We Have Crappie To Catch!

We Have Crappie To Catch!

Yes, and plenty of great places in the Lone Star State to catch them. These should be enough to get you started. (April 2010)

Spring is tailor-made for fishing in our great state.

Bass fishing is red-hot at almost every lunker hotspot, catfish hunters can find husky fish in a variety of ways, and saltwater anglers have it great for wade-fishing on shallow flats up and down the coast.

However, if you're looking for real fun that surely isn't far away, no matter where you call home, it's time to hit the water in search of a papermouth paradise.

Crappie fishing is at its best right now, and with mild temperatures across the state, there's no reason not to partake in what these fish have to offer. Whether you tie off your flat-bottom boat to a dependable, weathered stump, hit the dock for some night-fishing under the lights or simply fling wiggling shiners from the bank, you simply can't go wrong this month in the search for barn-door slabs -- and lots of them, too!

From small stock ponds to massive impoundments, the crappie seems at home anywhere, making its living among an array of subsurface habitat. With a little know-how, a dash of effort and maybe even a little luck, most anglers who hit the water this time of year in hopes of filling their freezer with some tasty fillets will cash in on lakes across our state.

Here's a look at the top lakes for crappie fishing in Texas this year.

CENTRAL TEXAS

John Tibbs, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist in Central Texas, said his part of the state should be chockfull of crappie, and highlighted a few lakes that anglers should consider this spring.

"(Lake) Waco is shaping up to be good this year for 10-inch to 12-inch crappie, as there was a good spawn in 2007, and larger fish are available as well," he said. "The abundance of cover from a 7-foot pool rise in the fall may make finding concentrations of fish a little difficult, but there are lots of them.

"Aquilla is also benefiting from the floods of '07 and should have lots of 10-inch to 12-inch crappie available as well. Both Waco and Aquilla held floodwaters for an extended period, which increased crappie spawn success. Longer retention time generally equates to increased numbers of crappie from that year.

"Mexia should also be good this year, as fall 2007 surveys showed large numbers of newly spawned fish. They should easily be of legal size. Mexia is almost always a good bet for crappie."

Tibbs previously pointed to drought and loss of habitat as being of concern for many bodies of water in Central Texas and also said that crappie populations tend to be cyclical in nature, which makes things tough to predict in some years. However, Tibbs also said there certainly is no shortage of great crappie fishing opportunities in his part of the state.

Other lakes to look at include Lake Limestone, which Tibbs said doesn't receive as much angling pressure since it's off the beaten path, but almost always has solid crappie numbers and plenty of suitable habitat. He also pointed to lakes LBJ and Granger. Another spot to consider is Lake Whitney, Tibbs said, which is more known for producing hefty smallmouths and stripers and hybrids. Tibbs said April is a great month on almost all Central Texas lakes with plenty of submerged vegetation. That's because of fish being more concentrated in shallower areas as the spawn takes place.

NORTH-CENTRAL TEXAS

Bruce Hysmith, TPWD's biologist in Pottsboro, said North Texas reservoirs feature great angling opportunities for bass, catfish and stripers, but there remain a number of fantastic fishing locales for crappie. Hysmith said crappie should be exceptionally good this year for one reason: Rain.

"Most of our reservoirs in my district are full and above with the exception of Lake Bridgeport, which is still low despite the fact that the West Fork Trinity River is still running," he said. "The high water favors spawning, affords protection to young sport fish and baitfish, floods vegetation that provides nutrients upon decay to fuel plankton that feeds small and larval fishes, and, lastly, it creates more habitat.

"Deep-water habitat created by lots of rain will pay dividends if we have a harsh winter. The crappie will be able to find deep water and keep on eating and growing."

Hysmith pointed to some specific hotspots he feels anglers should fish this spring.

"Some of the top places in my district consist of lakes Coffee Mill, Davy Crockett, Texoma and Lavon," he said. "Coffee Mill, if you recall, is in the Caddo National Grasslands in Fannin County and they have just recently ceased overflowing their respective spillways. They are in great shape and trap net surveys in Crockett produced some barn-door crappie, and plenty in the wings for next year."

Hysmith said Coffee Mill is the "go-to" crappie lake in his region, and the small body of water supports the highest crappie population in an eight-county fisheries district.

"Texoma has been 2 to 4 feet above normal for a while and lots of terrestrial vegetation has been flooded and is in various stages of decay," he said. "Finally, Lake Lavon is very high and has flooded acres of terrestrial vegetation. Lavon is a consistent producer of crappie in the first place, and all this rain is just going to push the envelope next year. You've got to watch crappie, however, because they can be so cyclic in their production, but we probably can lay that aside for this year because of the rain in the fall. And, if we get good spring rains, then all the much better!"

Other North Texas bodies of water to consider are Benbrook, Lewisville, Ray Roberts and Ray Hubbard, which all are rated good to excellent for crappie by the TPWD.

EAST TEXAS

This region offers the densest amount of water per acre in the state and there are some whopper opportunities in a number of them. Among the best crappie fisheries are Fork, Lake O' the Pines, Livingston, Conroe, Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. Fork, like Lake Alan Henry and Choke Canyon Reservoir, is known more as a trophy bass hotspot, but it also is an excellent crappie fishery. In the spring, the angling effort of those seeking crappie centers on the bridges that run over the lake in the form of highways and county roads. The same vegetation that holds stupendous largemouths also will provide cover for crappie. Dropping minnows in and around any variety of timber and vegetation should prove fruitful.

Lake O' the Pines and Sam Rayburn also are rated excellent by the TPWD for crappie, while Toledo Bend offers a twist on the limit. Anglers on T-Bend, which encompasses more than 180,000 acres, are allowed 50 crappie in combination, making for some work in the filleting process if anglers are inclined to haul in that many.

It's tough to pick any one lake that stands out above the rest, but T-Bend would seem the logical choice to be ranked No. 1 in the region. However, you actually can't go wrong on almost any of these lakes, especially with live minnows or light jigs fished around flooded and submerged vegetation.

WEST TEXAS

Spencer Dumont, the TPWD biologist in Abilene, said the Big Country area has a number of great crappie lakes, but that drought has impacted a number of West Texas water bodies.

"For spring crappie, Fort Phantom Hill, Stamford and Proctor are fantastic and similar with regard to quantity and quality," he said. "There may be access issues at Proctor, so you should keep your eye on that because of low water levels.

"Lake Abilene also has a lot of crappie and some big ones. However, without some rains, boat access will be difficult. A good sleeper is Lake Daniel. It filled in 2007 after being nearly dry for several years. It was re-stocked with white crappie, and somehow black crappie also found their way in. We had a great sample of both this fall in our nets. The biggest we found was 12 inches, but there were decent numbers of legal fish."

TPWD biologist Mukhtar Farooqi said other solid options for catching white crappie exist not far from San Angelo.

"Overall, I'd say Twin Buttes Reservoir has been the best lake for white crappie fishing in our district this year," he said. "A look at our ongoing creel survey data shows that anglers have been catching good numbers of fish in the 10- to 12-inch size category. And we expect this trend to continue, as many of the 8- to 9-inch crappie seen in our fall 2009 trap net survey grow beyond harvestable size."

Farooqi pointed to O.C. Fisher Reservoir and Oak Creek Reservoir as other good choices for crappie anglers looking for quality and quantity, though low water levels could make things tougher this spring.

Other solid options in this part of the state include O.H. Ivie and Lake Brownwood that sit east of San Angelo. The area east of Abilene also features noted crappie fisheries that include Hubbard Creek Reservoir and Lake Graham.

SOUTH TEXAS

This region features great bass fishing at a couple of locales, but many anglers overlook the potential for crappie.

Lake Corpus Christi usually has a bumper crop of legal-sized fish, and the lake also doubles as a catfish hotspot. Choke Canyon is another superb crappie fishery and features great habitat in the form of rocky ledges, shallow, brushy flats and flooded timber, making for not only great bass fishing but also fantastic crappie angling. Like Lake Corpus Christi, Choke also is a great catfish spot, which could maximize your chance at taking home some fillets should you limit out on crappie.

Two other lakes in this region not far from Victoria that also are too often overlooked are Coleto Creek Reservoir and Lake Texana. Coleto features a good variety of habitat that will hold fish in the spring and anglers on Texana often report catching loads of crappie around submerged vegetation in shallow water in creek channels this time of year.

Each of these lakes has solid forage sources, including shad and other baitfish, and as with other locales you can't go wrong with jigs of almost any kind whether you're angling from a boat or from shore in the spring.

TACTICS

Crappie fishing should be easy, plain and simple, which is one of its biggest appeals. Besides being able to come home with some excellent table fare, of course. You don't need to drag along a bunch of expensive gear, and often you don't even need to fish from a boat, which can take a lot of work and cleanup out of your fishing efforts. Ultralight spinning tackle is perfect for crappie fishing, especially considering even a monster fish might not top 4 pounds. Even if you're fishing around structure such as submerged trees or boat docks, you can get away with using super-light line down to 4- or even 2-pound-test.

For crappie, you also can get away with using smaller hooks when you're rigging up live bait. To maximize live bait success, some anglers use a tandem hook setup, hooking a minnow with the lead hook and letting the trail hook swing free. If they encounter snags or other problems with the extra hook, they simply hook it into the minnow also. This "gang hook" double rig increases your chances of hooking up while also not spooking the fish too much, and if the fish are aggressive at all, they're not too spooky anyway.

To keep crappie fishing even easier without messing with live bait, anglers can use a number of jigs and lures that have proved equally adept at catching fish. The Road Runner is my personal favorite, simply because I can remember catching crappie and other fish on it from stock ponds when I was a kid.

Other successful crappie baits include curlytail grubs, spinners, such as Rooster Tails and Beetle Spins, and the ubiquitous crappie tube jigs. All of these lures come in a rainbow of colors, usually in plenty of bright shades, and they all can be worked equally effectively in almost any crappie-fishing situation.

Though a hungry or aggressive crappie will take a larger bait than anglers might think, most people don't go larger than a 1/4-ounce jig or spinner, opting for 1/8- or 1/16-ounce sizes in many settings. Since you normally won't be casting far if you've located a school of fish, you don't necessarily need the added weight to aid your presentation.

Since they frequent structure such as docks and bridge pilings, crappie can afford anglers a chance to fish at night now and into the summer, especially if the anglers can fish around lights. Even if anglers don't have access to structure with lights, a variety of glow jigs and other baits will attract fish if you feel like maximizing crappie-fishing opportunities.

When it comes to structure, crappie frequent a variety of underwater haunts available to anglers in boats and from the bank on almost every body of water in the state. Submerged logs and standing timber should be the first place to dip a bait, since they hold fish almost all year long. Rocky areas such as riprap or gravel bars also tend to harbor crappie, especially when the fish go shallow.

BAG LIMITS

With a superb overall crappie fishery, Texas anglers can reap the rewards from a day spent on the water this time of year in a big way. Each angler is allowed a 25-fish limit each day with a 10-inch minimum. The overall bag limit includes white and black crappie in any combination and is the same for white bass, which also frequent many of the same locales as crappie. If you happen to limit out quickly after finding a good school of crappie, the limit on white bass may be too tempting to pass up, especially if they also are running.

Though bass fishing is king in the spring, you might

take along an ultra-light setup just in case you can't find the big boys and want to bring home a main course for supper. It's tough to beat crappie-fishing options this time of year, making Texas a one-of-a-kind locale.

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