Fun With February Crappie

One huge reason for the popularity of crappie with Oklahoma anglers is that the panfish are so much fun to catch. Plenty of fun awaits you at these prime spots across our state this month. (February 2006)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

I had looked forward with great eagerness to this fishing trip. Cabin fever had gotten the best of me, and knowing by the last days of winter that I'd been shut in too long, I had high hopes of snapping out of it by catching a basketful of tasty crappie.

Temperatures had been near freezing, but had begun to warm, climbing into the high 40s. In anticipation of what would still be a chilly boat ride, I bundled up.

Dropping anchor near an abundance of standing timber, we prepared to drop our minnow rigs into habitat that looked to hold substantial numbers of specks. I impaled a pair of lively minnows on the twin hooks on my crappie rig and dunked the enticement into the chilly waters below the boat.

Soon our hunch was proved right as our rods bent simultaneously, each pulled by a pair of half-pound papermouths. We tossed the four speckled fish into the wire mesh basket dangling over the side of the boat, and reached for new minnows to reload our crappie rigs. In the next few hours, we caught nearly 60 crappie, and though we didn't reach our combined limit of 74, we had a blast beating the winter doldrums.

This and similar scenarios will be played out throughout the Sooner State this month as anglers wander statewide to their favorite fishing holes in pursuit of crappie. Oklahoma crappie fanatics should find that some February days are unseasonably mild and present weather conditions conducive to coaxing the so-called "couch potato" anglers out of their easy chairs and onto the swivel chairs of a fishing boat.

Anglers should find crappie on the prowl this month as the slabs bulk up on minnows and shad to sustain themselves for the spawning activity ahead. Most anglers miss this opportune time to be on the water, but for sage crappie fans, the prime time to be on the water is right now.

What more can I say? February is a tremendous month for breaking out the panfish tackle and heading to a crappie fishery in your locale. One thing for sure is that the fishing can be better than you ever imagined. In the paragraphs that follow, I'll offer a rundown of one or more great crappie spots near you. Lakes with daily bag or length limits other than the usual 37 per day will be noted.

LAKE ARCADIA

Just east of Edmond lies Arcadia Lake, a 1,820-acre water-supply reservoir that's home to solid numbers of crappie. The lake is turbid most of the time owing to the inflow of the muddy Deep Fork River. However, don't let the murky water keep you at home, because suspended beneath that stained surface are many strategic brushpiles and much flooded timber -- homes to schools of pan-sized crappie.

"The lake's average crappie caught will be smaller than we hoped for," said the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's crappie expert Jeff Boxrucker. "Nevertheless, the lake has good numbers of crappie weighing just under a pound."

The lake has some well-marked ODWC brushrows placed in strategic areas, and plenty of timber to keep a doodlesocking angler busy for hours. The best lures are small jigs and minnows, according to local expert Brandon Jones, who operates a bait shop a few miles away.

LAKE HEFNER

Carl Jones spends a great deal of time fishing Lake Hefner -- a 2,500-acre water supply lake sited in the heart of Oklahoma City -- and with good reason: The lake satisfies crappie anglers year 'round. Jones rates February as a great month for sacking up a mess of "silversides" at Hefner. He fishes along the long rocky riprap area of the small lake because he feels that he can usually catch crappie there.

Jones' favorite fishing method is to use small jigs, which he makes at his nearby bait shop. He offers the jigs at the end of a long rod with a slip-cork, or he yo-yos his feathered lures into known crappie haunts.

Lake Hefner also features an enclosed fishing dock for anglers not willing to put up with the chilly outdoor temperatures at this time of year. Here, as at many other winter crappie lakes, small minnows and jigs in a variety of colors are the best bait choices.

Boat anglers can find crappie virtually all over the lake, but the choice spots for finding the speckled fish are near the dam or the rock jetty on the west side of the lake. Heck, I've caught crappie in virtually every spot on the lake.

LAKE EUFAULA

It's hard to mention winter crappie fishing without mentioning the state's largest fishery: Lake Eufaula. Near the town of the same name, this productive fishery spanning 102,000 acres is a popular destination for crappie anglers of all ages. I cut my crappie-fishing teeth at Lake Eufaula nearly 35 years ago, and it remains one of my favorite lakes for taking bragging-sized papermouths.

Lake Eufaula offers a diversity of habitat as well as varying water clarities, with parts of the lake being extremely clear, while others look muddy. The ODWC has improved the fishery with the addition of several brushpiles marked with buoys.

February is a great month for catching Eufaula's crappie. The lake offers several heated fishing docks, but I prefer to fish the brushy habitat during daylight hours and, using a crappie light, beneath the bridges at night.

Several of the lake's fishing docks are great spots for jig-fishing. My favorite setup is to tie two or three jigs on my line spaced 12 inches apart, and then swimming the jigs around the moorings on docks. Most docks are baited with evergreen trees and harbor more crappie than most anglers are aware.

The water temperatures in the south end of the lake generally warm first, and crappie seem most active there prior to spawning, when the lake comes alive with frenzied panfish.

Fishing guide Todd Huckabee rates Lake Eufaula as an excellent lake for February crappie. He advises winter anglers to target crappie in creeks, where the fish stage before moving toward spawning areas, and noting that when you catch two consecutive days of sunshine with temperatures in the high 40s, he adds, you can bet that the next day will be a good day to go after crappie.

"Normally I look for muddy water in the 6- to 10-foot depth range," Huckabee offered, "and I normally find crappie suspended between 5 to 7 feet. I catch 70 to 100 crappie a day that will average 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, and usually a few in the 2 1/2-pound range."

Huckabee, like Martin, prefers to use larger baits, his preference being a 2-inch Yum Wooly Beavertail in either black and pink or black and chartreuse.

The top winter spots on Eufaula are Gentry Creek, Rock Creek, Coal Creek, Gaines Creek, Duchess Creek, Belle Starr, and Mill Creek.

GRAND LAKE

Grand Lake O' The Cherokees is one of the finest recreational spots in the northeast part of our state. In the summer months, the lake surface gets very rough, thanks to the traffic from multiple huge craft, but the winter months usually find the lake dotted with few boats, normally just those seeking crappie or sand bass.

Guide Ivan Martin rates February as an outstanding month for catching some real slabs. The lake has numerous heated and private enclosed docks, but Martin braves the sometimes-inclement weather with a client in tow, and finds the fishing to be topnotch.

"We generally catch good numbers of white crappie, but lately we are catching more black crappie than before," he said. "The crappie normally will hang out in 20 to 30 feet of water, and are very susceptible to being caught on larger jigs than most people believe."

The average-sized crappie caught in Grand will be larger than in most lakes, with anglers regularly catching 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-pound crappie.

Ivan suggests that anglers target Honey Creek, Elk River, Duck Creek, and Drowning Creek. He advises that access to these areas is limited practically to boats only; he did note, however, that there is public bank access at the Horse Creek Bridge.

The lake has a 10-inch length limit; anglers are allowed to keep 15 crappie daily.

LAKE TEXOMA

Lake Texoma, on the Oklahoma/Texas border, is a real gem for winter crappie anglers. My close friend Chris Box -- whom I write about often because of his fishing prowess -- asserts that the fishing there is just as good in winter as it is in summer. Box, who fishes from a private dock, regularly hauls in his share of bragging-sized specks. He uses both jigs and small minnows, and usually doesn't have to wait long for his rod to start twitching.


At Thunderbird, Russ Horton and his fishing family are regulars in the Calypso Cove area, from which they routinely haul home baskets of hand-sized crappie.
 

"I really enjoy fishing Texoma in February" Box said. "I've caught some nice crappie there, with my best weighing almost 4 pounds."

Anglers fishing this 91,200-acre lake may target crappie in several of the lake's traditional winter hotspots -- areas such as Washita Point, Roosevelt Bridge, Soldier Creek, Alberta Creek, Buncombe Creek, and the Railroad Bridge.

Anglers can take 37 crappie daily; the fish must attain a minimum length of 10 inches. Since this lake straddles both Oklahoma and Texas, a Texas fishing license is required for fishing on any area on the Texas side.

LAKE THUNDERBIRD

Thunderbird is a great crappie lake near Norman, and thus just a short drive from Oklahoma City. The lake is heavily used in the summer -- it being a party hotspot for the local college students -- but is seldom crowded in the winter months.

ODWC biologist Russ Horton fishes the lake about as often as one would fish a backyard pond, and with good reason: He enjoys success there year 'round. He says that though T-Bird's crappie are a little smaller on average, they're readily found in late February when they move toward traditional shallow spawning areas. Horton and his fishing family are regulars in the Calypso Cove area, from which they routinely haul home baskets of hand-sized crappie.

Todd Huckabee, who also guides at Thunderbird, recommends that winter anglers target the areas along the dam, the deep timbered areas like Hog Creek, and the riprap by the Twin Bridges area. Other good spots are the ODWC buoyed brushpile areas, and submerged roads and bridges.

FORT GIBSON

Sited east of Tulsa near Wagoner is 19,100-acre Fort Gibson -- a lake that, according to Huckabee, is home to considerable numbers of lunker crappie.

"Really," opined Huckabee, "there is no place that is not good for winter crappie fishing at Fort Gibson. When you find the crappie, normally they will all be good-sized fish."

According to experts, the average crappie will weigh 1 1/2 pounds. Ordinarily, the lake's crappie suspend and are found at depths ranging from 12 to 30 feet. These fish can be caught on jigs, small spinners, and of course small minnows.

Good starting points on Fort Gibson are Jane Dennis Creek, The Islands around Topper Creek, Ranger Creek, and 14 Mile Creek. Another good way to locate the lake's prolific crappie is to fish near any of the ODWC buoys found throughout the lake.

Lake rules mandate a 10-inch minimum length for crappie; anglers there can take 15 crappie daily.

LAKE TENKILLER

Lake Tenkiller is another good lake for winter crappie fishing. This 13,000-acre rocky lake is one of the clearest lakes that I've ever fished. According to biologists and other lake experts, any of the creeks in the midlake area are good spots for finding crappie.

Brushpiles and deep dropoffs also are likely spots for huge schools of pre-spawn crappie. Also hot: the areas near the dam.

Lake resident Jimmy Houston rates the lake as tops for big slab crappie. He likes to use 1/4- and 1/8-ounce Road Runner jigs in yellow, pink, white, and chartreuse.

Tenkiller anglers have a daily limit of 15 crappie with a minimum length of 10 inches.

LAKE OOLOGAH

Finally, and not less important for that, we come to Lake Oologah, a 29,500-acre lake near Nowata in northeast Oklahoma that Huckabee rates as a real sleeper for crappie fishing. The lake is home to several acres of standing timber and outstanding numbers of crappie. Huckabee believes that anglers can find crappie by vertically jigging baits in 10 to 25 foot depths near wooded areas.

Good starting points are Talala Creek, Blue Creek, and north of the Winganon Bridge.

HEATED FISHING AT ITS FINEST

The heated docks found at numerous lakes in Oklahoma serve as a seasonal meting place for some anglers, providing an atmosphere of sociability while offering a great opportunity for all ages to get in on some winter fishing.

These enclosures, which usually can be fished for a nominal fee, are heavily baited with cedar trees that serve as an attractant for baitfish. They're dandy for dunking a few minnows or bobbing a colorful jig.

B

e careful when fishing near these evergreen reefs, as they also act like a magnet for fishing lines and lures. You don't want to spend all your time hanging up and breaking off.

Some docks provide food and beverages, and all make available a warm place to fish, and practically guarantee hours of fishing fun. For a list of these docks, log on to the ODWC's Web site,

www.wildlifedepartment.com.

With over 40 heated fishing docks in Oklahoma, crappie anglers need never venture far to find action. The diehard boat angler, on the other hand, knows that Sooner winters generally are interspersed with mild days that make being on the lake bearable.

Whichever way you choose to fish, go, and catch a basket of slab crappie. You'll be rewarded with one of the outdoors' tastiest meals a short time later!

FUNDAMENTAL ADVICE FOR FEBRUARY CRAPPIE

Winter crappie spend a good deal of time moving around while following schools of shad. Water temperatures below 45 degrees will cause shad to die and allow crappie to gorge themselves on the cold-killed baitfish. The optimum fishing depth can range from as shallow as 7 feet to as deep as 30. Crappie like to retreat into creeks, the first areas in the lake to warm in spring. Locating schools of baitfish as well as underwater structure can only be accomplished with a good depthfinder. Underwater ledges and rocky areas are also good spots for finding crappie.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Anglers wishing to book a fishing trip with Todd Huckabee of Fishfinder Guide Service can contact him at (405) 520-8980.

To contact fishing guide Ivan Martin, call (918) 257-4265.

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