April is a tremendous month to get in on some great crappie fishing, and there are numerous lakes close to Oklahoma City that teem with spawning crappie just yearning to gorge themselves into obesity.
Within an hour’s driving time of the city lie three fantastic crappie holes that receive less pressure than the better-known lakes — Thunderbird, Hefner and Arcadia. In fact, these lakes are worth the trip because they’ll reward anglers with hard-fighting panfish that make excellent table fare.
Here, I’ll highlight my choices of three sleeper lakes within a short drive of the city, where beginners and experts alike are sure to get their rods bent and their ice chests full of healthy black and white crappie.
Chickasha Lake lies between Chickasha and Anadarko and within an hour’s drive of Oklahoma City. The lake is small, only 820 acres, but it’s relatively clear; fed by two creeks and featuring a fair-sized complement of stickups, it typically produces good numbers of slab-sized crappie.
According to Larry Cofer with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the lake’s shoreline vegetation is less luxuriant that it formerly was. That’s due to the lake being drawn down to prevent flooding.
“Most of the crappie we have sampled have been black crappie, and the average weight will be a half-pound,” said Cofer. “When the lake first opened there were some really nice crappie caught, but lately the size is not what it once was, though there are still some nice-sized crappie in the lake.”
Cofer suggests that April crappie anglers concentrate their efforts near the small pods of cattails on the northwest side of the lake. He also believes the dam is a good spot for catching crappie. The lake features an enclosed fishing dock, which is open to the public, and some underwater brushrows added to supplement fish habitat. Those areas are clearly marked with buoys.
Chickasha Lake doesn’t offer much cover, but there are a few brushy areas beneath the surface that can be found with sonar equipment. These areas are also good spots to probe for post-spawn crappie.
Cofer believes the crappie growth rates have slowed down from what the lake once produced, but still believes the lake can be dandy at times.
Anglers fishing Chickasha Lake are allowed a limit of 37 crappie. Payment of an access fee is required.
LAKE R. C. LONGMIRE
West of Pauls Valley is Longmire Lake. This lake attracts a lot of spring crappie anglers due to the abundant standing timber, which offers great habitat for crappie to congregate. The lake consists of 935 acres of clear to stained water that is home to good numbers of slab-sized papermouths.
According to Bob Myers, an expert guide on Longmire, the lake is a great spot for springtime crappie fishing. “A few years back, the lake consistently produced some 2- to 3-pound crappie,” Myers said. “I’ve even seen some crappie that weighed 4 pounds.”
The lake had a moss problem a few years back, but when the moss was eliminated, the lake’s clarity suffered. Now the lake is stained most of the time, and some parts can get muddy after a good rain.
The lake has a network of underwater creek channels that existed before the lake was filled, and the treerows along the banks of those creeks are good places to search for specks. In the west arm of the lake, Myers says, is an inundated pond that’s another great place for finding good-sized specks.
A good depthfinder will assist in finding those underwater structures that are sure to hold good numbers of crappie. Boat anglers normally drift-fish with minnows, while artificial bait enthusiasts use both marabou and Road Runner jigs, along with the usual small curlytail plastic baits.
If the lake is clear, the crappie will normally be in deeper water. If the lake is stained, look for the fish in shallower water. Any of the lake’s brushy areas near a marked depth change should hold good numbers of baitfish, which in turn will attract schools of crappie.
Myers said the area around the intake tower of the dam is a good spot to fish, as well as the area north of the dam. Myers believes that most of the lake’s crappie spawn in April, but occasionally, when water temperatures have not warmed sufficiently, the spawn can occur in early May.
Most spring crappie anglers fish small minnows, with some anglers using slip-corks to control their bait depth. For artificial bait users, the best choice is jigs ranging in weight from 1/16 to 1/32 ounce in white, chartreuse, and yellow colors. Anglers sometimes tip their jigs with a small minnow for added attraction.
Longmire’s crappie anglers are allowed to keep only 15 crappie with a minimum length of 10 inches. A $2 daily permit is required.
Last but not least on our list is Wes Watkins Reservoir — one the state’s newest lakes, located just east of Oklahoma City near Harrah. This 1,142-acre lake received unwanted attention when, a few years after its opening in 1999. it was hit hard with largemouth bass virus. The lake is now showing signs of rebounding. Though the bass suffered, the crappie were unaffected, and the slab fishing seems to get better every year.
When the lake filled, it incorporated some established ponds that had solid, mature populations of both crappie and bass. The partially timbered lake is a great one for catch springtime slabs on both minnows and jigs.
Mary Fowler, who’s with the lake office at Wes Watkins, once witnessed a man bringing in a 4-pound crappie, and attests to having seen several other crappie that weighed 3 pounds or better.
The ODWC’s Garland Wright, who oversees Wes Watkins, believes that the lake is a great place for anglers. He says that when the lake first opened, it was intended to be a catch-and-release-only lake, but that reasoning has since changed, and now anglers can keep fish other than largemouth bass.
“Crappie fishing in April can be very good if the lake level is up,” said Wright. “The water level has fluctuated in the past due to heavy usage coupled with drought conditions.”
Mary Fowler has worked long enough at the lake office at Wes Watkins to know the type of crappie limits the lake produces. In fact, part of Fowler’s job is to sample anglers to find out what they catch and where they fish.
Fowler once witnessed a man bringing in a 4-pound crappie, and attests to having seen several other crappie that weighed 3 pounds or better. “We have some huge crappie,” she stated, “but some days they can be tough to find.”
Albert Baldwin lives nearby, and takes full advantage of that proximity by fishing the lake three or four times a week almost year ’round. Known as “Paw-Paw” by lake regulars, the retiree normally fishes the lake with minnows. He says that when they’re biting, he catches some nice crappie.
Baldwin shared part of his lake knowledge by suggesting some good spots for crappie anglers to try.
“Most of the nice crappie are caught off of the main roadbed or off of the timbered area west of the roadbed. Most anglers fish by boat, and most of them fish with minnows and small jigs. The lake’s shoreline is very shallow, so most angling is done from boats.”
Wes Watkins anglers and boaters are required to pay an access fee of $6 a boat and $6 to fish. This may seem outrageous to some anglers, but some of the fish caught at Wes Watkins are outrageous as well. The lake limit on crappie is 37.
I rate this lake an excellent choice for springtime crappie fishing. A little advice: Fishing here’s a less crowded proposition on weekdays.
Next time you go to Wes Watkins, don’t be surprised if you run in to Paw-Paw sacking up a stringer of slabs!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To book a fishing trip with Bob Myers Guide service, call (405) 238-2243.