Crappie Central

Crappie Central

April is great for Oklahoma crappie, and these lakes in the middle of the state are great places for catching them during the month. (April 2007)

Angler Todd Huckabee with two good reasons that he keeps coming back to Lake Hefner.
Photo by Mike Lambeth

Oklahoma waters will come alive this month when schools of crappie invade the shallows to spawn. For ardent crappie anglers, April's warming temperatures signal prime time for slab action. So grab your ultralight tackle and crappie jigs and fetch the minnow bucket -- and don't forget a fish basket to accommodate your catch!

But before you zoom off into the wild blue yonder, read up on some of the state's top crappie holes.

LAKE THUNDERBIRD

Lying 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City near Norman is Thunderbird Lake, a 6,070-acre impoundment that locals have nicknamed "T-Bird" or, because its water is normally muddy year 'round, "Dirty Bird." Though celebrated in the 1970s as a lunker bass factory, Thunderbird also is well known for its healthy population of crappie. However, the average size of the crappie at T-Bird runs between 6 and 7 inches.

"Most of the fish in the lake are stunted, and as a result many never reach trophy potential," observed the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Jeff Boxrucker. "To remedy the problem, we introduced saugeyes into the lake to eat the smallest crappie. And as a result, the average-sized crappie is now getting bigger."

An expert on Lake Thunderbird, Boxrucker offered some savvy advice based on his biological findings: "Most crappie in Thunderbird spawn in 2 to 3 feet of water due to the prevalent muddy or turbid water, and most crappie tend to move into shallow water and be more active at night. Male crappie are smaller and can usually be caught near the bank, while females, being larger on average, prefer slightly deeper water."

Boxrucker suggested that anglers key on Thunderbird in mid-to-late April, when spawning activity normally peaks. And give the area west of the C boat ramp, near the water tower, a try, as it's a longstanding spawning area. That area can be reached by taking Alameda Street east from I-35 until it dead-ends at the lake.

Boxrucker also spoke highly of Snake Pit Cove, Clear Bay, Duck Blind Cove, and Old River Range Cove, all in the Hog Creek arm of the lake.

Small jigs and plastic baits in yellow, chartreuse, white, and shad colors are the way to go; small minnows are the bait of choice for bait-anglers.

LAKE EUFAULA

Although Eufaula's two hours' drive east of Oklahoma City on I-40, it's hard to talk about crappie fishing in Oklahoma without mentioning this impoundment called the "Gentle Giant." Featuring waters both murky and exceptionally clear, its 102,200 surface-acres give it the largest area of any lake in the state.

I cut my teeth on Eufaula's slab-crappie action years ago, and it remains my favorite place to fish today. The crappie fishing generally is solid year 'round. Recently I fished Eufaula with Todd Huckabee, one of the most proficient crappie fishermen I've ever met. Huckabee prefers to fish the timbered areas up the lake's long creeks. His tactics require a long rod -- he uses an 11-foot rod that bears his name -- and dips a soft-plastic Yum Beavertail jig in a swimming motion around every potential crappie haunt. Huckabee's prowess quickly filled the boat's livewell with chunky 2-pound slabs.

Other good spots to fish are at any of the lake's boat docks, which often have weighted cedar trees tied to them to attract fish. Fishing around those docks can be outstanding; recommended are small minnows, marabou jigs, and Road Runners.

When water temperatures warm, spawning crappie head to the brushy shallows surrounding the lake.

LAKE ARCADIA

This 1,820-acre lake -- built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a water-supply reservoir -- can be accessed by taking I-35 north from Oklahoma City and exiting east on either the 15th Street exit, or the Edmond Road exit.

According to the ODWC's Kurt Kuklinski, anglers should find above-average numbers of crappie in Arcadia, but their catch will probably be below average size-wise, the fish measuring 6 to 7 inches.

Kuklinski advises anglers to focus on the long brushpiles, which are clearly marked by orange-and-white buoys. "These areas are good staging areas for spawning crappie, which sometimes congregate there for weeks at a time."

Bank-fishermen can do equally well casting small jigs in the 1/64- to 1/8-ounce size range in bright fluorescent colors. The addition of a slip-cork can help anglers cast the lightweight jigs more efficiently and control the depth of lure presentation. Though the fishing can be good all day, the best fishing times are generally the first few hours of daylight and the last few hours before dark.

The lake is a fee-use area; prices are posted at the entrances.

LAKE HEFNER

Lake Hefner is one of the most neglected lakes in central Oklahoma. The small 2,500-acre water supply reservoir is tucked away in the heart of Oklahoma City. Used heavily during the spring and summer months by sailboaters, Hefner receives very little fishing pressure.

Between Wilshire and Hefner Road, and between Hefner Parkway and MacArthur, the lake is situated next to a 36-hole golf course bearing the same name.

Carl Jones, the owner of Hefner Bait & Tackle, a nearby store that stocks fishing baits, gladly offers free advice to area anglers -- if you can find him in the store, that is. When the crappie are biting, Carl can be found fishing the riprap area just a stone's throw from his shop.

Jones rates the lake as a solid fishery. "The crappie fishing at Hefner now is better than ever," he said. He has a particular tactic for its crappie: slip-corking. Using his handmade 14-foot rod, he hurls a Styrofoam slip-cork and a pair of handmade jigs, one weighing 1/16 ounce, the other 1/64.

He prefers casting the jigs parallel to the rocky area near the dam and then slowly retrieving them. His feeling is that his long rod enables him to make a longer cast, which allows him to keep his jigs in areas where the crappie like to spawn.

Newcomers to Hefner should try casting jigs from the rocky areas near the dam and from the east side of the lake near the lighthouse, Jones recommended. The jetty on the southwest side of the lake

is a good spot also. Minnow fishermen will do well virtually anywhere on the lake.

An open shoreline and the prevailing south wind can make the lake choppy at times. Nevertheless, the fishing can be super; I've never fished Hefner without catching something. Anglers can expect to take crappie in the 3/4- to 1-pound range when conditions are right.

Fishing Hefner Lake requires a $2 daily permit.

WES WATKINS

Last but not least on our list is 1,142-acre West Watkins Reservoir, one of the state's newest lakes and located just east of Oklahoma City near Harrah. 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, observed that when the lake first opened, it was intended to be a catch-and-release-only lake. But that reasoning has since changed; now anglers can keep fish other than largemouths.

"Crappie fishing in April 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."

Mary Fowler has worked long enough at the lake office at Wes Watkins to know the type of crappie limits that the lake produces. In fact, part of Fowler's job is to sample anglers to find out what they catch and where. She once witnessed a man bring in a 4-pound crappie, and attests to several others that weighed 3 pounds or better. "We have some huge crappie," she stated, "but some days they can be tough to find."

Some nice crappie are caught off of the main roadbed or off of the timbered area west of the roadbed. Most anglers fish by boat, most with minnows and small jigs.

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 sizes of some fish caught at Wes Watkins are outrageous as well.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Carl Jones' hand-tied Lightning Strike Jigs attract so much admiring notice that he now retails them on his Web page, the URL for which is .

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