Ohio spring crappie fishing is highly dependent on the weather, here’s where you need to fish when you need to go.
Warm sunshine on the back of your neck on a 65-degree April day, crappie hitting, and spring bursting out all around add up to some of the most pleasant fishing of the year.
Depending on where you fish in Ohio, the annual spring crappie fishing peak may start as early as March and last into early June. This is a festive time that is celebrated by crowds of anglers at the most popular lakes. Anglers do not even mind gathering into clusters where crappie fishing is best.
Ohio has so many good crappie fisheries that even cyclic crappie populations are not as important to spring crappie fishing prospects as the weather. So long as the water temperature is on a warming trend and water levels are not ridiculous, you can find good crappie fishing. Not every minute of every day, of course, but with persistence anglers should be able to dine on crappie fillets.
Start in the south
Spring crappie fishing probably will come first to waters in District 4 and District 5, which cover southern Ohio.
District 5 Fish Management Supervisor Debbie Walters suggested Grand Lake St. Marys, Rocky Fork Lake and East Fork Lake as some of the best crappie waters in southwest Ohio. All three of these lakes have a 9-inch minimum size for crappie, and a daily limit of 30 crappie per day.
“Grand Lake St. Marys is dominated by black crappie. It’s probably the earliest lake in terms of people being successful,” Walters said. “It gets what I call the ‘white bucket crowd’, fishing on shore sitting on white plastic buckets.”
Spring crappie fishing may be underway during March here. This large lake ranks number 8 in the state for crappie longer than 9 inches. Rankings are based on fall surveys by the Division of Wildlife.
This lake has a lot of shoreline access because of the presence of Grand Lake St. Marys State Park on the south, east and west shores. Numerous canals along the south side of the lake warm more quickly than the rest of the lake, so here is where the first crappie action appears. This gives shore fishers a big break and a fast start. This side of the lake also has flooded brush and fallen trees. Look for those that get into deeper water.
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Grand St. Marys Lake is the largest Ohio inland lake at 12,896 acres. It is a shallow lake with few bottom features. However, there are numerous small points that can be good places to intercept crappie. Maximum depth is about 16 feet. However, the majority of the lake is less than 8-feet deep.
Grand Lake St. Marys is located in Auglaize County and in Mercer County. St. Marys is at the east end of the lake, Celina is at the west end. Take the Wapakoneta Exit from Interstate Route 75 and head west on State Route 29 to St. Marys.
Rocky Fork Lake has a lot of crappie in the 9-inch to 10-inch class, with a healthy sprinkling of 12-inch crappie. It ranks first in the state for crappie longer than 9 inches.
This is a medium-size lake with a surface area of 2,080 acres. Maximum depth is more than 40 feet near the dam. Bottom tends to drop quickly from the shoreline. Above the Boat Camping Area bottom in the lake basin is relatively featureless with little water deeper than 21 feet. The lower half of the lake has longer drops and more irregular bottom structure. Water level is generally quite stable.
Brush and fallen timber provide crappie cover. There is some standing brush. Look for the larger crappie at points and drop-offs near deep water.
Rocky Fork Lake is located in Highland County, east from Hillsboro on State Route 24.
“Overall you’re probably looking at Seneca Lake and Piedmont Lake, both in size and numbers,” said Michael Greenlee, Fish Management Supervisor for District 5, southeastern Ohio. “Large lakes tend to be more stable.”
Both lakes have 9-inch minimum crappie size limits, and a daily limit of 30 per day.
Seneca Lake is home to both white crappie and black crappie. According to an October net study, 50 percent of the white crappie are longer than 9 inches. The biggest that was captured measured 15 inches in length, from which you can feel quite sure some of the crappie are larger still. Black crappie were notably smaller, which is to be anticipated in turbid water. This is one of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy chain of lakes, and it is managed by the Conservancy.
Seneca Lake has an area of 3,585 surface acres, the largest District 4 lake. The bottom drops quickly from shore in the lower, eastern, half of the lake. Bottom drops below 18 feet at the lower end. Bottom slopes rather slowly toward the head of the lake, with depths to 12 feet reaching an island near mid-lake, about 6 feet a quarter-mile above the island, and 6 feet at the head of the ski zone.
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Crappie are available at Seneca Lake in excellent numbers and excellent size.
Seneca Lake is in Guernsey County and Noble County, southeast from Cambridge. Exit Interstate Route 77 onto State Route 313 to the lake.
Piedmont Lake lies mostly in the northwest corner of Belmont County, with the dam in Harrison County, and the tip of a small bay is in Guernsey County. This is a serpentine lake with several bends and long points. Surface area is 2,368 acres. The bottom drops below 30 feet near the dam. Although the bottom drops steeply from the bank, most of the lake is less than 20-feet deep. The upper reaches are shallow and weedy.
State Route 331 goes by the dam west from Holloway.
This is almost exclusively a fishing lake since during open water there is a maximum of 10-horse-power limit for boats.
The upper end of the lake is shallow and the bottom is covered with silt. The rest of the lake has rocky shoreline and rocky bottom.
Piedmont Lake is clearer than Seneca Lake. It has a ratio of one black crappie to three white crappie. Surveys show that 35 percent of the white crappie are longer than 9 inches, and 21 percent of the black crappie are longer than 9 inches. The largest white crappie are more than 13 inches long, the largest black crappie about 12 inches long.
Often overlooked along southern and southeastern Ohio are backwaters of the Ohio River. High river flow can nudge more crappie into these calm waters. Some are creek mouths, some are canals, some natural backwaters. Most are rather small. Look for trees washed down feeder creeks, and for flooded shoreline brush.
“There are some big fish to be had,” Greenlee said.
Northeast Ohio is particularly rich in crappie lakes. Berlin Lake usually is the best crappie lake in this part of the state, according to Region 3 fish biologist Matt Wolf.
This 3,341-acre lake snakes through Stark County, Mahoning County and Portage County. It is just north from Alliance along State Route 225, northwest on State Route 14 from Salem, and east on U.S. Route 224 from Akron.
This is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control dam, so water level can vary considerably, typically rising during spring. Water can be very turbid.
Both black crappie and white crappie inhabit Berlin Lake. Look for them in flooded brush and around trees that have been set as artificial cover.
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Crappie fishing can be difficult in turbid water. One good way to deal with this is by using spinner blades colored bright red. Red shows better than any other color in turbid water. A spinning blade attracts and helps crappie locate the lure by vibration waves. This can be a small spinnerbait or an inline spinner. Tip a spinner rig with a live minnow.
Berlin Lake is very irregular in shape with islands, long arms and smaller bays. Maximum depth is more than 60 feet near the dam. West from State Route 14 water is not much deeper than 10 feet.
Mosquito Creek Reservoir is another outstanding crappie lake in the northeast. It has both black crappie and white crappie in good number with good size. This is one of the finer big crappie lakes in the state.
This man-made lake lies along a north-south axis, with the deepest water near the dam at the south end. Maximum depth is about 25 feet. A large lake, surface area is 7,199 acres. Shape is quite regular, fairly uniform in width and straight, however there are many small bays.
Mosquito Creek Reservoir is in Trumbull County. It lies a short distance west from State Route 11, and not far north from Warren on State Route 46 or on Hoaglund Blackstub Road.
“Spencer Lake, in Medina County, is one of the sleeper lakes,” Wolf said. “It has one of the most dense crappie populations in our area.”
However, crappie generally are not large here. Likely places to find them are by points, drop-offs, a long causeway, in flooded timber on the west and weeds to the east.
Pleasant Hill Reservoir lies across the border between Ashland County and Richland County, southwest from Mansfield State Route 95 passes the west end of the lake. The swampy west end of the lake in Richland County mostly is less than 15-feet deep. Just after crossing into Ashland County the lake makes a sharp turn to the south toward the dam. Loudonville is situated near the dam.
Access is very good since this lake is in Mohican State Park.
This lake holds both black crappie and white crappie. The crappie population is rated excellent. Surveys have turned up crappie longer than 16 inches. Try fishing in small bays along the narrow, southern portion.
Nettle Lake is one of the few natural lakes in Ohio. It has a glacial origin. Surface area is 115 acres. The bottom is irregular, with five large holes where the last big blocks of glacial ice melted thousands of years ago. Maximum depth is about 27 feet. “It’s one of our better crappie lakes,” said District 2 fish biologist Brian Kinter. “It’s got a lot of good habitat.”
Access is limited since most of the shoreline is privately owned.
Nettle Lake is located in Williams County, a couple miles northeast of Cooney on State Route 49. Turn onto County Road 4.75 to the public boat launch.
Located in Allen County just east from Lima by way of Reservoir Road, Ferguson Reservoir is an upground lake with good crappie potential.
Surface area is 308 acres. It is separated by a dyke from the smaller Metzger Reservoir. Maximum depth is below 33 feet. Typical crappie numbers are not large, but size is decent.
“It has a lot more diverse habitat than most other upground lakes,” Kinter said.
Get more information about Ohio crappie fishing at the Division of Wildlife web site, wildlife.ohiodnr.gov.