From small- to medium-sized local lakes to expansive federal reservoirs, you can find great crappie fishing near you all across Kansas and Nebraska.
Long ago, channel cats were king, as they say, in the waters where you went fishing in Kansas and Nebraska. Plenty of those lakes and rivers still hold those wiley whiskerfish, and they are still highly sought by anglers young and old, novices and experts alike.
But springing from relative obscurity among game fishes not so long ago, crappie now reach out to many anglers’ interests in the wake of the building of small- and medium-sized lakes on the lower Great Plains, as well as the expansive federal reservoirs, especially in Kansas. They all hold crappie, and many hold very good crappie fisheries — so much so, I’ve seen some anglers take those great crappie lakes for granted.
While water levels fall under drawdowns initiated by the need for irrigation, crappie fishing success on Nebraska’s larger reservoirs can suffer. But crappie populations this year in Nebraska’s small to medium-sized lakes are very favorable for great angling success among traditionally good crappie fishing lakes. Populations are abundant, says fisheries supervisor Jeff Schuckman of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in Norfolk.
“Here in northeast Nebraska we mostly have (large) flood-control reservoirs,” Schuckman says, “but there is good crappie fishing in several of our smaller lakes.” He singles out Summit Reservoir as one of the best local lakes that also is labeled “Family Friendly” by the NGPC. That designation is awarded to waters that are safe, comfortable and have great fish-catching potential. These locations have a combination of barrier-free fishing access, fishing piers, fishing trails, groomed park areas, concessions, playgrounds, picnic shelters and highly maintained fish populations. Located in Burt County, Summit’s good spring fishing often follows great winter fishing through the ice on the 190-acre reservoir. A no-wake rule limits boats to 5 mph.
The NGPC led the way among fisheries agencies of the Great Plains in limiting crappie and other panfish harvest in order to improve the quality of selected lakes with bigger fish. As a result, average sizes of crappie (and bluegill) is high in many lakes that ranging from 50 to 200 acres in size. Schuckman recommends:
Maple Creek Lake, near Lee, covers 154 acres. A no-wake rule is in effect. Crappie catches commonly include fish in the 10- to 13-inch range.
Maskenthine Reservoir, near Stanton, currently holds a lot of young fish, but the crappie fishery is certain to to improve as those fish are recruited into the mature ranks.
Buckskin Hills Lake, near Newcastle, is a prime example of a watershed lake that has evolved into a good crappie fishery. It’s 75 acres big and reportedly holds good numbers of fish.
Willow Creek Reservoir near Pearce, has a great crappie “bite” in the spring, says Schuckman, but these are young fish with few running more than 10 inches long.
Davis Creek Reservoir, southwest of Scotia, holds a lot of big crappie. It’s subject to summer draw down, but the bigger Davis Creek crappie, Shuckman says, run in the 10- to 13-inch range.
Kramper Lake, near Hubbard, opened in July 2015 and already stands high in the list of crappie lakes operated by the NGPC. “We are excited about it,” says Schuckman of the 226-acre reservoir situated in a state recreation area. “Some crappie will hit 10 inches. It has good depths, a rock breakwater, good shoals and underwater reefs.”
Czechland Lake, an 85-acre reservoir near Prague, also produces a lot of crappie longer than the 10-inch minimum-size length limit at many Nebraska lakes.
Yankee Hill Lake, about 15 miles southwest of Lincoln, holds a good crappie population. At 208 acres big, boaters are restricted to electric motors only.
Stickman says the state has worked hard to provide good habitat not only for its crappie fisheries, but for all game fish managed by the department. “These lakes have good water quality and habitat. We are pretty fortunate in northeast Nebraska that we do have good water quality. It is fairly clear water and (holds) not too much vegetation. You can pretty much go to these lakes and target crappie.”
But problems with aquatic weeds can crop up on some lakes and make crappie fishing difficult. Maskenthine, Summit and Buckskin lakes can be particularly overgrown in late spring with curley-leaf pondweed.
“I suggest (anglers fish these lakes) before curley leaf comes on,” Schuckman says, but he adds, “It dies off in about July, and summertime can be a good time to chase crappie again.
Test nettings conducted last year by state fisheries technicians mirror these recommendations. That survey found Davis Creek Reservoir holds the highest percentage of catchable-size crappie; more than 80 percent measured longer than 8 inches, and those are sure to have grown larger. Wehrspann Lake, a 250-acre impoundment located about 10 miles southwest of Omaha, produced the highest number of crappies in the survey, and more than half of those measured longer than 8 inches. The lake underwent a low-dose rotenone treatment to knock back the overpopulated shad population, says state fisheries biologist Jeff Jackson, and it appears to have worked.
Among the larger lakes, some of the best crappie fishing has taken place the last few years at Lake Wanahoo, a 637-acre impoundment about 35 miles west of Omaha.
“It has been doing really well there,” says Jackson. “It has a high number of crappie, and it probably helps the fishery a bit by taking crappie out.” Bring plenty of crappie jigs; live bait fish are prohibited. Wanahoo also produces good fishing for largemouth bass (minimum-length limit of 21inches) and northern pike (all pike must be released).
Branched Oak Lake, north of Malcolm in Lancaster County, is the largest impoundment of the Salt Valley Lakes. At 1,800 acres in size, crappie fishing is good but can be difficult, Shuckman says, because its crappie don’t seem to gather in large schools.
Nebraska fishing regulations (online at OutdoorNebraska.com) can change from one location to another. Before heading out on the water, always check local limits for legal fish lengths, creel limits and fishing methods.
Without doubt, crappie-fishing in Kansas has grown considerably across the last couple decades. In many reservoirs crappie are among the most sought-after species, triggered by the building of federal reservoirs across the Great Plains. In eastern and central Kansas, a lot of rivers in the region’s hilly country have made great sites for large impoundments operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Those massive reservoirs hold excellent crappie fisheries and combine with many other lakes to create a wide variety of crappie fishing. If crappie numbers in one lake backs off a bit, crappie populations are likely rising in another:
Hillsdale Lake, located in Miami County about 30 miles south-southwest of Kansas City, looks like a good bet this summer. “It won’t be as exceptional as it was last year,” says fisheries biologist Chuck Bever of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, but he adds there are good numbers of crappie over the 10-inch length limit.
Clinton Reservoir, just outside Lawrence in Douglas County, re-established itself as good crappie fishery, says Bever, after drought took its toll on the lake.
Milford Lake, the largest man-made lake in Kansas, spreads across 15,700 acres just northwest of Junction City. Bever says the lake’s fishing is best known for wipers and blue catfish, but the crappie fishing is good.
Centralia Lake is located in the farm country of Nemaha County, but its crappie fishing is strong enough, Bever says, to attract more than local anglers to its 400 acres split into two primary arms.
Kansas fisheries biologists say two lakes stand out for crappie fishing in the southeast part of the state:
Elk City Reservoir, near Independence, is tops among the two. Fisheries biologist Seth Lundrgren of the KDWPT reports the 2017 state net surveys produced about 2,000 crappie that included some memorable trophy-sized fish. Some of the big crappie measured 15 inches long. “So there are some very nice looking fish out there,” he says. “Along with all those big fish we did see a large year-class, so it appears the crappie did get off a pretty good spawn. We will have some year classes coming up here that look pretty good, as far as numbers wise.… A lot of guys in the summer-time go looking along the dam and outlet structure and up into the Elk River,” he adds.
Big Hill Reservoir near Cherryvale in Montgomery County is a 4,450-acre impoundment built by the Corps of Engineers. Lundgren says the state’s net-catch rates in 2017 were lower than expected, but that is probably due to a cold front that went through just before the biologists’ test-nettings were completed. “There are lots of smaller fish,” he says, which could also be a matter reflecting the age of the lake. “I expect the (crappie) fishing to get better over there. They are small size. The majority of the fish we are looking at in Big Hill were 10 inches or less … a mix of black and white crappie.”
Many Kansas anglers back off the big reservoirs and take advantage of many small fishing lakes and community lakes scattered across the state that hold excellent crappie populations. All feature easy public access, and many are highly recommended by Joe Bragg, president of the Kansas Crappie Club (online at KansasCrappieClub.com).
“The smaller lakes are being stocked by the state with black crappie, and they will stay kind of shallow all year,” says Bragg. “They will sit in those weeds like it is nothing.… It is some jam-up fishing.”
Bragg’s favorite small lakes include Geary State Fishing Lake near Junction City and Abilene; Council Grove State Fishing Lake in Council Grove (that also holds big flathead catfish); Carbondale East Community Lake in Carbondale (catfishing is good here, too); and Banner Creek Reservoir near Holton.
Kansas fishing regulations (online at KSOutdoors.com) can change from one location to another. Before heading out on the water, always check local limits for legal fish lengths, creel limits and fishing methods.