Hot Action On Cool Crappie

Hot Action On Cool Crappie

February slab angling in Oklahoma can be a cold business unless you fish a hotspot whose action keeps you warm. As on these waters, for example! (February 2009)

February weather can be unpredictable in the Sooner State -- sometimes below freezing, and other times unseasonably mild. It's true: Okies can experience spring-like temperatures at times, and also be ravaged by winter the next day. Angling this month can be a precarious task in the ever-changing climes, but don't miss a golden opportunity to haul in a mess of crappie.

Red Miller and Crystal Dollahon caught these February slabs by fishing jigs in 14 feet of water up a creek on Grand Lake. Photo by Mike Lambeth.

Obsessed crappie anglers know February is the start of some stellar angling for the voracious papermouths. The gregarious crappie will be on the prowl this month in frenzied schools as they bulk up on minnows and shad to sustain themselves for the spawning activity ahead.

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.

So whether you're a minnow dunker or a jig-fishing aficionado, now's a great time to head to one of your favorite crappie waters. Before you go though, check out the information below and maybe you'll find a new fishing spot to try.

LAKE EUFAULA
Lake Eufaula is the state's largest lake, spanning 102,000 acres. It's in the southeast part of the state near the town of the same name.

Summer anglers regularly catch hefty limits of crappie on Eufaula, making it one of the most popular destinations for anglers statewide. It's also a fine choice for winter speck fishing.

Though its waters are turbid or even dirty in some areas, Eufaula contains some prime crappie habitat in which schools of slabs lurk, waiting to ambush schools of small minnows and shad. The entire lake produces good numbers of crappie, but the top areas are the clear parts of the lake like Porum Landing, Duchess Creek, Belle Starr, and the Highway 9 landing.

Robert Reece is a diehard crappie angler who enjoys success each winter at Eufaula. An Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation aquatic habitat foreman, he prefers to leave the warm confines of the lake's heated docks to fish the numerous brushpiles, which are home to good numbers of the skillet-sized delicacies.

Reece, who estimates that he fishes 30 days each winter, catches some of his largest crappie in the south end of the lake near Crowder. In fact, when it comes to catching really big crappie, the self-effacing angler has a knack, having caught several sure-enough slabs weighing more than 3 pounds. And while he enjoys catching big crappie, he releases all those over 14 inches so they can grow to be what he calls "real slabs." He also fishes some of the lake's many brushpiles constructed by the ODWC. Fortunately, most of them are marked with a buoy.

Reece fishes three sizes of jigs, 1/32- 1/16-, and 1/8-ounce, and prefers feathers instead of plastic tails. His favorite colors are pink, black/pink, and white/pink.

"I like to use 4-pound-test line," he said, explaining his winter tactics. "And I believe that you should fish your jig as slow as possible, due to the fish being sluggish. Generally, I find 90 percent of my fish in 12 to 16 feet of water. Catching 12- to 16-inch crappie is common. I also recommend that anglers who don't have success early try fishing midday." The daily limit is 37 crappie; there are no length restrictions.

GRAND LAKE
Located near Grove in northeastern Oklahoma, about an hour's drive from Tulsa, is 46,500-acre Grand Lake O' The Cherokees.

Fishing Grand in the summer can be a trying proposition. That's because the numerous yachts that traverse the lake can kick up some mighty rough water. But the good news is that during the winter months, this huge, deep lake is virtually devoid of large boats. It actually receives little fishing pressure then. Except for a few diehard guides who -- like Ivan Martin (918) 260-7743 -- fish it year 'round, the lake's all but vacant. And it yields some great winter creels.

Martin, an expert on the lake, specializes in crappie, white bass, and largemouth bass. He's been guiding there for more than 20 years. Headquartered at Martin's Landing on Monkey Island, Ivan operates a sport shop and motel and books fishing trips any time of the year.

"Most people think the only crappie fishing on Grand in the winter is done on one of the lake's 10 heated fishing docks," he said. "The fishing docks are good, but actually, there is some great crappie fishing on the open water."

Martin notes that the crappie will move and congregate near ledges in 20 to 30 feet of water. Ivan prefers to use artificial baits only, and is partial to using 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigs in chartreuse, white, and red-white-and-blue.

Ivan suggests that anglers target Honey Creek, Elk River, Duck Creek, and Drowning Creek. He advised that access to these areas is almost limited to boats only, but added there's public bank access at the Horse Creek Bridge.

Though white crappie are the main species at Grand, Martin says, black crappie are starting to make their presence known. Grand anglers can take a combined creel of 15 crappie daily with a 10-inch minimum length.

LAKE HEFNER
This 2,500-acre water-supply lake in the heart of Oklahoma City offers tremendous opportunities for catching a variety of fish. According to lake expert Carl Jones, Hefner is an awesome crappie hotspot that is overlooked by too many anglers -- and its crappie fishing, he says, is better than it has ever been.

A fixture on the lake, Jones catches as many slabs in the winter months as he does during the warmer months. He fishes Hefner from the bank and takes a limit of crappie almost every outing.

Jones employs a deadly tactic, he claims, slip-corking. Jones rigs his long slender corks to allow a pair of jigs to suspend at a prescribed depth. Jones garners his success by using both fishing jigs and 14-foot custom rods that he makes at his nearby tackle store.

The best fishing spots on the lake are the riprap area that covers a third of the lake's shoreline and the area near the west side fishing jetty. The majority of crappie caught in Hefner will be the white variety and will range in size from a half-pound up to a pound.

An enclosed fishing dock is located on the southwest side of the lake. Hefner anglers are allowed a generous limit of 37 crappie daily, with no length restrictions.

LAKE CHICKASHA
Nestled between Chickasha and Anadarko nearly 60 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, this 820-acre lake has historically been a popular crappie lake with good populations of slab-sized specks.

In February, Chickasha's resident crappie stage in deeper water before seeking shallow water near the numerous stickups and standing timber on the west side of the lake in which to spawn. Chickasha Lake is a relatively clear lake, so crappie there normally spawn a little deeper than those fish at lakes with low visibility. Fortunately, there are tremendous schools of shad for the crappie to gorge on during their spawning ritual.

Anglers using traditional crappie offerings should enjoy success when fishing from the riprap area near the dam. The lake limit is 37 crappie.

WES WATKINS
Next on our list of hot crappie lakes is Wes Watkins Reservoir -- one of the state's newest, and located just east of Oklahoma City near Harrah. This 1,142-acre lake received unwanted attention when, a few years after its opening in 1999, it was hit hard with largemouth bass virus. The lake is now showing signs of rebounding. Though the bass suffered, the crappie were unaffected; the slab fishing seems to get better every year.

When the lake filled, it incorporated some established ponds that had solid, mature populations of both crappie and bass. The partially timbered lake is a great one for catching springtime slabs on both minnows and jigs.

The ODWC's Garland Wright, who oversees Wes Watkins, believes the lake is a great place for anglers. He says that when the lake first opened, it was intended to be a catch-and-release-only lake, but that reasoning has since changed, and now anglers can keep fish other than largemouth bass.

"Crappie fishing can be very good if the lake level is up," said Wright. The water level has fluctuated in the past due to heavy usage coupled with drought conditions, but spring rains have helped tremendously."

Mary Fowler has worked long enough at the lake office at Wes Watkins to know the type of crappie limits the lake produces. In fact, part of Fowler's job is to sample anglers to find out what they catch and where.

Fowler once witnessed a man bringing in a 4-pound crappie, and attests to having seen several other crappie that weighed 3 pounds or better. "We have some huge crappie," she confirmed, "but some days they can be tough to find."

Albert Baldwin lives nearby, and takes full advantage of that proximity by fishing the lake three or four times a week almost year 'round. Known as "Paw Paw" by lake regulars, the retiree normally fishes the lake with minnows. He says that when they're biting, he catches some nice crappie.

Baldwin shared part of his lake knowledge by suggesting good spots for crappie anglers to try.

"Most of the nice crappie are caught off of the main roadbed or off of the timbered area west of the roadbed," he acknowledged. "Most anglers fish by boat, and most of them fish with minnows and small jigs. The lake's shoreline is very shallow, so most angling is done from boats."

Wes Watkins anglers and boaters are required to pay an access fee of $6 a boat and $6 to fish. This may seem outrageous to some anglers, but the fish caught at Wes Watkins are outrageous as well. The lake limit on crappie is 37.

I rate this lake an excellent choice for crappie fishing. A little advice: Fishing is a less-crowded proposition on weekdays.

Next time you go to Wes Watkins, don't be surprised if you run into Paw Paw sacking up a string of slabs!

LAKE TEXOMA
Lake Texoma lies on our southern border with Texas and is home to prodigious numbers of crappie.

The 91,200-acre lake contains several marked ODWC brushpiles. Strategically placed, they typically harbor good numbers of crappie. These artificial structures are found at varying depths and good places to fish jigs or minnows vertically during winter excursion. I have a good friend who catches some nice slabs from a private dock that he regards as tailor-made for specks, thanks to the addition of a few submerged Christmas trees.

The best spots are near the Roosevelt Bridge, Washita Point, Soldier Creek, Alberta Creek, and Buncombe Creek. On bright sunny days, key in on the riprap areas near the bridges, as crappie are drawn to the warmer water produced by the sun heating up the rocks.

Anglers can take 37 crappie with a minimum length of 10 inches daily. Since the lake lies in both Oklahoma and Texas, a Texas fishing license is required for fishing on any of the Texas lake areas.

LAKE TENKILLER
Less than an hour's drive southeast of Tulsa, this clear-water lake spanning 13,000 acres is a favorite of mine because of rocky structure that provides great habitat for many species of fish. In the past Tenkiller was hit hard by largemouth bass virus, but the lake is now rebounding, and its crappie fishing is better than ever.

According to fishing expert Gary Dollahon, the best fishing areas are found in the mid-lake area where crappie school in deep water prior to moving shallow to spawn. Fishing brushpiles and deep dropoffs near the dam can be very productive.

Tenkiller anglers are allowed 15 crappie with a minimum length of 10 inches.

LAKE JEAN NEUSTADT
While motoring on my way to Dallas, I've always been drawn to Lake Jean Neustadt, which I perceived to be a private lake. I always wondered what it would be like to fish the beautiful structure-strewn banks of the 462-acre lake north of Ardmore. According to the ODWC's Jeff Boxrucker, I was not alone in my thinking.

"Most people believe Jean Neustadt is private," he said, "but it is owned by the city of Ardmore and can be fished for a nominal daily fee. And the fishing is very good."

The lake is 90 miles south of Oklahoma City, just off I-35 a few miles north of Ardmore. Boxrucker said the addition of saugeyes to the lake has improved the crappie fishing due to the saugeyes helping to remove some of the stunted, overpopulated crappie.

Best areas to fish are on the north end near the water willows and in the creek that feeds into the lake near State Highway 53. Those areas are known hotspots for crappie and for diehard crappie anglers.

A city lake permit is required for fishing or boating. Lake limit is 37 crappie.

LAKE THUNDERBIRD
Lake Thunderbird -- "T-Bird," as the locals call it -- is just 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City near Norman. The 6,000-a

cre lake is turbid most of the time, but it still produces good stringers of crappie each year.

Though the average-sized crappie may be small there, occasionally some real slabs show up. The stunted fish are the result of minimal aquatic vegetation, owing to the muddy water blocking so much sunlight that what gets through is inadequate for normal plant growth.

The top winter spots are brushpiles near Clear Bay, Snake Pit Cove, Calypso Cove, and Duck Blind Cove. The daily limit is 37 crappie of any size.

BEAT THE COLD AND STAY INDOORS
Heated docks can be found at numerous lakes in Oklahoma and serve as a seasonal meeting place for diehard anglers. These docks provide a social gathering place while offering a great opportunity for all ages to get in some winter fishing.

Though most enclosed docks can be fished for free, others require a nominal fee. Most are heavily baited with cedar trees that serve as an attractant for baitfish. They're a dandy place for dunking a few minnows or to bob a colorful jig.

Care must be exercised when fishing near these evergreen reefs, as they act like magnets for fishing lines. You don't want to spend all your time hanging up and breaking off.

Some docks provide food and beverages, but all provide a warm place to fish, and guarantee hours of fun. For a list of these docks, log on to the ODWC's Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.

With more than 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 some mild days that make being on the lake bearable.

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

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