Oklahoma'™s Late-Spring Crappie Honeyholes
October 05, 2010
For this month's best crappie action, be sure to check out the slab situation at these hot waters across our state. (May 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
May isn't exactly the top month for catching crappie. But be that as it may (no pun intended), plenty of time remains for chasing papermouths across the Sooner State -- particularly if you know where to look.
So before you write off the prospect of another tasty meal of fried crappie filets, consider the following honeyholes for a solid slab outing before the Memorial Day holiday -- one such being 89,000-acre Lake Texoma, which actually harbors several honeyholes within its aquatic confines.
"I'd probably pick Texoma as one of my better crappie-fishing spots," said Paul Mauck, an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologist for the south-central part of the state.
That's especially accurate as far as the upper part of the lake is concerned. Owing to the delta effect of sand and sediment pouring in from the Washita River, the upper end of Texoma has several pools that are cut off from the main lake.
In fact, according to Mauck, these are really mini-lakes unto themselves, with maximum depths ranging from 10 to 20 feet. Add in abundant shallow habitat and vegetation, and in many of these isolated pools you have a crappie haven.
"Those areas have been having more stable water levels now of their own, so we're seeing more of an improvement of shoreline habitat," Mauck confirmed. "That's conducive for crappie in these pools and we're seeing some really good crappie populations in some of these areas."
Such areas include the Widow More Creek Cove, Butcher Pen, Kansas Creek, the upper Cumberland Pool near Tishomingo, and several pools around the north and south dikes. The latter two have riprap on the face of the dikes, which can help cause the crappie fishing to heat up -- literally.
"A lot of times, those areas heat up before the other crappie spots do on the main lake," Mauck said. "They are shallower and a little more dingy, so they can warm up quicker."
But don't forget that the main pool of Texoma can produce some really good crappie fishing, too. "On the main pool, you've got to fish around the brushpiles in May," Mauck said. "We've got 38 brushpiles that we've put in and freshen up every other year. They're in almost all of the major coves on the Oklahoma side. Those brushpiles are marked with pencil-type buoys that have an ODWC and hook symbol on them to mark them as fish attractors."
Mauck offered that the crappie fishing can also be good around boat houses, ledges, and rocky shorelines on the main pool too. In fact, in many such areas, people have put out their own fish attractors.
"The fishing can be good all the way into May and even on up into the summer," he said. "A lot of people have quit fishing for them by then -- but it's not over."
With a 10-inch minimum-length limit and a 15-crappie bag limit in place at Texoma, the crappie there -- primarily white crappie -- can reach pretty good sizes, observed Mauck. "We have fish that get well up over 2 pounds," he said, "and we get reports of fish caught over 3 pounds. While we don't see a lot of crappie over 2 1/2 pounds, that's still a barn-door crappie."
Keep in mind that Texoma is a two-state reservoir, so is a short boat ride across the lake to the Texas side, where some prime crappie fishing will be found in many similar areas.
I've experienced that good fishing firsthand on my own and while fishing with my wife's uncle, Larry St. Clair, of Sherman. Top areas on the Texas side include the Paradise Cove area, Brushy Creek, and the creeks that feed into Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Other good areas can be found out west on the delta-formed flats west of Slickum Slough where the Red River empties into the lake.
Texoma isn't the only southern Oklahoma late-season crappie honeyhole that Mauck recommends. Another is up Highway 69/75 at 5,700-acre Atoka Lake.
"I certainly wouldn't overlook Atoka," Mauck said, noting that the peak fishing usually begins in mid-April around Tax Day. "It is a dingy lake, but it has some really good white crappie in it."
How good? "They'll get to 3 pounds in Atoka," Mauck continued. "They get really large there -- and we probably have some of our biggest crappie come out of Atoka. The reason for that? I think they live longer there and have some years to them. With a good shad base in there that has not been over utilized by the predators in there, the crappie get the benefit of all that."
As for where to look for crappie at Atoka, the ODWC biologist recommended looking around the Highway 43 bridge, particularly on the riprap that lines the channel under the bridge. Another key area is in the Mill Creek area of Atoka.
Even when the water's stained -- Mauck reported that you can sometimes see only a foot -- the lake's crappie anglers express no really clear-cut preference in terms of minnows or jigs, as both seem to work equally well.
Moving a bit farther north toward central Oklahoma, Lake of the Arbuckles is a 2,346-acre lake in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area that Mauck rates as another prime late-spring crappie fishing honeyhole. "It's another good lake with some good numbers of nice black and white crappie in there," he said, noting that black crappie seem to do better in water bodies like Arbuckle and Broken Bow that have clearer water conditions.
With a lot of coves, water willow growing on the shoreline, submergent coontail alga (which has seen substantial growth in recent years), and brushpiles, Arbuckle features plenty of crappie habitat. "The lake's three main coves -- Buckhorn, Guy Sandy, and Rock Creek -- have a lot of little coves within the bigger coves," Mauck said. "That means that you can get into a wind-protected cove and, a lot of times, the crappie will move into those wind-protected coves to spawn."
Once they do so, Mauck acknowledged, not many Arbuckle boathouses are baited up to hold crappie, so finding the fish in the post-spawn period, as the slabs move back out into deeper water, becomes a little more problematic. "People tell me later on they've caught them as deep as 50 feet," he said. "So you've got to locate them first, because they'll move out of deep water into shallow water and back out into deeper water as spring continues."
While Arbuckle's slabs aren't as big as Atoka's, Mauck noted, it's reasonable to expect to catch fish up to 2 1/2 pounds from the former group. "A crappie that size is a good crappie anywhere you go," he said.
Moving farther north into the Sooner State, another two possibilities were added to the list of late-spring hotspots by biologist Gene Gilliland, who works at the ODWC Fisheries Research Lab in Norman.
"I'd say that Thunderbird and Hefner are two that I'd pick because they have lots of crappie in them and they are good size ones," he said. "Plus, they are both right here in the metro area, with Hefner right in OKC itself and Thunderbird right here in Norman."
That good access apart, the biologist asserted, one of the primary reasons for his recommending the duo is that some good crappie come out of both lakes each year. "They have some good-size crappie in the 10- to 14-inch range," he said. "Most people figure that anything over 9 or 10 inches is a keeper-sized fish. Crappie fishermen are notorious for overestimating the weight of their fish -- if they catch a 14-incher, they'll often call it a 2-pounder. But there are some legitimate 1-pounders out there, and probably some that are considerably bigger."
Take T-Bird, for instance, which according to Gilliland has had a stunted crappie population over the last 10 to 15 years. "We began stocking saugeyes some years ago and saugeyes tend to feed in the summer on little crappie," he said. "That has thinned out the crappie enough so that there is more food to go around for the rest of them. Now the growth rates for crappie have improved on Thunderbird. While there are still lots of little ones out there, the number of keeper-sized crappie has increased dramatically, and it's still a pretty decent crappie fishery."
Where should a May angler target crappie on the 6,000-acre T-Bird? "There is a cove that we call Five Fingers, and right next to that is the Little Axe boat ramp," Gilliland offered. "There are a number of brushpiles in that cove. There's also another area on the other side of the lake called Clear Bay, and it has a couple of our ODWC brushpiles in there."
As for bait preferences here, Gilliland said that, as at most places, it's a tossup between jigs and minnows. The key isn't so much the bait -- which is a personal preference most days -- but finding and keying in on the brushpiles that dot the bottom of T-Bird.
"We put out big cedar-tree piles every winter and put buoys on them to mark them so that people know where they are," Gilliland said. "By May, crappie are starting to go post-spawn and the fish have moved offshore, so they are going to be on those deeper-water brushpiles."
At 2,500-acre Lake Hefner, the key isn't so much brushpiles as rocks. "Hefner is a big bowl and there are not a lot of bays, coves and arms," Gilliland said. "At least half, maybe a little more of the shoreline is riprap. The prime crappie spots on the riprap are along the dam. When the water level is up, there is some fishing around marina docks. But the bulk of it is on the dam."
That the water is deep right along the dam has spawned a unique manner of fishing for Hefner's crappie. "It's a pretty good walk to get from the road down to the riprap," Gilliland said. "A technique that crappie anglers use there is a slip-bobber, and they may fish it anywhere from 10 to 30 feet deep. They'll make a long cast offshore and fish vertically with the slip-bobber, most using jigs instead of minnows. There's a pretty good group of hardcore crappie anglers that have perfected this technique. They'll use 10-foot rods, slip-bobbers, light line, tiny jigs and fish up to 75 feet offshore in water 20 and 30 feet deep."
Does it work? "A lot of times, these anglers are catching suspended crappie," the biologist said. "The water may be 40 or 50 feet deep right there off the dam where they're casting."
Sound complicated? Gilliland referred those needing guidance to the lake's crappie gurus, who tend to gather at Hefner Bait & Tackle on the lake's west side. There, most anglers will eagerly help newbies get rigged up, and show them how to catch the suspended slabs.
"These guys are very open and willing to tell guys how to do this," Gilliland said. "They'll help get them rigged up with equipment and show them how to do it, because it's not a secret society of how to do it or anything like that; they're real good in wanting other people to catch them, too."
A possible sleeper lake to consider -- depending on water conditions -- for a late-spring crappie fishing outing is 1,142-acre Wes Watkins Lake. "I don't know if the crappie population will be sustained out there at Wes Watkins," Gilliland said, "because it is a fairly young lake. The same thing that has happened in two or three other lakes might happen there: The lake was impounded; the crappie were among the first species to get started. The ones that got there in the first two or three years had no competition, and so they got pretty big. At some point, however, the population starts building, the competition for food increases, and that competition will slow the growth rate down."
Will that happen at Wes Watkins? "Well, I didn't hear nearly as much about Wes Watkins this year as compared to the last couple of years," Gilliland said. "Some of that could be due to low water conditions, drought, and water usage from Shawnee."
Gilliland offered that while Wes Watkins has had a good crappie run going in recent years, he's not overly optimistic about its future at this point, given both his theory and the fact that Shawnee's main water-supply lake has been plagued by serious drought conditions. "If it doesn't fill up, then they'll rely more heavily on water from Wes Watkins," he said. "I don't know about recruitment either, because there is a lot of good spawning area up on the dry bank for both crappie and bass too. Crappie aren't a real long-lived species, and that means that things that happened a couple of years ago can have a big impact on crappie. They only live 3 to 5 years, while bass live 8 to 10 years."
Of course, when considering crappie fishing in the Sooner State, never overlook 102,000-acre Lake Eufaula. "Eufaula is always a good crappie lake, especially when the water levels are there," Gilliland said. "It's so diverse in terms of habitat. And the crappie population seems to be good, no matter what is happening there. It's good year in and year out."
One key area to try, according to Gilliland, is the upper end of Longtown. "That's the one I hear about the most," the biologist said. "It's a pretty sizable area on the upper end of Longtown that wasn't cleared, and there is a lot of old standing timber, timber that has fallen down, brushpiles, and that sort of thing. There's a lot of jig-fishing because of the wood -- it's hard to make a minnow weedless, since they'll swim into the bushes and get hung up."
Eufaula's crappie are of a good size, sta
ted Gilliland, averaging 12 to 16 inches. So given the lake's good forage base and growth rate, pound-sized crappie are going to be common.
Finally, keep in mind that there are plenty of other good spots to try for late-season crappie fishing. Gilliland noted that water bodies that make the list for late spring crappie fishing success near Tulsa include such spots as Grand, Fort Gibson, and Hudson, among others.
Which basically means that from one end of the Sooner State to the other, May is a grand month to go fill a stringer or fish basket with a limit of slabs.
And keep the peanut oil handy -- because if you do catch a mess of crappie, it'll be just in time for a finger-licking-good fish fry over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.