Middle Oklahoma's Papermouths

You'll definitely want to include these crappie hotspots near Oklahoma City on your hit list for April slab action. (April 2008)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Springtime in Oklahoma is a delightful time. As temperatures warm, trees and grass begin to display brilliant green hues, and chirping birds greet most dawns. For outdoors enthusiasts, April signals the beginning of a month-long trifecta: turkey season in full swing, morel mushrooms growing near decaying timber along creek banks -- and, for anglers, prime time for crappie!

Now's a great time to test your angling skills against the scrappy crappie, which is indigenous to all state reservoirs, and found in most rivers and streams. Below is a run-down of some of the top crappie spots in the midstate region. So read on -- and maybe you can try some of the waters in your locales and experience some spring crappie fishing at its finest!

ARCADIA LAKE
One of the crown jewels in Edmond's recreational resume is Arcadia Lake. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a water-supply lake, this 1,820-acre lake lies just east of Edmond, 15 miles north of Oklahoma City. It's easily accessed by taking I-35 north from Oklahoma City and then exiting east at either the 15th Street exit or the Edmond Road exit.

I spent time there one April morning with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologists Kurt Kuklinski and Gene Gilliland, who were conducting a crappie netting survey to assess the growth trends of the lake's speckled game fish. Their findings confirmed that while anglers will find above-average numbers of crappie in Arcadia, their catches would probably be below average in length, measuring 6 to 7 inches.

Gilliland said that anglers should focus on the long ODWC brushpiles, which are clearly marked by orange-and-white buoys. "These areas," he said, "are good staging areas for spawning crappie, which sometimes congregate there for weeks at a time."

Carl Jones -- featured numerous times in Oklahoma Game & Fish -- fishes the turbid reservoir often. He meets with success by using a pair of his own jigs and a slip-cork. Jones has caught crappie in Arcadia over 3 pounds.

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 periods are generally the first few hours of daylight and the last few hours before dark.

Leon Mixer, who works for the city of Edmond at the lake, offered that the enclosed fishing dock at the Spring Creek Boat Ramp is a great place to fish as well. "The dock actually is popular with crappie anglers, when the fish start biting," said Mixer, who monitors the spot daily. "I've seen some pretty nice sized crappie come out of there."

Another likely spot is the southeast side of the lake; heavily wooded, it's teeming with crappie. Care should be exercised when navigating through the thick vegetation.

The lake is a fee-use area with prices posted at the entrances. The access fees are pricey, but usually well worth the outstanding fishing found there.

CHICKASHA LAKE
Chickasha Lake lies between the town of Chickasha and Anadarko, and within an hour's drive of Oklahoma City. Though small -- only 820 acres -- this lake fed by two creeks is relatively clear. Featuring a fair-sized complement of stickups, it typically produces good numbers of slab-sized crappie.

According to the OWDC's Larry Cofer, the lake's shoreline vegetation is less luxuriant now than formerly, owing to the lake having been drawn down to prevent flooding.

"Most of the crappie we have sampled have been black crappie, and the average weight will be a half-pound," he said. "When the lake first opened, there were some really nice crappie caught, but lately the size is not what it once was, though there are still some nice-sized crappie in the lake."

Cofer suggested that April crappie anglers concentrate their efforts near the small pods of cattails on the northwest side of the lake. He also believes the dam is a good spot for catching crappie. The lake features an enclosed fishing dock, which is open to the public, and some underwater brush rows added to supplement fish habitat. Those areas are clearly marked with buoys.

Chickasha Lake doesn't offer much cover, but there are a few brushy areas beneath the surface that can be found with sonar equipment. Those areas are good spots to probe for post-spawn crappie.

Cofer thinks that though crappie growth rates have slowed from what was once typical at the lake, the lake still can be dandy at times.

Anglers fishing Chickasha Lake are allowed the state limit of 37 crappie. An access fee is charged.

WES WATKINS LAKE
This reservoir just east of Oklahoma City near Harrah spans 1,142 acres. Hit hard with largemouth bass virus in the late 1990s, the lake is now showing signs of rebounding. Though the bass suffered, the crappie were unaffected, and 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 timbered lake is a great one for catching springtime slabs on both minnows and jigs.

The ODWC's Garland Wright, who oversees West Watkins, believes that the lake is a great place for anglers. He said 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 in April can be very good if the lake level is up," he said. "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 they fish. She 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 stated, "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 regul

ars, the retiree normally fishes the lake with minnows. He observed that when they're biting, he catches some nice crappie.

Baldwin shared part of his lake knowledge by suggesting some 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 noted. "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."

I rate this lake an excellent choice for springtime crappie fishing. A little advice: Fishing here's a less crowded proposition on weekdays.

At Wes Watkins, anglers and boaters pay an access fee of $6 a boat and $6 to fish.

LAKE THUNDERBIRD
Lying 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City near Norman is 6,070-acre Thunderbird Lake, nicknamed by locals as both "T-Bird" and -- in token of its water, which 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 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," said Jeff Boxrucker, the ODWC's senior biologist at the lake. "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," he explained, "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. This site can be reached by taking Alameda Street east from I-35 until it dead-ends at the lake. He also spoke highly of Snake Pit Cove, Clear Bay, Duck Blind Cove, and Old River Range Cove, located in the Hog Creek arm of the lake.

T-Bird regular Russ Horton is partial to the south dam area and Calypso Cove. He noted that the action around boat docks is also very worthwhile, but adds a warning that the many private boat docks may well allow no fishing within 100 feet. Anglers can also fish numerous brushpiles, which are marked by buoys.

The two experts agree that 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.

FORT COBB LAKE
This 4,100-acre lake near the town of Fort Cobb, 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, attracted a lot of attention in the 1960s and '70s, thanks to the huge numbers of crows that were setting up roosts in the area, which some dubbed "the crow capital of the world." So many were the squatting corvids, in fact, that their gatherings were reminiscent of those in the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds. Hunters finally ran some of the pesky crows out of the county, and the lake attained celebrity for a more logical reason: its fantastic fishing opportunities. And the fishery has since been improved by the addition of habitat to the lake.

Anglers at Lake Arcadia should focus on the long ODWC brushpiles, which are clearly marked by orange-and-white buoys.

When water temperatures approach 60 degrees, crappie congregate in the shallow, brushy areas to be found in several of the coves at Fort Cobb. As at the previously mentioned lakes, minnows, jigs and small plastic baits will lure the hard-fighting crappie.

The top fishing spots on the lake are brushy points and the rocky area near the dam.

CANTON RESERVOIR
Lying 75 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, Canton Lake was originally built as a water-supply lake for Oklahoma City, but it's best known for the festive fishing contest that is the annual Walleye Rodeo. According to Donnie Jinkens, a 40-year resident of the lake, many anglers overlook this prolific 7,910-acre fishery.

I met Jinkens -- dubbed "The Crappie King" -- a few months ago, and was drawn by his warm personality. A devout Christian and operator of the Canton Motel, Jinkens is an incredibly gifted fishing guide on the lake, and while he can usually provide a limit of several of Canton's species, he's developed a special degree of prowess with catching slab-sized crappie.

"This lake is one of the most overlooked crappie lakes in the state," he opined. "In late April, and I generally catch some of my biggest crappie. The crappie will vary from 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds on average, but it's not uncommon to catch crappie over 2 pounds." In fact, Jinkens' best slab weighed over 3 pounds; it's mounted on the wall of the motel's office.

Jinkens advised targeting the northwest end of the lake around the cattails, as most of the lake's crappie spawn there. The area around the islands is also a worthwhile spot, and the Canadian area has a jetty for bank-anglers. The three-and-a half-mile-long dam is a likely spot for casting a pair of jigs or dunking some minnows. Jinkens noted that three pulloff areas by the dam are places at which crappie congregate. The ODWC has enhanced the lake's habitat with numerous brushpiles -- and though unmarked, they can be located with sonar equipment.

Jinkens' favorite artificial bait is a 2-inch Bobby Garland Baby Shad in black and chartreuse, red and chartreuse, white and chartreuse, and blue and white colors. Minnows and jigs will work well also, and most fish will be caught from at depths ranging from 12 to 18 feet.

To get up-to-the-minute fishing reports or to book a trip with the "Crappie King," contact Jinkens at (580) 886-5170

LAKE EUFAULA
It's hard to talk about Oklahoma crappie fishing without mentioning Lake Eufaula. "Lake Eufaula is the best crappie lake in the nation in April!" exclaimed Todd Huckabee, who guides on the lake. "There are literally hundreds of areas teeming with crappie."

Though not exactly centrally located, this impoundment affectionately known at "Oklahoma's Gentle Giant" features the most surface-acres of any lake in Oklahoma: 102,200.

I cut my teeth on some real slab crappie action on Eufaula years ago, and it remains my personal favorite to this day. Lake Eufaula is two hours east of Oklahoma City on I-40. The lake features both murky water and areas that are exceptionally clear -- and the crappie fishing is generally good there year 'round.

It's hard to talk about Oklahoma crappie fishing without mentioning Lake Eufaula.

On one spring night

we anchored our boat under the Highway 9 bridge. With the aid of lanterns and several dozen minnows, we caught a boatload of crappie as fast as we could lower our lines into the water. The slabs, which averaged 12 to 14 inches, provided my friends and me with several hours of fishing entertainment. Once our limits were reached, we threw back keeper paper mouths until we ran out of bait and called it quits.

All of the boat docks have numerous Christmas trees weighted and tied nearby to provide fish attractants.

When waters warm, spawning crappie head to the brushy, shallow areas that surround much of the lake. Minnows and artificials of the jig-and-grub variety will fool even the most discriminating slabs.

According to Huckabee, the best bets for crappie are Gentry Creek, Rock Creek, Coal Creek, Gaines Creek, as well as all of the bridges on Highway 69 and Interstate 40.

To book a trip with Huckabee call him at (405) 520-8980 or visit his web page at www.toddhuckabee.com.

* * *

Well, there you have it: a plethora of lakes, each holding enough papermouths to fill your freezer with tasty filets. If you're lucky enough to pick a batch of the delectable morels to prepare for the meal, the dinner combo will leave your guests begging for more!

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