the sake of order, we’ll look at the state in four quadrants, using Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 65 as the general boundaries.

NORTHWEST

Longview Lake is actually located just south of I-70, but I’ve included it in the Northwest because it lies in Kansas City’s shadow. This relatively new lake is very popular, so don’t count on having a spot to yourself, even on a weekday evening.

Happily, crappie fishing has been showing steady improvement at Longview. This might just be the year Kansas City area crappie fans should put Longview on their must-fish lists.

For more information call (816) 655-6250.

Smithville Lake, which is located only a few miles north of Kansas City, is beyond question the Northwest quadrant’s best-known large reservoir. Crappie and largemouth bass share top billing here, but some of the lake’s moderate to heavy fishing pressure is directed toward catfish, walleye and white bass.

Smithville is one of only a handful of bodies of water in Missouri with large populations of both black and white crappie. That’s good news for anglers, because the two species are at different stages of the boom-and-bust cycle common to crappie in general.

Anglers had to sort though a lot of sub-legal black crappie in 2004. Many of these fish will pass the 9-inch keeper mark in 2005. Conversely, finding keeper white crappie wasn’t much of a problem last year. There will be good numbers of big white crappie to be had this year, too, but don’t be surprised if they’re harder to find.

For more information call (816) 792-8662.

Bilby Ranch Lake, a 110-acre jewel with a variety of structure types to attract both fish and fishermen, is 14 miles west of Maryville on Highway 46. Bringing your boat is a good idea, and launching is no problem at the lake’s ramp. That said, catching a limit while fishing from shore is also a distinct possibility, especially during the spring and fall.

Bilby Ranch Lake isn’t a good choice for anglers counting on fast action, because the lake has a low-density crappie population. If, on the other hand, big crappie are your thing, this lake is where you want to be this spring. Crappie in the 10- to 12-inch class won’t raise any eyebrows, and much larger fish aren’t uncommon.

For more information call (816) 271-3100.

Che-Ru Lake (within the Fountain Grove Conservation Area near Meadville) crams more structure types into 160 acres than you can shake a cane pole at. If you can’t find active crappie somewhere near its submerged levees, borrow ditches, rock reefs, standing timber and shoreline, you’re just not trying.

This is a consistently good crappie lake, and 2005 should see no departure from that tendency. Provided that they hold their mouths right, skilled and/or persistent crappie anglers should be able to garner their limits of fish in the 9- to 11-inch class, with a slab or two thrown in for good measure.

For more information call (660) 646-6122.

Pony Express Lake, northwest of Cameron, isn’t everyone’s idea of a crappie lake worth mentioning. For starters, Pony Express is a great place to fish for more “glamorous” species, including channel cats, trophy blue cats, big largemouth bass and the remnants of a discontinued muskie-stocking program. Additionally, the lake is so overloaded with crappie that even novice anglers often catch fish — albeit small fish — on almost every cast.

I wouldn’t want to fish for dinks every day, but once in a while, catching a bunch of fish suits me just fine; it always suits my grandchildren. That’s the real point of Pony Express crappie fishing. You don’t need a fancy boat or a measuring board. All that’s required is that at least one person in your party be able to count to 30 and that each person has a stringer or fish basket. Simply scatter out along the riprap and have at it.

For more information call (816) 271-3100.

NORTHEAST

Mark Twain Lake, located in Monroe and Ralls counties, is the Northeast quadrant’s only large reservoir. It impounds three forks of the Salt River and dozens of small creeks and hillside drainages. Add plenty of standing timber, and you have a body of water with undeniable potential to produce great crappie fishing.

The stage is set for crappie anglers to have a banner year at Mark Twain. Last year’s abundant but too-small crappie will be this year’s abundant eating-sized to bragging-sized slabs. Assuming the lake isn’t too high, too low or muddy enough to plow, Mark Twain

Lake will be among the places to be in the spring and summer of 2005.

For more information call (573) 248-2532.

Long Branch Lake, just north of Macon, is justifiably well known for its largemouth bass, catfish and walleye. The lake looks like it should be a great crappie lake, as well — but, disappointingly enough, that hasn’t been the case. There are crappie in Long Branch Lake, make no mistake about that; unfortunately, most of them are less than 8 inches long. Don’t look for that to change in 2005.

For more information call (660) 785-2420.

Southwest of Macon lies Thomas Hill Lake, which is a horse of a different color, crappie-wise. In 2004, anglers enjoyed excellent success catching crappie in the 10-inch class. Abundant forage is fueling rapid growth rates among Thomas Hill’s crappie — another way of saying, that crappie fishing at Thomas Hill will be at least as good in 2005 as it was in 2004. And the fish will be larger.

For more information call (660) 785-2420.

The August A. Busch Memorial and Weldon Spring CAs fit in the Northeast quadrant because I’ve placed the entire St. Louis metro area in the Northeast quadrant. It’s hard to say anything about these areas that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. They’re marvels of fishery management that, despite heavy pressure, produce satisfying numbers of crappie year after year. Best of all, you don’t need a boat or fancy tackle to catch fish. That won’t change in 2005.

For more information call (636) 441-4554.

SOUTHEAST

Lake of the Ozarks stretches from Osage Beach to Warsaw. In 2004, crappie fishing ranged from good to excellent in the eastern half of the lake and from poor to fair in the western half. An exceptional year-class of crappie will reach keeper size late in 2004 or early in 2005. With these “new” fish added to an already above-average number of true slab crappie, 2005 should be a banner year at Missouri’s oldest major impoundment.

For more information call (573) 346-2210.

Bull Shoals Lake meanders back and forth across the Missouri-Arkansas border from Forsythe east. The lake’s 10-inch minimum-length limit may be one reason that crappie fishing at Bull Shoals remains remarkably consistent from year to year. This lake isn’t for the angler who loves catching large numbers of crappie, but it’s a good bet for anyone who’d like an honest chance at a really big crappie.

For more information call (417) 256-7161.

An exceptional crappie venue, Wappapello Lake lies just to the west of its namesake town. In 2004, most of Wappapello’s white crappie ranged from 6 to 9 inches, with fair numbers of 10- to 12-inch fish, and a few approaching 15 inches. The lake also held a very high number of 5- to 7-inch black crappie.

In 2005, Wappapello should be home to tremendous numbers of white crappie of more than 11 inches, and even more black crappie over 9 inches. Need I say more?

For more information call (573) 290-5730.

Duck Creek CA Pool No. 1 lies south of Zalma on Highway 51. This lake’s claim to fame is that it separates the men from the boys. By late spring, it’s a green, shallow hell of aquatic vegetation. On the other hand, crappie exceeding 10 inches in length are common. Not a good choice for the casual angler — but great for those anglers willing to pay the price for big fish.

For more information call (573) 290-5730.

SOUTHWEST

Truman Lake was once synonymous with Missouri crappie fishing, so it brings tears to the eyes of those of us who’ve been fishing there since it filled to have to concede a hard truth: Truman is no longer among the state’s top crappie producers.

That reality notwithstanding, a lot of crappie still swim Truman, including some trophy slabs. Catching them, however, can mean pulling out all the stops, including fishing at dusk and dawn in the spring and being willing to do plenty of tree-hopping during the summer months. Last year was a below-average year, and I see little evidence that 2005 will be much better.

For more information call (660) 530-5500.

Beginning in the late 1990s, Stockton Lake suffered through several years of poor crappie recruitment. Happily, the 2003 year-class was an exceptionally good one. Assuming the majority of these fish will have survived, crappie fishing should be much improved on Stockton, especially later in the year. Look for great things from this lake in 2006.

For more information call (417) 895-6880.

Pomme de Terre Lake experienced a bloom of keeper (9-inch) black crappie in the fall of 2003. To be sure, some of these fish were harvested in 2004; however, crappie fishing on “Pommie” should be very good throughout 2005.

For more information call (417) 532-7612.

Montrose Lake is near the town of Montrose off Highway 18. This often-murky power-plant cooling lake is an example of a crappie lake near the bottom of its population cycle. Test netting samples indicate that most of the lake’s crappie are between 6 and 9 inches long, and their population density is very low.

One bright spot in the fall of 2003 was the presence of large numbers of 3 to 5-inch crappie. Hopefully, this is an indication that Montrose’s crappie are on the way back. However, 2005 is at least a year too early to expect good fishing here.

For more information call (660) 530-5500.

Holden City Lake, just south of Holden, is a perennial favorite with crappie anglers who prefer catching lots of eating-sized fish but very few large crappie. 2005 will be a good crappie year at Holden City Lake, and the lake is a great place for a family fishing trip.

For more information call (660) 530-5500.

Well, I promised you we’d “sample some of the state’s crappie fisheries.” I’m sure you’ll agree I should have emphasized the word “sample.” Space prevents even scratching the surface of Missouri’s crappie fishing potential.

When you call to inquire about any of the lakes mentioned here, ask about other crappie lakes in the same area. Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake

provide dramatic evidence of how different the prospects can be on lakes very close to each other geographically.

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