Louisiana fisheries biologists might have an easier time picking the worst crappie lakes in the state than trying to select the best ones, because Louisiana has so few areas that don’t yield some outstanding fishing for the species: So says Bennie Fontenot, chief of inland fisheries for the state of Louisiana.
Pressed to state preferences, Fontenot pointed to the Larto Saline Complex, Toledo Bend, the Atchafalaya Basin and Caney Lake.
In light of those choices, we took a look at Toledo Bend and Larto Saline last month; this month, we review the rest of the best of the Bayou State’s panfish venues.
Fisheries biologist Jody David says that anglers already know that the Atchafalaya Basin south of Interstate 10 contains some of the best crappie fishing in Louisiana. Like most of Louisiana’s fisheries biologists, he believes so strongly in the crappie-fishing potential in his area that he’ll all but fight you to prove that his region produces some of the biggest and the best crappie in all of Louisiana. If you look at the Basin as you drive I-10, you can tell by the amount of structure in the water that this region must be home to large numbers of crappie.
David, who has the scientific information to back up what anglers assume, named the Upper Atchafalaya Basin in the Henderson area, Bayou Benoit, Two O’Clock Bayou, Half Moon Bayou, Bayou Fordoche and Bayou Courtableau as crappie lakes in the region that flood during the spring.
Flooding always seems to produce large numbers of big crappie, and fisheries biologists have learned that flooding directly relates to the crappie spawn. In years in which this section of the state doesn’t flood and new areas aren’t inundated, the crappie don’t get off as good of a spawn as what they achieve in regions of the state that do flood. Since the named lakes flood almost every year, the crappie generally manage a good spawn, making these lakes consistent crappie producers.
“The floods cause both a great spawn and a tremendous crappie production from these lakes,” David said. “If the weather’s warm, and the river’s high, you’ll catch plenty of crappie in these sections of the Atchafalaya Basin. But if the weather’s warm and the river has fallen, you’ll take even more crappie.”
Fisheries biologists in Louisiana consider February and March the prime times for catching large numbers of crappie in this section of the state. Weather and water conditions determine just how good crappie fishing will be in the basin in the early spring.
“Last year, the water didn’t fall out of the basin until late June or July,” David said. “Although there were plenty of crappie caught from February through the spring, the bonanza catches of crappie didn’t occur until late summer. In March, the best you can hope for is a stable water condition. Then you can get back into those flats and catch those big shallow-water spawners. Stable water is good, but falling water is even better for catching crappie in the basin.
Although minnows and jigs both work well, David believes that jig-fishermen catch more crappie in the basin because they can cover the water more quickly and efficiently. “Many people think of the basin as a place primarily where you can catch large numbers of crappie but not necessarily big crappie,” he observed. “However, we had an angler last March who caught a crappie that weighed 3.7 pounds, which was the second-largest black crappie ever taken in the state of Louisiana. This fish was caught on a jig in Henderson Lake, which has about 60 percent black crappie and 40 percent white crappie. You’ll locate plenty of cover and structure in Henderson. Plan to fish it first this month.
“Then I’ll work my way down to Bayou Benoit and Catahoula in the Buffalo Cove area, jig-fishing so I can move around quick and identify the best spots to catch crappie.
David’s favorite color jigs to use early in the spring are pink and white, blue and white, and black and chartreuse. When the river’s high and the water muddy, pink and white and black and chartreuse are his color combinations of choice. When the water is clearer and has fallen, he opts for blue and white jigs. He prefers a 1/16-ounce jighead.
Water temperature will determine how deep to fish jigs. For consistency in catching crappie in this region, try to catch the fish as shallow as is possible. Crappie look up to see their meals and take them. If you start off fishing deep, you may fish below the crappie from the beginning. But, if you start off swimming your jigs shallow, the crappie will often come up to take them. Also: The closer the crappie are to the surface of the water, the easier it is for you to get them out of the cover.
Don’t go to these lakes without plenty of jigs. You’ll break your jigs off, and you’ll lose crappie in the cover, but that’s the price you pay when you fish heavy structure with its bonanza of crappie. As an old-timer once told me: “If you’re stingy with your jigs, you’re not going to catch very many crappie.”
When you’re fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin, all the stumps, logs and trees look as if they’re holding crappie — and often enough, they do. However, when you first begin to catch fish, try to determine what type of cover concentrates the crappie, how deep you’re catching them, and how close the crappie seem to hold to the cover. By the time you catch six or eight crappie, you’ll have put a pattern figured out that you can duplicate successfully in other parts of these lakes.
To learn more about the Atchafalaya River Basin, call biologists Mike Walker in the New Iberia office at (337) 373-0032 or Jody David at (337) 948-0255.
CANEY CREEK LAKE
Sited in the northern section of the state near Jonesboro, Caney Creek Lake historically contained an abundance of grass. Then, in February 1994, grass carp were introduced into the lake.
“In 1997 the grass carp and other factors had caused much of the grass in Caney Lake to vanish,” fisheries biologist Mike Wood said. “When that happened, the
crappie had a lot of room to roam and seemed to move offshore. Many of the fishermen had trouble finding them. Our fishermen were accustomed to fishing around the grass and natural structure. So when the grass was gone, they thought the crappie were, too. But actually the crappie moved offshore, out into the middle of the lake.
“Because the fishermen couldn’t find them, the crappie grew to larger sizes quicker than they normally would. Caney produced a lot of 2- and 3-pound crappie then, and still does today. We’ve had crappie caught weighing up to 3.5 pounds at Caney Lake.”
In addition to the crappie, the redear sunfish have grown to phenomenal sizes in Caney Lake. Some sunfish have weighed as much as 2.87 pounds, and fishermen have taken quite a few 2-pounders.
Caney Lake’s crappie are all black crappie. “Black crappie like clear water, and since Caney Lake only has clear water, our lake’s habitat seems to favor black crappie,” Wood said. “I’ve never seen a white crappie come from this lake.”
Although Caney Lake doesn’t have the biggest numbers of crappie in the state, some of the state’s biggest crappie come out of Caney Lake.
Wood described Caney Lake as a “bring-your-own-brushpile lake,” noting that the fishermen who sink their own brushpiles are the ones who catch the most big crappie.
During the first part of February, the majority of the crappie will be near the dam at Caney Lake. However, by the end of February and the first of March, the crappie will have moved to the middle of the lake; then, as the temperature gets warmer, the crappie will move out into the creeks.”
Minnows and jigs both produce well at Caney Lake. While crappie fishermen depend on minnows, jigs and poles as their primary tools, Caney Lake crappie catchers have learned the importance of other fishing aids, such as a quality depthfinder with GPS capabilities or a handheld GPS unit.
Caney Lake has an abundance of underwater structure, and its crappie often stay suspended. Accordingly, you need to figure out what type of structure is below and use a graph to find the areas where the crappie hold. Once you pinpoint that underwater structure or a large school of crappie holding in open water with a depthfinder, mark the locations with GPS to enable you to return to the fish and catch them.
To catch crappie consistently at Caney Lake, develop a database containing all your GPS readings, identifying the locations of the brushpiles and areas in which the crappie like to hold in open water during certain times of the year. Most crappie fishermen will concentrate their fishing efforts on the underwater brushpiles they’ve created or discovered, but you may find that locating schools of suspended crappie on your depthfinder in the middle of the lake and using either minnows or jigs for trolling through these schools is an even better technique for catching more and bigger crappie.
When you catch fish, be careful to duplicate your trolling speed and angle on the return pass. Because speedometers on most boats won’t register speeds of less than 1 mile per hour, you need a GPS onboard. The GPS will give you the trolling speed down to 1/10 mile per hour. Usually trolling speeds from 1.3 miles per hour to 1.8 miles per hour will pay off in catching the most suspended crappie.
The size of the jigs that you use for trolling, the diameter of the line and the distance you troll the minnows or jigs behind the boat, as well as the speed of the boat, all have an impact on the depth at which your jig travels. To keep your jig at the best depth, you could use a countdown baitcasting reel. Since the reel records the length of line you’ve let out behind the boat, you can have the same amount of line out each time you pass through a school.
By knowing the distance of your line behind the boat, the weight of the jig, the diameter of the line and the speed at which you’re trolling, you can troll your jigs through the same water depth each time you pass over the school. Then you can adjust the depth by either increasing or decreasing your trolling speed, changing the amount of line you let out behind the boat or changing the size of jigs you’re trolling.
Also, to keep catching open-water crappie, record in your GPS the track that your boat moves when you pass through a school of crappie. Then you can circle the school, get back on the same track you’ve taken before and pass over the same school of crappie in the same way as when you caught the fish the first time.
Since the state’s anglers probably have the most difficulty finding and catching open-water suspended crappie, you know these crappie haven’t seen as many baits as have the crappie in the brushpiles. You’ll increase your chances for catching these suspended crappie, and some truly big ones, when you use these tactics at Caney Lake.
As a final tip, Wood mentioned that, because of the Caney Lake’s great clarity, anglers there enjoy the advantages afforded by underwater cameras used as a fishing aid. “These fishermen will pull up to a brushpile and let down an Aqua Vu camera to see what’s in the brushpile,” he said.
POVERTY POINT RESERVOIR
Wood also recommends Poverty Point Reservoir near Delhi, remarking that it’s where the biggest crappie in his area live. “Poverty Point was impounded in 2000,” he said. “Biologists tried their best to kill all the fish in that lake before they stocked it. Their plan was when this lake was flooded to only have big Florida bass, redear sunfish and crappie raised in the hatchery in the lake.
“But when the pumps were turned on to fill up the lake, it received a tremendous amount of fish from Bayou Macon. Drum, carp, gar and crappie all came into this supposedly pristine new lake. Somehow those pumps also brought in a super stocking of big crappie. Poverty Point Reservoir now holds unbelievable numbers of crappie that weigh over 1 pound each and many that weigh over 2 pounds each.”
Poverty Point Reservoir is extremely fertile and has a tremendous shad population, making it ideal for crappie production. If you just want to have a great time and catch a lot of big crappie, you can’t beat fishing at Poverty Point.
Even on Caney Lake, as great a crappie lake as it is, you pretty much have to know the whereabouts of some underwater brushpiles located and/or to do some efficient trolling to catch (probably) 15 to 20 crappie. However, if you go to Poverty Point Lake, you’ll catch 30 to 40 crappie — and you won’t be able to close the lid on a 48-quart cooler if you just have 25 crappie in it.
ewide, the bag limit on crappie is 50, but at Poverty Point the limit is 25,” Wood pointed out. “The state has cut the limit in half on this lake because local anglers realize that they’re fishing a really great lake that produces large numbers of big crappie. Since they want to keep it producing those big fish for a long time, they’ve asked for the limit to be lowered.”
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So where do you go to catch the most crappie, the biggest crappie and the most big crappie in Louisiana? Well, you can take your pick —because Louisiana is home to plenty of places in which you can catch numbers of really big crappie.
To learn more about Louisiana’s fisheries, visit www.wlf.state.la.us/ and click the appropriate tabs on the homepage.