Catching Central Oklahoma Slabs
October 05, 2010
Now's the time to get your share of crappie filets in the middle of our state -- and these are the places to get them from!
Photo by Keith Sutton
I don't think there's a month of the year that's better to the Oklahoma angler than April. Bass fishermen see the big ones move up shallow, putting them within reach of most anglers during that month. Hybrids and stripers are also active, yielding plenty of good fishing action. Walleyes begin heading shallow, making this hard-to-catch fish much more accessible for at least a few weeks. And catfish begin shrugging off their winter doldrums, providing some excellent action - and tasty eating - for anglers who know where to look for and how to catch them.
All those species notwithstanding, when you talk about April in the Sooner State, you've got to talk about crappie - big, slab-sided specks that greedily attack a minnow or jig with little provocation and provide arguably the best-tasting flesh of any Oklahoma game fish. They're plentiful, the bag limit is high and they're not hard to catch. And fishing for them is at its very best during the month of April and on into early May.
While good crappie waters exist throughout the Sooner State, central Oklahoma crappie anglers have it really good. Just a short drive in almost any direction from Oklahoma City can put serious crappie anglers right in the middle of some excellent April crappie fishing. Consider some of the following spots and tactics before deciding where to go to fill your livewell with hefty slabs this year.
LONGMIRE LAKE About a dozen miles east of Pauls Valley, this lake has an abundance of standing timber, making many parts of the lake very attractive to papermouths. Look for treerows along the edges of the numerous creeks that were submerged when the lake was impounded. Not only do these creek edges offer excellent cover to both crappie and the baitfish they feed on, but the steep drop down into the creek channels also provides another important structure element.
Submerged roadbeds are also excellent crappie habitat at Longmire. Since the lake is fairly new, compared to other lakes in the region, these roads are still easy to find - just look for a couple of treerows about a road's width apart coming off the bank and heading for deep water. Again, cover and a quick change of depth combine to provide excellent crappie habitat.
LAKE CHICKISHA This Chickasha water supply reservoir located eight miles northeast of Anadarko is the cream of the crop for central Oklahoma crappie, especially if you're looking for some really whopper papermouths. I've caught crappie there in the past that put such a bend to my rod that I'd have sworn I'd hooked into a feisty largemouth or a sizable walleye.
One particularly good place to look for springtime crappie at Chickasha is a strip of standing timber along the west bank that's about one-third of the way up the lake from the dam. This area provides an abundance of good cover for baitfish, resulting in good numbers of crappie inhabiting the area in order to take advantage of the ready food source. Any area in fairly shallow water with plenty of brush or other cover also will hold spring crappie at Chickasha, especially on the north end of the lake where cover and grass are plentiful. If you hit the lake on a day when a stout south wind is blowing into the northern bank, chances are good that you're going to catch a passel of slabs.
LAKE THUNDERBIRD Better known as Oklahoma's premier saugeye lake, Thunderbird is also a dynamite crappie lake. In fact, one of the main reasons for stocking saugeyes at the reservoir in the first place was to thin out stunted crappie in order to let those that remained grow to a size more desirable to anglers. Located eight miles east of Norman, the 6,070-acre Bureau of Reclamation lake annually produces some tremendous strings of crappie for anglers who know where to look.
Brush and timbered coves along the Hog Creek arm at the northeast corner of the lake are good places to start looking for crappie. Since the lake is relatively old and much of the standing timber has fallen, it's worth your while to use your depthfinder to locate inundated hotspots, and not just fish around the obvious timber. Various fish structures placed in the lake by ODWC personnel are marked by floating buoys. Many of these hold good numbers of crappie, as does the shallow brush located in close proximity to those honeyholes.
ARCADIA LAKE Arcadia Lake near Edmond is also becoming a fine speck impoundment. This 1,820-acre water hole, which is located about five miles east of Edmond, has produced some great stringers of papermouths for anglers who know where to locate them and what tactics to use once they find them.
Brushpiles built and placed at various locations before the lake was impounded - and since - are excellent places to find crappie. Start by fishing the brushpiles, many of which are marked with buoys, but don't give up if you don't catch a mess quickly. Crappie living and feeding in these brushpiles will often move to shallow spawning flats close to the brushpiles. Look for shallow, turbid areas with plenty of brush, and you'll find a crappie spawning flat that will produce day after day.
Keep in mind, however, that you don't have to find manmade brushpiles to find crappie in this reservoir. Probably Arcadia's biggest selling point is an abundance of the cover that crappie simply love to hang out in. Arcadia boasts acres of timber and brush, most of which is excellent cover for baitfish, thereby drawing crappie by the hundreds. Finding flats with cover is a no-brainer, but picking out just which area will hold the most fish can be more confusing. Just keep trying until you find one that holds catchable slabs.
FORT COBB LAKE Seldom thought of as a crappie lake, Fort Cobb has been coming on strong for the past several years. This 4,070-acre impoundment located eight miles north of the town of Fort Cobb owes its crappie success to extensive habitat work by ODWC fisheries personnel.
Conspicuously marked rows of submerged brush - some measuring up to 50 yards in length - can be found in several coves at Fort Cobb. One of the best crappie producers is located in the back of the first cove south of the dam on the east side. Another consistent crappie producer can be found in the first large cove north of the dam on the west side.
Spring crappie anglers who are also waterfowl hunters would do well to try some of their old Fort Cobb waterfowl hunts in their pursuit of crappie. Shallow backwater areas with plenty of cover are prized by spring crappie as well as by waterfowl. Flooded buckbrush in a foot or two o
f water can hold scads of crappie when the water temperature gets just right.
LAKE EUFAULA While not considered by many anglers to be a central Oklahoma lake, this huge reservoir in the eastcentral portion of the state has long been considered by many anglers to be one of Oklahoma's top crappie lakes, and therefore shouldn't be left out of any Sooner State crappie discussion.
And, like at most Oklahoma lakes, brush placed around docks and boathouses account for many of the crappie taken there. Tightlining small jigs or minnows on a long pole is a favorite method, although many Eufaula anglers also have good luck presenting their offering with a slip-float rig, which ensures they can put the bait right back down to the exact level on their next cast.
When the water temperature begins to warm, Eufaula crappie and crappie anglers, head for the buckbrush. Shallow brush in 2 or 3 feet of water acts like a magnet when fish are moving in to spawn. Tightlining a large minnow on a long pole alongside of, around and even inside buckbrush is an excellent strategy for taking crappie. I say a large minnow because, by most accounts, you'll catch bigger fish on bigger baits. If you prefer using small minnows, that's fine. But if you find your catch is not living up to expectations with a small minnow, then give a larger offering a try.
TACTICS Regardless of which lake anglers choose to visit this spring, some tried-and-true tactics will likely produce a mess of crappie. Spring crappie fishing at any reservoir can be kind of tricky, especially when you have some difficulty in locating good schools of fish.
As water warms, some fish get the spawning urge earlier than others and move toward shallow shoreline cover. At the same time, some fish will still be hanging out in their deepwater, winter haunts. The good thing about this is that if you can't find them in one place, it's a pretty sure bet they'll be at the other. Even better, you might be able to catch both shallow pre-spawn fish and deeper fish still in winter patterns in a single day's outing.
The easiest place to begin looking is around the shallow shoreline cover. During periods of warm, stable weather, these areas are likely to hold good numbers of fish, and these shallow fish are often easier to catch than are crappie holding in deeper water.
Flooded buckbrush is an excellent crappie attractor on any lake, but other brushy cover will produce nearly as well. Even cattails in the shallows can produce good catches of slabsides for anglers who use the proper tactics.
For catching crappie in extremely shallow cover along the bank, there's probably no better sport than going after them with cane poles. Using minnows or jigs, walk along the bank, quietly lowering the bait in likely looking places among heavy cover. If nothing hits after a few seconds, gently bob the bait up and down or slowly move it from side to side. At the slightest tap, lift the tip of the pole to set the hook. In such heavy cover, it's not a good idea to let fish run with the bait because getting tangled up is easy. However, spring crappie are more likely just to take the bait in their mouths and remain in one place than to swim quickly toward shelter.
Similar tactics can be employed using a long rod and reel combination in place of the traditional cane pole. However, avoid casting whenever possible, since casting into heavy brush frequently results in hangups, and a quiet presentation is important when crappie have moved up into extremely shallow water.
If you can't find crappie in the shallows along shore, try looking in deeper areas generally associated with wintertime slabs. Brushpiles, either natural or manmade, are often prime deepwater spots.
Again, a vertical approach generally works best. Position your boat over or near a brushpile and begin by fishing at several different depths. Try the outside edges of the brush first, moving to the thicker, inner parts if no fish are caught on the edges.
Anglers who have done lots of fishing over brushpiles know that whether you use minnows or artificials, fish aren't going to stay in the exact place while you yank slab after slab out of the water and fill your livewell. At first, crappie are often caught fairly shallow over the brush. If the bites stop coming, don't pack up and leave too early. Try fishing deeper and tighter to the cover. Many times disturbed crappie will move deeper and tighter, but a few adjustments can enable you to catch a few more good fish before moving on.
Whether anglers use live bait or artificial lures is strictly a matter of personal taste. In some situations, really big crappie seem to prefer a more natural offering, while at other times they'll shun live bait for a well-presented jig.
"Live bait" for crappie-fishing purposes usually means minnows. Anglers fishing with smaller minnows will almost always catch more fish than those opting for larger minnows. However, many veteran crappie anglers who would rather only catch crappie in the "barn door" size swear by large minnows. They say the larger baits tend to discourage smaller fish from biting.
Rigging rods and reels with a small split shot and hook often works best for pursuing crappie with live bait. In that manner, anglers can simply let out the required amount of line to reach the brushpile. Then it's just a matter of being patient until a papermouth takes the bait. Many other anglers prefer to fish minnows below a bobber. This somewhat old-fashioned but still-productive method allows anglers to fish their bait at the same depth after each fish is caught without having to struggle with letting out the exact amount of line each time.
Jigs and small spinners are the top artificial lures for papermouths. Hair jigs often work as well as anything can, but many anglers swear by leadhead jigs sporting rubber curlytails. In most waters, white, yellow and chartreuse are the favored colors, with a combination of any two proving deadly. In extremely murky water, black jigs often produce well. A pink head or pink curlytail will sometimes tempt the fish to bite when more-conventional colors fail to produce.
TULSA-AREA HOTSPOTS Anglers in the Tulsa area shouldn't fret over their crappie-catching possibilities. There are several great crappie lakes within easy driving distance, and all offer a good chance to fill your livewell with papermouths.
Tenkiller, probably better known as a fine bass lake over the past few years, is also an excellent crappie lake. And there's not a better time to chase Tenkiller slabs than in the spring. As water warms, look for fish in the 1- to 5-foot depth. A small jig fished under a slip-float is excellent for working these areas. Set the jig a foot or two below the float and cast it out around brush, weeds and submerged vegetation in the shallows to see if the fish have moved up.
If you only catch small males using this technique, it probably means the bigger females haven't moved up into the shallow water to spawn yet. Check a li
ttle deeper water for these bigger fish.
Skiatook is another dandy northeast Oklahoma lake that is better know for its fishing for other species than for crappie. It's an excellent hybrid striper lake, providing some of northeast Oklahoma's best hybrid fishing.
But anglers who fish the lake frequently in the spring know that it also is a darned good crappie lake, yielding many hefty stringers of slabs to anglers willing to get out and look hard and to fish hard.
Early Skiatook slabs will generally relate to timbered points, ranging from 12 to 7 feet in depth. Look for areas with plenty of standing timber and with nearby dropoffs in depth. Later on, look for the closest shallow flats, still with plenty of cover, in the same general area of the points just mentioned. When the fish move up to spawn, they won't move far, generally seeking the closest area with the preferred habitat.
Fort Gibson, just a hop, skip and jump from the Tulsa metropolitan area, also harbors some good crappie, and thus some good crappie fishing. And again, March, April and May are among the best months to pursue slabs on this great Oklahoma lake.
Look for crappie to be staging off dropoffs in 8 to15 feet of water at Fort Gibson. Long, tapering points with some brush or other cover are among the best areas to fish before the water warms enough for the crappie to really move into the shallows. Trolling small, medium-running crankbaits around various points and dropoffs is a good way to locate crappie at Fort Gibson. Chrome and bone-colored crankbaits are a particular favorite. Slow-trolling small jigs also is popular method for catching slabs, and it's very effective.
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the state, Grand Lake O' The Cherokees also provides some dandy crappie fishing to anglers in the know.
Spring crappie at Grand will still be in and around brush at the many boathouses on the lake before the water warms and they start their migration into shallow water. Look for a boathouse with rod holders mounted on the rail, and there's a good bet that the owner has sunk some brush below those rod holders. There's an equally good chance that some good crappie will live in that brushpile.
Later, after the water warms, look for the crappie in 3 to 5 feet of water with some kind of cover.
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