2008 Missouri Crappie Forecast: Fill Your Pan

2008 Missouri Crappie Forecast: Fill Your Pan

The Show-Me State is busting at the seams with superb angling opportunities for crappie. Don't go hungry.(March 2008).

Photo by Keith Sutton.

If sampling done in the fall of 2007 is any indication -- and it should be -- then Missouri anglers will have their pans full of slab-sized crappie this year. The Show-Me State can look forward to another outstanding year of nonstop crappie fishing in impoundments both large and small, and we're bent on getting you into the action.

Nearly three decades have passed since the Missouri Department of Conservation began researching crappie numbers in the state. What's transpired since then has been nothing short of a success story for anyone who thoroughly enjoys targeting crappie for both sport and sustenance.

State fisheries and research biologists were out in force in September and October of 2007, systematically sampling the state's waters for crappie and other species. What they found was first reported in their annual findings report, issued last November. We've taken the results one step further and broken out the key crappie waters to target this summer.

In order to make good use of a report on the state's waters, it's helpful to examine first how the MDC employs its crappie management strategy. Even though crappie research began in Missouri in the 1980s, it took several years to initiate a strategy for testing and managing the populations in both large and small lakes. At one time, MDC officials believed that medium-sized lakes such as Clearwater Lake in southeast Missouri or Thomas Hill Lake in the northeast region were the largest waters in which good crappie populations could grow and be maintained. It was believed, incorrectly, that larger lakes and impoundments created environments "too complex" for managing a fish species.

The MDC studies eventually would show that larger reservoirs were not producing large or "slab-sized" crappie because the younger fish were simply being caught before they could mature to the size found in smaller waters with less fishing pressure. Sampling and tagging studies revealed age and growth patterns, and restrictions on certain sizes enabled crappie to mature to sizes often found in smaller waters.

Today, most of the state's popular impoundments boast respectable populations of either black or white crappie and, in some cases, both. Here are some good examples of where you might want to start casting those jigs or minnows.

NORTHWEST REGION
For anglers in search of a more confined crappie setting, Grindstone Reservoir is worth considering. In 2005, the city of Cameron raised the outlet on Grindstone Reservoir, pushing the footprint of the small lake to nearly 200 acres. With the expanded water capacity came additional submerged cover -- and everyone knows that crappie like brushpiles.

Last year, crappie fishing was described as "good" in Grindstone, with a large complement of fish pushing 7 to 10 inches. This year, those fish will likely have reached the 11- to 13-inch range, providing patient anglers with an opportunity to fill a livewell by working the smaller water.

Don't leave the northwestern region without hitting Happy Holler Lake. Like many of the state's crappie impoundments, Happy Holler was the site of brushpile additions in recent years to enhance existing natural cover. Crappie measuring up to 12 inches suspend near the newer brushpiles or around submerged standing timber. Maps indicating the locations of new brushpiles are available on the MDC Web site.

If it's a crappie-catching experience you seek -- and not necessarily a crappie creel-limit experience -- stop by the half-dozen lakes in the Hartell Conservation Area northeast of Plattsburg.

Anyone familiar with southeast Missouri and its fishing will quickly recognize two names: Clearwater Lake and Wappapello Lake. Both offer ideal crappie habitat created by spring-fed waters and clean Ozark streams.

Hartell CA boasts five lakes (and a sixth smaller pond used exclusively for special events) that contain ample quantities of many species of fish. Intense management over the years has turned this handful of small lakes into a treasure trove for anyone willing to practice catch-and-release angling. The small lakes are open to artificial lures only, which bodes well for crappie anglers.

Accessing the lakes requires small boats or canoes with paddles or electric motors only (no gas outboards). If you don't want to bring your own, a few small boats are available at no charge. For a unique crappie experience, Hartell CA should definitely be on your list.

NORTHEAST REGION
Head east and you're likely to end up at Thomas Hill Lake, where productive crappie angling is available year 'round. Thomas Hill serves as a reservoir of recycled cooling water for a coal-fired electrical generation plant. Warmwater discharge from the plant creates ideal growth conditions for crappie even during the winter months.

During the early 1990s, the MDC worked fervently to stock 4,500-acre Thomas Hill Lake with brushpiles. The old cover was supplemented with new brush in 2005, and additional brushpiles were added. The cover locations can be identified using a map available from the MDC Northeast Regional Office at (660) 785-2420 or by simply looking for the yellow "Fish Attractor" signs posted on the shoreline.

White crappie are the most-sought fish in Thomas Hill Lake. Crappie sampling and angler surveys from 2006 pegged nearly 60 percent of harvested fish at 9 inches or longer. In 2007 those numbers improved slightly, and there's no reason to suspect that 2008 won't be even better.

Again, for those wishing to target crappie on quieter waters, consider downsizing to Deer Ridge Lake's 48 acres in the Deer Ridge Conservation Area. You can expect to find a substantial population of black crappie measuring 8 to 10 inches, especially during the spring months. As with most crappie lakes, standing timber and submerged brushpiles are prime targets early and often.

Head south and you'll run into the August A. Busch Memorial and Weldon Spring conservation areas. Combined, these two neighboring outdoor havens offer at least 574 acres of water. These are urban waters, so you can expect to encounter other anglers here throughout the year. As a result, the MDC has imposed some very specific rules and regulations to help the crappie population continue to thrive despite heavier-than-normal fishing pressure.

The lakes of the Busch Memorial and Weldon Spring CAs are numbered and can be deciphered by downloading a map from the Internet ahead of time or by picking up a map once you arrive in the area. Lakes 37, 35, 34,

8 and 6 are known as top crappie-producers. A few true slabs in the 13- to 15-inch range can be taken from Lake 33. In 2007, anglers were urged to keep crappie of all sizes up to the daily creel limit of 30 fish from lakes 30, 33 and 35. Sampling in 2006 showed an abundance of fish in the 7-inch range in those three lakes.

The best fishing in the Busch and Weldon Spring CAs can be tapped during April and May, so start planning your trip now. With the conservation areas in a metropolitan region, finding a place to stay or eat is the least of your worries. That's not always the case when you drop in on some of the more rural areas for a couple days of relaxed fishing.

SOUTHEAST REGION
Anyone familiar with southeast Missouri and its fishing will quickly recognize two names: Clearwater Lake and Wappapello Lake. Both offer ideal crappie habitat created by spring-fed waters and clean Ozark streams.

Said Paul Cieslewicz, who serves as the MDC's fisheries management biologist for Clearwater Lake, "Clearwater has some dandy crappie." Since Clearwater is one of the larger prime crappie waters in the state, net surveys don't always yield the most accurate results. However, a combination of sampling and angler surveys last year showed that about 64 percent of crappie taken were 9 inches or larger, and more than half measured a minimum of 10 inches.

According to Cieslewicz, crappie in Clearwater Lake are "cyclic," and the cycle for 2008 is looking very promising.

As for sheer volume, Wappapello Lake far outreaches any other impoundment in the southeast region of the state, including Clearwater Lake. If you like fishing larger water, spend a few days at Wappapello, located northeast of Poplar Bluff in Butler and Wayne counties.

A new rule was imposed at Wappapello Lake in 2006 that requires all crappie measuring less than 9 inches be released "immediately." Only a small portion of black crappie pulled from the waters of Wappapello will be greater than that 9-inch limit, but white crappie are an altogether different story. The average white crappie caught in 2008 should range from 6 to 10 inches, and a decent number of fish will measure up to 12 inches. Don't be surprised if you reel in that jig or minnow to find a "bragger" in the 14-inch range attached to the business end of your line. They're there, and the fight is worth the gas and time needed to get in position.

The daily limit on Wappapello remains at 30 fish.

Missouri's southeast region offers ample opportunities on smaller water as well. Next door to Wappapello Lake, and just south of Clearwater Lake, you'll find Duck Creek Conservation Area. As the name implies, Duck Creek is primarily a waterfowl destination, but the clear, shallow waters of the enhanced wetland area offer a unique glimmer of hope for hearty crappie anglers.

"Hearty" is the requisite descriptor because for all the respectable crappie at Duck Creek CA, the area provides an equal -- or greater -- dose of frustration. Anglers employing jigs here are likely to encounter heavy vegetation in the shallow, clear lake during the summer months.

MDC officials say the vegetation at Duck Creek can be a deterrent for some anglers, while a few regulars and an occasional hardcore fisherman or fisher-woman seems to view it as an enjoyable challenge. The vegetation flourishes when the summer sun penetrates the clear water and reaches the lake floor, starting in early summer. Because of the extremely shallow water and better-than-normal clarity, those in the know suggest using light line and small bobbers.

Not only will a crappie angler be treated to a remote, quaint fishing experience at Duck Creek CA, but it's likely he or she can capture a few glimpses of a resident family or two of bald eagles living in the area as well.

SOUTHWEST REGION
Go West, young man: More than a century and a half ago, that was the exhortation to Easterners seeking a more prosperous life for their families. The same advice could be extended to those looking for some of the state's premier crappie impoundments.

Already known for Branson, Silver Dollar City, Springfield and the home of Bass Pro Shops, the state's southwest quadrant is also home to some of the Midwest's best crappie lakes. Consider sampling the waters of Pomme de Terre Lake northeast of Springfield, and don't overlook Table Rock Lake or Stockton Lake.

Go West, young man: More than a century and a half ago, that was the exhortation to Easterners seeking a more prosperous life for their families. The same advice could be extended to those looking for some of the state's premier crappie impoundments.

Pomme De Terre Lake offered some excellent fishing opportunities in both 2006 and 2007. An above-average shad population continues to keep all species in the lake at higher-than-normal numbers, and crappie are no exception. The lake offers a mix of both black and white crappie, and 2006 samples indicate black crappie account for 95 percent of the crappie in the lake. The sampling also turned up several black crappie in the 13-inch-plus category. Another important finding showed 58 percent of the fish estimated to be a year or older exceeded 9 inches in length.

Even with crappie populations flourishing, MDC fisheries management biologist Dale Cornelius, who manages Pomme De Terre Lake, said the conservation department continues to add and replenish brushpiles throughout the lake. Right now there are more than 250 such brushpiles marked on MDC maps, with GPS coordinates accompanying about 100 of them. More brushpiles were added in 2007, and those coordinates and locations will be made available this spring. Most brushpiles generally are placed in water ranging from 15 to 30 feet deep during normal pool. Call the Lebanon MDC office at (417) 532-7612, or visit the MDC Web site to request a map.

Two other impoundments in the state's southwest region deserve mention for their crappie populations. Table Rock Lake, fed by the James and Kings rivers, boasted excellent crapping populations in 2005 and 2006. Catch rates were expected to be down slightly in 2007, and this year is expected to be similar. A majority of crappie taken in 2007 were estimated to be about 10 inches or longer. Anglers exclusively targeting crappie should look to the James River, Kings River and Long Creek arms of the lake. To no one's surprise, minnows and crappie jigs do well. Fish habitat maps are available through the MDC.

Stockton Lake is expected to see a slight decline in crappie harvest during 2008. While the volume seems to have waned in the past couple years, the size of the fish appears to be in the running with most lakes in the state. Recent samplings indicate that white crappie in Stockton Lake are larger than black crappie. In the 2007 survey, about 43 percent of the sampled fish were of legal size.

All in all, Missouri promises to be a hotbed of crappie angling activity in 2008. Continued management and growing knowledge of how best to handle impoundments of differing sizes have enabled MDC researchers and management biologists to keep Missouri anglers in the crappie -- and k

eep the crappie in the frying pans.

Find more about Missouri fishing and hunting at: MissouriGameandFish.com

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