April 28, 2017
By Keith Sutton
The United States encompasses thousands of lakes and rivers that produce slab crappie in extraordinary numbers. Black crappie originally were found in the eastern half of the United States, except for the northeastern seaboard. The original range of white crappie extended from eastern South Dakota to New York and south to Alabama and Texas. Both species have been widely introduced into new waters, however, and today, crappie can be caught in all the lower 48 states.
Because of the extensive ranges covered by both species, it’s difficult to create a list of the best crappie states. In some ways, it’s like trying to pick America’s best restaurants. The task is darn near impossible and many excellent places are bound to get left out.
We’re going to give it a try, nevertheless. And we’re not just going to pick those states where you can catch lots of crappie. Most states fit that mold. We’re going to choose the 10 best states for catching some real slabs – crappie that often tip the scales at 2 to 3 pounds or more.
After consultation with a variety of sources – professional anglers, crappie guides, state fisheries agencies and more – we’ve compiled this list, in alphabetical order, of top contenders for the crown of “America’s Top State for Slabs.”
Weiss Lake in the state’s northeast corner has long been known as “The Crappie Capital of the World,” a title that is well deserved. This 30,000-acre Alabama Power reservoir near Leesburg produces 2- to 3-pound slabs at a rate seldom seen elsewhere, especially during the spring spawning season. But Weiss is just one of dozens of prime Alabama crappie waters that include the Alabama River and lakes Logan Martin, Neely Henry, Pickwick, Guntersville, Aliceville, Miller’s Ferry and others.
In recent years, the state has managed intensively for crappie in all its reservoirs, making this one of the nation’s top destinations for “barn door” action. A 4-pound, 5-ounce state-record black crappie caught in Ft. Payne Reservoir in 2007 exemplifies this contention.
Natural State anglers have been landing astounding numbers of huge crappie throughout the state in recent years, including many specimens topping 3 pounds. In June 2011, for example, 10-year-old Donivan Echols of Mena boated a new state-record black crappie weighing 5 pounds in 200-acre Lake Wilhelmina (Polk County).
Fish that size are as rare as 20-pound largemouths, but waters like lakes Conway, Greeson, Maumelle, Bull Shoals, Millwood, Nimrod, Dardanelle and oxbows along the White and Mississippi rivers continue to be renowned as top producers of gigantic crappie.
With shirt-sleeve fishing weather throughout even the coldest months, the Sunshine State has been a popular crappie-fishing destination for years. This is black-crappie country exclusively, and while these “speckled perch” seldom reach huge sizes, they’re plentiful from the Panhandle to the Everglades.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission just released a list of the best lakes for 2017, all of which can produce limit stringers of these good-eating panfish. Included are lakes Monroe, Harney, Talquin, Lochloosa, Orange, Weohyacapka (Walk-in-Water), Griffin, Arbuckle, Marian, Marion, West Tohopekaliga, Kissimee, Mosaic and Tenoroc Fish Management Areas, Istokpoga, Okeechobee and Trafford.
The Prairie State often gets overlooked when great crappie states are mentioned, but some of the enormous slabs caught there in recent years show it’s a must-visit locale if you want a chance at a true wall-hanger. Kinkaid Lake near Murphysboro, for example, produced a 4-pound, 5-ounce fish in 2010, and a 4-1/2-pound state-record black crappie in March 2017. Another true slab, a 4-1/2-pound hybrid crappie, was pulled from a Jefferson County farm pond in 2008.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the best lakes for big black crappie are Evergreen, Shelbyville and Carlyle, and the best white crappie lakes are Braidwood, Heidecke and Shelbyville. Other honey holes include Crab Orchard Lake, Lake of Egypt and Rend Lake.
Bayou State anglers haven’t been speaking too loudly about their state’s great crappie fishing. But word is out that Louisiana is a top destination for anglers hoping to load coolers with crappie, including some heavyweights.
Last year, anglers fishing Poverty Point Reservoir caught not one, not two, but three state-record-book white crappie over or near the 3-1/2-pound mark in an eight-day period in February and March. This 2,700-acre reservoir just north of Delhi also gave up the number-one ranked black crappie, a 3.84-pounder caught in April 2010, plus three more record-book fish exceeding 3 pounds since 2011.
State fish records kept by the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association list the Bayou State’s top 10 black crappie and top 10 whites, which range in size from 3.25 to 3.84 pounds. The waters that produced them, besides Poverty Point, include Caney Lake (five record blacks since 1999), Henderson Lake (two record blacks), Toledo Bend Reservoir (a 3.55-pound record black), Williams Canal (a 3.21-pound record black), Lake Verret (the number-one-ranked 3.8-pound white crappie), plus Lake Bistineau, Grand Bayou Reservoir, Lake Martin and an Interstate 20 borrow pit (each of which produced a record white crappie). Many more blue-ribbon crappie lakes are scattered throughout the state.
As one avid crappie angler said when I polled him on the top crappie-fishing states, “There’s Mississippi and then there’s everywhere else. The Magnolia State is its own crappie planet!”
Top here is Grenada Lake, a shallow, 36,000-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment 82 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee on I-55. It produces more trophy crappie than any other fishery in the country. Big fish are so common the local tourism board has nicknamed the lake “Home of the 3-Pound Crappie.”
Fishhound.com, in an article on the country’s top 50 crappie waters published last year, rated Grenada Number 1 overall and included two others in the Top 10 – Number 5 Sardis Lake and Number 6 Ross Barnett Reservoir. Their list of Mississippi slab hotspots didn’t stop there either. Pickwick Lake was Number 11, Enid Lake Number 13, Lake Washington Number 17 and Arkabutla Number 19. That’s seven out of Fishhound’s Top 20, more than one-third of the waters included. For the crappie angler, the Magnolia State is nothing short of paradise.
Ranked second in popularity with Show-Me State anglers, crappie are easy to catch and plentiful in nearly all of Missouri’s lakes and rivers. Table Rock, Truman and Stockton lakes are well known far outside the state’s borders as top-of-the-heap honey holes for big fish, and there are scores of other waters statewide bristling with 1- to 2-pound crappie that often wind up on anglers’ dinner tables.
The Missouri Dept. of Conservation recommends these lakes as among the state’s best for both white and black crappie: Che-Ru, Jerry Combs, Showme, Maple Leaf, Mozingo, Pomme de Terre and Truman.
Missouri’s many small watershed lakes and ponds often produce whoppers, too, like a private Callaway County pond where John Horstman of Fulton caught a 5-pound, IGFA world-record black crappie in 2006.
Sooner State crappie anglers are on the water year-round – spring, summer, fall and winter. Some like fishing so much they have built heated on-the-water shacks with holes in the floors so they can ply their favorite waters even on the coldest days. Fortunately for them, there are plenty of lakes where “specks” are plentiful and easy to catch.
Massive 102,000-acre Eufaula Lake, for example, not only produces lots of crappie, it gives up 2- to 3-pounders so often they hardly merit notice. Other blue-ribbon waters for slab crappie and lots of them include lakes Thunderbird, Hefner, Arcadia, Grand, Ft. Gibson, Tenkiller and Texoma.
Information: Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation
Recommended guide services: Todd Huckabee; Barry Morrow
In a comprehensive rewrite of the fisheries laws in 2012, South Carolina instituted an 8-inch statewide size limit for crappie to allow smaller fish to spawn at least once before being removed by anglers. The daily catch limit, which was 30, has been reduced to 20 today. Biologists say it’s still too early to determine for sure how those changes have affected the fisheries. But crappie reports show fishing is excellent in many waters throughout the state.
The Santee-Cooper lakes, Marion and Moultrie, are famous for the world-record-class catfish they have produced. But recently, the lakes’ huge crappie have been in the limelight, with anglers landing big catches of 2- to 3-pounders almost daily. The Santee River below Lake Marion has also been extraordinarily productive the past two years, thanks to high water conditions, with 2016 specifically producing incredible crappie fishing. A visit to any of these waters is definitely worth your time if you want to hooks some slabs.
Other must-visit destinations for Palmetto State slabs include lakes Thurmond (Clark’s Hill), Wateree, Murray, Wylie, Great Falls, Greenwood, Richard B. Russell, Fishing Creek, Hartwell and Warren.
The Volunteer State undoubtedly ranks among the top in the nation for its crappie offerings. That comes in part from the simple fact that Tennessee is loaded with places where crappie find easy living. Strings of major impoundments along the state’s major rivers collectively offer hundreds of thousands of acres of prime crappie habitat. Add to this the fact that the state’s Wildlife Resource Agency doesn’t settle for the “good” fishing that would naturally occur. Instead, they actively manage Tennessee crappie waters to make them even better.
One of the best known and most productive fisheries is Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee, which has been giving up huge numbers of slab crappie already this spring. Kentucky and Barkley lakes, which have seen two good years of spawning success, should be good this season, too. We like Chickamauga Lake as well, a productive slab factory where anglers in the know can expect to go home with lots of fillets.
Other top lakes for big speckled panfish include Percy Priest, Kentucky, Center Hill, Boone, Watauga, Watt’s Bar, Old Hickory, Fort Loudoun, Guntersville and Douglas.