Mid-State April Crappie

Mid-State April Crappie

Whether you're looking for a new crappie hole or just planning to fish your old favorites, here's the information you need to catch slabs in the Oklahoma City area this month.

ODWC fisheries biologist Kurt Kuklinski admires an average-sized white crappie caught off a rocky point not far from Arcadia Lake's dam. Orange-and-white buoys mark brushpiles in several areas of the lake. Photo by Mike Lambeth

By Mike Lambeth

The month of April means different things to different Oklahomans. Some Okies plant their gardens, knowing the winter chill has loosened its grip and killing frosts are finally over. Others know April signals spring turkey season. Fishing purists know April's warm spring temperatures bring spawning crappie into shallow water and that the frenzied fishing action can be addictive.

Just ask the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Russ Horton what excites him about April. You are most certain to hear of spring turkeys and spawning crappie, but knowing Horton as I do, he will no doubt call turkeys in the morning and throw jigs in the afternoon. Horton actually grins and gets a sparkle in his eyes when you talk about spring crappie fishing in Oklahoma. In the Horton household, spring crappie fishing has become a family tradition. Horton includes his two boys and two girls on most of his fishing excursions.

When the redbuds bloom, the Horton clan converges on Lake Thunderbird and their fishing trips are commemorated with a fresh crappie dinner soon thereafter. The average size of Thunderbird "papermouths" is 7 inches. Russ grinned and said, "I have found that the filets from a limit of 37 crappie will fit perfectly in a gallon-sized Zip Lock bag."

Oklahoma is fortunate to be blessed with an abundance of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams that are loaded with good numbers of crappie. Each April, anglers pursue slab crappie with their baits of choice - minnows, jigs and small soft-plastic baits. Any way you like to fish, if you have never anchored over a school of crappie you do not know what you are missing!

Most all waters in Oklahoma hold both white and black crappie. However, due to fishing pressure and overharvest on some lakes, some waters are better producers than others are. Here, I've listed my picks for the top lakes for catching crappie in the middle of our state.

LAKE THUNDERBIRD
Lying 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City and near Norman is Thunderbird Lake, a 6,070-acre impoundment known by locals as T-Bird, Dirty Bird or Dirty T. Though respected as a lunker bass factory in the 1970s, Thunderbird is also well known for its healthy populations of crappie.

The average size crappie at T-Bird is 7 inches. "Most of the fish in the lake are stunted, and as a result many never reach trophy potential," says Jeff Boxrucker, senior biologist with the ODWC. "To remedy the problem, we introduced saugeyes into the lake to eat the smallest crappie. As a result, the average-sized crappie is now getting bigger."

Boxrucker is an expert on Lake Thunderbird and 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 water, and most crappie tend to move in shallower and are 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.

Both Boxrucker and Horton suggest that anglers key on Thunderbird in mid to late April when spawning activity normally peaks. Boxrucker recommended that crappie anglers try the area west of the boat ramp near the water tower, due to its being a traditional spawning area. The location can be reached by taking Alameda Street east from Interstate 35, until it dead ends at the lake. Jeff also recommends that anglers try Snake Pit Cove, Clear Bay, Duck Blind Cove and Old River Range Cove, located in the Hog Creek arm of the lake.

Horton is partial to the south dam area and Calypso Cove and advised that fishing around the boat docks is also good. But he warned that those areas are private and can only be fished by boats getting no closer than 100 feet away. Anglers can also fish the numerous brushpiles in the lake that are marked by buoys.

The two experts agreed that small jigs and plastic baits work best in yellow, chartreuse, white and shad colors. Small minnows are the bait of choice for bait-fishermen.

ARCADIA LAKE
Located 15 miles north of Oklahoma City near Edmond is Lake Arcadia. Arcadia Lake covers 1,820 acres and was built by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers as a water supply lake. The lake 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.

Fisheries biologist Kurt Kuklinski said anglers should find above-average numbers of crappie, but size-wise their catch will probably be below average, measuring 6 to 7 inches. Kuklinski said the anglers should focus on the long brushpiles clearly marked by the orange-and-white buoys. "These areas are good staging areas for spawning crappie, which sometimes congregate there for weeks at a time," he said.

Edmond resident Norman Miller is a regular on Arcadia Lake and prefers to fish the rocky riprap east and south of the 15th Street boat ramp. Miller regularly takes slab crappie there during April and May. His favorite tactic is to troll jigs and small crankbaits parallel to the rocks and off points.

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

Be aware that the lake is a fee-use area with prices posted at the entrances. Prices are well worth the sometimes outstanding fishing there.

LAKE CHICKASHA
Located nearly 60 miles southwest of Oklahoma City is Lake Chickasha. This 820-acre lake is nestled between Chickasha and Anadarko and is historically a really good crappie lake with good populations of slab-sized specks.

As the water warms in April, the resident crappie seek shallow water near the numerous stickups and standing timber on the west side of the lake to spawn. Chickasha Lake is a relatively clear lake, and so crappie there normally spawn a little deeper than in lakes with low visibility. There are tremendous schools of shad for the crappie to gorge on during their spawning ritual.

Small marabou and plastic jigs are in order here and a slip-cork with a small minnow is also a good enticement.

LAKE JEAN NEUSTADT
While motoring on my way down to Dallas, I have 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 Boxrucker, "Most people believe Jean Neustadt is private, but it is owned by the city of Ardmore and can be fished for a nominal daily fee. And the fishing is very good."

Jean Neustadt is located 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 small, stunted overpopulated crappie.

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

A city lake permit is required for fishing or boating.

LAKE EUFAULA
It's hard to mention crappie fishing in Oklahoma without mentioning Lake Eufaula. Though not precisely centrally located, this impoundment is affectionately known as "Oklahoma's Gentle Giant." The lake 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 located two hours east of Oklahoma City on I-40. The lake features both murky water and areas that are exceptionally clear. Crappie fishing is generally good in Eufaula year 'round.

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 averaged 12 to 14 inches and provided my friends and me with several hours of fishing entertainment. Once our limits were reached, we threw back keeper papermouths 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 in the jig-and-grub variety will fool even the most discriminating slabs.

LAKE HEFNER
One of the most overlooked lakes in central Oklahoma is tucked away right in the heart of Oklahoma City. Lake Hefner is a 2,500-acre water supply lake that is a sail-boaters delight, and it receives very little fishing pressure.

Carl Jones owns Hefner Bait & Tackle, a local store that stocks fishing baits and offers free advice to area anglers. Whenever the crappie are biting, Carl is a fixture on the nearby lake, which is located just a rock-throw from his shop.

Carl rates Hefner as a good fishery and adds, "The crappie fishing now is better than ever. When I started fishing here, few guys fished Hefner, but now I have several guys fishing with methods that I helped pioneer."

Jones fishes the lake year 'round, and when he isn't slip-corking for catfish he uses his special 14-foot rod to hurl a Styrofoam slip-cork with his handmade jigs in the 1/16- to 1/64-ounce size, hoping to dupe some of the lake's crappie. Jones' favorite tactic is to make a long cast parallel to the riprap area near the dam and then slowly retrieve his offering. He feels that his long rod affords him a longer cast and keeps his jigs in areas where the crappie like to spawn.

Jones' hand-tied jigs went over so well that he now features his "Lightning Strike Jigs" on a Web page: www.carljonesfamousjigs.com.

Jones recommends that newcomers to Hefner try casting jigs from the rocky areas near the dam and from the east side of the lake near the lighthouse and restaurants. The jetty on the southwest side of the lake is a good spot, too.

Hefner Lake requires anglers to buy a $2 daily fishing permit, and anglers can expect to catch crappie in the 3/4- to 1-pound range when conditions are right. I have never fished Hefner when I did not catch fish. This lake is a real sleeper.

FORT COBB LAKE
Fort Cobb Lake is a 4,100-acre lake located near the town of Fort Cobb, 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. The lake gained popularity in the 1960s and '70s as the "crow capital of the world." Literally thousands of crows set up roosts in a manner reminiscent of scenes from the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds."

The lake has gained fame due to the fantastic fishing opportunities available. The fishery there has been improved thanks to habitat additions in the lake.

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

KAW LAKE
Another lake that lies beyond the boundaries of midstate, but is still deserving of mention as a great lake for huge crappie, is Kaw. It's located near Ponca City and just east of I-35. This 17,040-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment is the cream of the crop in that area, according to Boxrucker.

Crappie there are showing excellent growth trends. Much of that is due to the fertile Arkansas River, which feeds into the south end of Kaw. The resulting turbid, salty water is rich in nutrients. The spawn there sometimes can run into May.

Anglers enjoy success using traditional crappie baits, and stringers of 1-pound-plus crappie can be very common in April.

RIGGING FOR CRAPPIE
Crappie fishing and ultralight tackle go hand in hand. Battling a feisty slab on light line is exhilarating, and most any tackle will work for crappie. Small jigs that range in size from 1/64 ounce to 1/8 ounce seem to work well on any water. Jigs with spinners for added flash, like Road Runners, are a longtime favorite of mine. Tube jigs, curly-tailed grubs and even minnow-shaped plastic baits get eagerly devoured by hungry papermouths.

Shad colors work best, as shad and minnows are the staples of a crappie's diet. I often opt for bright colors like chartreuse or fluorescent pink when casting. However, day in and day out, white- or pearl-colored artificials are hard to beat.

When bait-fishing I like to use a crappie rig. This setup allows me to use two minnows, and many times I catch crappie two at a time. For added realism, I use a 1/8-ounce colorful jig on

the bottom of my rig instead of a sinker. This setup is very effective when night-fishing or fishing around marinas and boat docks.

LAST CAST
As a taxidermist for nearly 30 years now, I have had the privilege of mounting some real wall-hanger crappie. While one that approached 4 pounds was caught by Rick Chancellor at Lake Thunderbird in the mid-1980s, most of the crappie that I consider really big were caught in private farm ponds. I know that not all farm ponds hold crappie, but many do. Don't overlook this relatively untapped source of slab crappie.

In the late 1960s my dad caught a white crappie that he later gave away to be filleted and eaten by a neighbor. Dad's crappie was a white crappie and it weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces. Had he been record-conscious, he would have realized he had just broken the world record. Oh well, another case of the big one that got away!

Both of Oklahoma's record crappie were caught in farm ponds. The state record for white crappie is 4 pounds, 15 ounces; the record for black crappie is 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Just think: The farm ponds that you pass by on a daily basis may have the next state-record crappie within their banks!



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