Photos by Ron Sinfelt
If you like fishing, you have to love this time of year in Kansas. Lakes of all sizes are coming alive, and anglers have the chance to enjoy some of the finest action of the season.
This is particularly true when talking about crappie. The Sunflower State has some real papermouth factories — and they’re not concentrated in just one region of the state!
More than any other species, with the possible exception of catfish, crappie — prolific, plentiful and pretty doggone tasty — are a staple of the Kansas angling menu. What follows is the information you’ll need to plan your 2005 crappie calendar so that you stay in the hottest fishing action all season long.
When you mention crappie fishing, many Kansas anglers immediately envision one or more of the state’s large impoundments. And Sunflower State reservoirs are indeed among the gems of all the Great Plains when it comes to crappie. But they’re not the only waters that offer prospects for memorable crappie outings.
What follows is a look at all of the Sunflower State waters that hold crappie promise as the 2005 season unfolds. Remember them as you plan your fishing season, because there likely are more than a few spots featured here that you’ve never visited.
If you change your pattern this season, you’re very likely to add some new destinations to your crappie atlas. The reason is simple: Visits to these places will help you to add to your haul of nice crappie this season, and helping you do that is what this story is all about!
We might as well start with the waters many Kansas crappie chasers know best — the state’s major reservoirs. If you had to speculate on the bad news for this part of the overall state fishery, how many Sunflower State reservoirs would you say rank as poor for crappie?
Don’t say “none.” Even here in the Sunflower State — believe it or not — a few big impoundments lack crappie fisheries of the sort that many anglers would consider worth a visit. But “few” is the operative word.
Only Cedar Bluff, Cheney and Glen Elder reservoirs have crappie fisheries that were ranked by biologists, on the basis of the most recent data available as this story was being written, as poor. Those rated as excellent or good outnumber the poor by a 2-to-1 margin. Although that’s not surprising, it still speaks volumes about how good Kansas’ crappie fishery really is.
There definitely are some major impoundments whose crappie hotspots you should consider this season. Among the best are Fall River, Toronto, Melvern, La Cygne and Coffee County Lake. You probably also should include Council Grove Reservoir in there; it may not offer the sheer numbers of crappie in the 10-inch range, but it does have a good number of truly large fish. Anglers looking for crappie weighing at least a pound should without doubt include it on their list. They may not find as many 10-inch-plus fish there as, say, at Fall River, but some pretty big slabsides swim Council Grove’s waters.
Fall River has not necessarily been known as much for its crappie fishery as for its bass. But make no mistake: This southeast Kansas impoundment is a jewel of a crappie hangout.
State biologists conduct annual surveys of many of the state’s waters to get a feel for the overall quality of various fish populations. Bass, white bass, catfish, walleyes, saugers and crappie are the species for which data are compiled in an effort to forecast how fishing is and will be in a given lake. Sample units, generally are about a surface-acre in size, are established for each lake.
At Fall River, biologists determined that the lake held an average of 12 crappie at least 10 inches long per unit sampled. You can pretty much figure that to mean a dozen fairly nice fish per surface-acre — and Fall River is 2,500 surface-acres at normal pool. Do the math, and it’s easy to see why Fall River’s crappie fishery ranks as excellent. Then, add to the mix the fact that three of those 12 fish per unit are at least 12 inches long, and that the survey produced for its heaviest crappie a specimen of 2.43 pounds, and you’ll have no doubt about it: Fall River is a place to go if you want to catch some nice crappie.
But it’s not the only place. Fall River does have the highest number of crappie per sampling unit at least 10 inches long, but several of Kansas’ large impoundments support densities of crappie of at least five measuring 10 inches or better per sampling unit. Among those waters are Lovewell, Perry, Council Grove, Kanopolis, Pomona and Perry.
Many of those names are familiar to Kansas crappie fanatics. No surprise there: They’ve appeared in these pages year after year — for decades — as some of the best crappie fisheries in all of the Great Plains.
When you think about that, one fact becomes evident. More than a few Kansas impoundments are very efficient crappie factories. When you consider the long-term fishing pressure on these waters, which is inarguably significant, it’s impossible to deny their fertility as crappie factories.
Even here in the Sunflower State — believe it or not — a few
big impoundments lack crappie fisheries of the sort that many anglers would consider worth a visit. But “few” is the operative word.
A number of factors influence that state of affairs, annual recruitment being one. For starters, these lakes are really consistent at producing good year-crops of crappie, with many young crappie coming out the lakes’ strong annual spawns. And many of those survive, thanks to the other primary factors affecting the long-term health of a given fishery: forage base and usable cover.
Young crappie have to have plenty of food to eat and — so they can avoid predation until they have reached much larger sizes than that of mere fry or fingerlings — lots of good places to hide in. The reservoirs mentioned as good crappie producers also offer plenty of good structure and tons of baitfish.
Some biologists might disagree, but from here, the overall health of a lake’s crappie fishery appears to be an excellent measure of its relative value as a recreational fishery, regardless of the species. Seeing consistent year-classes means that water quality and levels are good, and stable enough to promote excellent annual spawns. It also suggests that the forage base is consistently strong, and that water levels stay consistent enough to provide significant usable cover for the game fish.
That’s why you’ll see many of these same names in articles this magazine publishes about the overall quality of state fisheries for bass, walleyes, c
atfish and other species. These are some of the most fertile and productive fishing waters in the Great Plains.
And it’s interesting that most, if not all, of these impoundments were not created with recreational use as a priority. No — flood control is the reason that most of these lakes exist.
Most, but not all. La Cygne is a notable exception, and its background explains very quickly why it’s easy to think of this 2,600-acre lake as the Sunflower State’s best fishery from a biological perspective.
A power-plant cooling lake, it has a hot-water outlet on its south side. Twelve months out of the year, it’s possible to find water temperatures at La Cygne that promote growth and the kind of fish activity that you’d expect to encounter in other Kansas lakes through the natural growing season in these parts.
La Cygne’s game fish enjoy a 24/7/365 growing season, and they appear to make the best of it. The overall survey numbers for La Cygne are not quite as high as are those for other large Kansas impoundments. But anglers there will find good numbers of crappie, and some of the largest fish they’re likely to see anywhere in the state.
Twelve other Kansas reservoirs revealed crappie in excess of a pound during the most recent sampling for which data are available. That’s more than half the state’s 23 impoundments listed in the data! Some, like Clinton and Kirwin, don’t have the overall crappie densities of some other spots. But all of them hold true lunker crappie.
So far in this story, the numbers reported and lakes mentioned have been included for their white crappie fisheries. Anglers here know, however, that Kansas also has some pretty good black crappie fishing.
Would you fish a 100-acre lake if you knew it held crappie up to 1 3/4 pounds? Sure you would!
Among those reservoirs, Lovewell, Webster and Sebelius offer the best numbers in terms of preferred (10-inch-plus blacks) and lunkers. And when you throw in Lovewell’s white crappie numbers, that lake has to be considered among the best overall crappie fisheries in this part of the world.
Now, you might be surprised to learn that there are more than a few smaller Kansas waters with outstanding crappie fishing. During sampling sessions, Ottawa State Fishing Lake and New Sedan City Lake — for example — each gave up white crappie that pushed 2 pounds!
Would you fish a 100-acre lake if you knew it held crappie up to 1 3/4 pounds? Sure you would! So add Bourbon SFL to your list, because it has produced at least one white crappie in sampling that weighed 1.77 pounds.
When it comes to white crappie, there are darned few small Kansas lakes that rate as poor. There are far more rated at least as fair, and more than a few rated as good or excellent. Here are some of the best small lakes to consider as your plan your crappie fishing season.
Osage City Lake, Crawford SFL, Meade SFL and Plainville Lake all offer really good prospects for crappie anglers. These smaller lakes really shine now — for a couple of reasons.
In general, they’re going to warm more quickly than do the larger reservoirs, which means that the fishing action will pick up sooner. And because they’re smaller, they’re much easier to navigate and in general to deal with on the sort of windy spring day that’s so typical in Kansas.
There’s no way to know whether early spring will be as blustery as it could be. But if it is, fishing the smaller lakes is going to be a better bet than getting out on and/or trying to cross the open water of a major reservoir. Keep that in mind as you plan your crappie outings this month.
There also are more than a few pretty good small lakes for black crappie in Kansas — and one of them is in the greater Kansas City area! If you want a chance to catch some nice blacks this month and you live close to or in metro KC, make a beeline for Wyandotte County Lake.
At 407 acres, it’s not big, but with a survey report of 3.63 10-inch-plus blacks per unit sampled, it should be big for black crappie fishing again this season. And Wyandotte County Lake has given up blacks over a pound. That’s a good crappie anywhere, but if you get it from a lake that’s very close for many crappie anglers, it’s a great fish.
Leavenworth and Wilson SFLs are both known to harbor respectable black crappie fisheries, too. The former isn’t very strong for white crappie, but it does offer a pretty good bass fishery to go along with the black crappie, so you should consider it as an early-season destination. And like Wyandotte County Lake, it’s a short drive from home for many thousands of Sunflower State anglers.
Lebo City Lake, Wilson SFL and the new Yates Center City Lake are other small waters to consider for black crappie, according to the data. During the time I lived in Olathe, the Johnson County seat, I learned just how much fun black crappie can be to catch, because Lake Olathe had a significant population.
The largest crappie I ever caught in Kansas, a black that pushed every bit of 2 pounds, came from Lake Olathe. And it hit a crankbait I was fishing along a steep rocky bank for bass! Make no mistake: Crappie are definitely predatory — and they’re scrappy!
You should keep that in mind as you plan your outings this season, because there will be times during which you can catch some of the biggest crappie around simply by using a different approach.
Now, minnow-tipped jigs are hard to beat for taking slabs, because water temperatures are still fairly low. But as things warm up and the spawn arrives, crappie are going to get more aggressive.
One method that works well when things have warmed up for the season is something traditionally known in the South as “perch jerkin’.” The technique involves fishing a small crappie jig around flooded brushpiles and other structure, and suspending the bait at least a few feet below a bobber. Using quick snaps of your rod tip, you impart action to the jig. When crappie hit, your bobber disappears, just as it would if you were fishing live bait under it. It’s a fun and exciting way to catch crappie.
From the late spring through summer and into the fall, crankbaits too will take their share of really nice crappie. I prefer to fish ultralight plugs on spinning outfits rigged with 4- or 6-pound line, but as mentioned, some big crappie will hit bass lures fished on much heavier gear.
From here, nothing beats a 6- to 7-foot light or ultralight spinning rod, which gives you the ability to cast small baits long distances. Ultralight-sized minnow and crawdad imitations are very effective on big crappie throughout most of the season. My rule of thumb is to fish them from the end of the spawn until mid to late October.
You can also troll the small crankbaits along the flats on Kansas’ lakes and do quite well with crappie. The only drawback to this approach is that you’ll also take white bass, walleyes, saugers, black bass, or some combination of all of them, depending on what’s in the lake.
The key to trolling these baits is speed: You don’t want to go any faster than it takes to get the lure moving through its natural action — which is quite a bit slower than many anglers might suspect. Troll as slowly as you can if you want fast crankbait-crappie action.
The bottom line on all of this is that, once again, Kansas will offer you some worthwhile crappie action again this season, no matter where you live. Somewhere close by, you’re going to find a reservoir or small lake — or maybe both — with good numbers of white or black crappie. Or, again, maybe both.
Your fishing should only be limited by the time you have to devote to it, because in Kansas, there’s no shortage of places to go to catch a nice bunch of crappie. And there’s no shortage of techniques to use to do it!