February 15, 2017
The Lone Star State is embarking on its third consecutive year of excellent fishing conditions going into the winter months, meaning Texas crappie fishing could be better than ever this year.
The fact that monitored state reservoirs are at 85 percent of capacity is impressive. That's according to Craig Bonds, Director of Inland Fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Many of the state's historically great crappie-producing reservoirs are completely full — and have been for many months.
As anglers plan for their upcoming excursions into crappie country, many are charting paths to visit reservoirs near the Texas-Louisiana border, primarily Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs.
These two lakes are annually known for producing large and abundant crappie. The coming months should be better than ever. Toledo and Rayburn have been at some form of flood stage most of the summer. Too much water spells bad news for people living too close to the rivers, but is good news for the fish, especially crappie.
Summer and fall rains have the majority of our lakes in prime condition, but the fact that running water has been a constant in Toledo Bend and Rayburn sets them apart, say fisheries biologists.
From a productivity standpoint, crappie thrive and develop quickly on a steady dose of nutrient-filled water.
Bonds points out that a mature female crappie can spawn from 50,000 to 100,000 offspring during each deposit of eggs. In some cases, they will visit the spawning ground twice yearly, he added. The key is warm water.
Water temperatures need to be 68 to 70 degrees for spawning action to take place. Young crappie vacate a spawning nest shortly after hatching and seek protection from scavengers and nourishment in nearby vegetation. They later move to deeper water around other crappie of their own size.
Biologists see reservoirs such as Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn as natural incubators for crappie. Both reservoirs are large bodies of water and have been near full water capacity for months.
Not counting the few short weeks that crappie spend in the shallows during the spawn, the majority of the time they are found in deep water, making them ideal candidates for fall and winter fishing
Bob Lusk, a Texas A&M graduate fisheries biologist and owner of "Pond Boss" magazine feels that Texas reservoirs are set for the best year for crappie in decades. It all has to do with fresh water, says Lusk.
"Fresh water brings nutrients, but most important, it triggers the production of forage fish. Small minnows and threadfin shad thrive in freshwater conditions, and all fish from crappie to bass will add weight when this situation exists."
Crappie are an extremely prolific species and do well when their food chain is ramped up, he added.
Lusk is bullish about potentials of all notable crappie lakes across Texas, but sees huge potential in Lake Ray Roberts, north of Dallas.
"Roberts has been in and out of flood stage for months. The grass-lined shoreline there has been covered with water and the shallow spots are teeming with baitfish. Anglers need to remember that Roberts has dozens of submerged brushpiles scattered across the lake.
"When the lake was low a few years back, the TPWD created artificial crappie attraction locations. Lake maps of Ray Roberts pinpoint locations of these sites," said Lusk.
There also are electronic chips available for depthfinders showing the exact placement of the brushpiles. They can be purchased at many sporting goods outlets across Texas or ordered online
Additional Texas reservoirs that figure high on the prospect list of excellent crappie lakes are Fork, Lewisville, Cedar Creek and Buchanan.
Doug Shampine, a noted crappie and bass guide, says Fork should be kicking out hefty fish prior to the annual spawn, which usually begins in March or April.
"Fork is always good for crappie and with all the fresh water we've received over the past few months, winter angling should be superb," he said.
Shampine stays ready to coach crappie fishermen year 'round. His theory is simple. Crappie will be grouped in deep water locations when not in the actual act of spawning, and the best ways to find these locations is with electronics or, in Shampine's case, he constructs his own crappie hotspots in advance.
Shampine is a frequent customer of Lowe's and Home Depot during the summer months when he accumulates concrete cinder blocks for the creation of crappie habitat. He currently has more than 10 sites staked out.
It's all about location, he says. After traversing Fork for the past several years, Shampine is familiar with old roadbeds and high and low spots within the lake. He searches for these areas before stuffing his concrete blocks with green willow limbs and sinking then into 17 to 20 feet of water. His preference for staging areas is highly wooded locations near a submerged roadway or hump.
Shampine is a believer that crappie of certain size ranges mingle during the fall and winter, and is quick to change locations if fish being hooked at a particular spot are too small.
He also urges crappie fishermen to change depth if action is slow. "I've seen layers of crappie at 10 feet and the next morning at 17," he suggested.
Deep-water fishing at Fork will yield other species while you are fishing for crappie with minnows. He backs up his statement by reminding us that the Texas state-record largemouth bass taken by Barry St. Clair in 1992 was the result of a minnow-baited hook intended for crappie.
Shampine says fishing under the lights is productive at Fork during the fall and winter months. "Lights draw baitfish and crappie will follow." He likes to light up the night at his baited crappie nests or around a dock.
The crappie record for Lake Fork is 3.34 pounds for a white crappie.
CEDAR CREEK LAKE
Cedar Creek Lake is Wally Marshalls' favorite reservoir for crappie. Best known as Mr. Crappie in Texas, Marshall is tracking down big crappie on Cedar Creek year 'round.
Marshall has featured Cedar Creek Lake regularly on his numerous television and radio programs.
Cedar Creek is highly populated around its shoreline, but the residential development has actually helped crappie fishing. That's because many of the dwellings have boat docks attached to the property.
Those wood and metal structures provide excellent habitat for crappie and other game fish.
According to Water Data for Texas monitoring, the lake has been close to conservation pool level for several months, which places it in contention for being one the better crappie sites in the state.
Steady rains have pushed lake levels to within inches of many boat docks' flooring. Deep-water pockets under the many docks that circle Cedar Creek are among Marshall's favorite fishing locations.
His favorite method for catching crappie under docks is to flip jigs as far under the flooring as possible. Marshall calls the technique "shooting the docks." It's best done with short limber rods that can be pulled much like a bow. The lure is hand held, and when released the crappie lure is propelled far up under the structure.
"Don't be surprised if you latch onto some big bass when shooting Cedar Creek Lake docks," said Marshall.
Cedar Creek, like the majority of impoundments across Texas, received abundant amounts of runoff water over the past 24 months. Lake records for crappie at Cedar Creek are 3.10 pounds for black crappie and 3.14 for white crappie.
This Denton County reservoir is attached to Lake Ray Roberts by a floodgate. Water released from Roberts finds its way into Lewisville. The lake is situated on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, a large waterway that snakes its way through far North Texas and passes through Dallas.
Veteran angler and crappie professional Butch Drake of Dallas has fished in crappie contests all over the Southwest, but considers Lewisville one of his favorites.
Lewisville sprawls across 29,592 surface-acres and serves as a playground for water enthusiasts in the Dallas area. Heavy boat traffic is the order of the day during summer months, but because of a massive river system anglers can always find refuge from those just playing in and on the water. Drake is convinced the river system is what makes Lewisville such a great crappie fishing location.
Drake, being the crappie professional that he is, employs several techniques when stalking winter slabs at Lewisville.
He focuses his attention on the river portion of the lake during this period, knowing that the white crappie of Lewisville will be hanging in deep water. He owns a well-equipped boat with all the modern electronic paraphernalia available, but often fishes from the bank during the winter months.
Drake will motor a particular portion of the Trinity and park his rig next to a high bank and exit the craft. Banks along the Trinity are well defined because of an almost constant flow of water. Water levels are deep just over the edges of these banks.
Drake uses a long telescoping rod to fish from the bank. He dabbles brush with crappie jigs as he navigates his way along. He seldom uses more than 10-pound-test line and uses a lightweight reel. His success at fishing that way keeps him coming back for more.
Crappie records for Lake Lewisville include 3.13 pounds for black crappie and 3.50 for white.
This popular crappie lake is located on the East Fork of the Trinity River and spans 21,400 surface-acres. Floods have dealt havoc to Lavon shoreline facilities over the past months, but fishermen and biologists are expecting Lavon to be a contender for Texas' crappie lake of the year.
There is not much brush remaining in Lavon. Fall and winter anglers prefer to fish south-facing shorelines along deep structures. Lavon is a power-plant lake, making its waters in fall and winter a bit warmer than other lakes in the area.
Lavon is boat-ramp friendly with 16 of them now in operation.
For several years, Buchanan Lake was on the verge of going dry, but thanks to a couple of years of floods the old reservoir is back to its original high level. Crappie have always been the fish of choice there. Crappie fishing barges can be found at several locations on the lake.
Buchanan is part of the Highland Lakes chain in the Texas Hill Country near Marble Falls and Burnet. Naturally, it gets water from the Colorado River. Biologist Bob Lusk believes that Buchanan supports excellent numbers of forage fish and that some hefty white crappie will be taken there this winter.
Crappie records for Buchanan stand at 1.40 pounds for black crappie and 1.90 for white crappie.
Maybe you can break one of those records this winter or spring. This may be the year for it!
The Concho River from the Lake Nasworthy flood gates in San Angelo to the Ben Ficklin Dam along the Main Concho River offers some of the best fall and winter crappie fishing to be found in the Concho Valley. Among other things, it offers seclusion and protection from the wind.
This stretch of river flows among beautiful pecan tree orchards and grassy meadows, but it's known to only a few who fish San Angelo waters. Why?
Access to water's edge is scarce. Watercraft is mostly limited to kayaks, canoes and other lightweight boats.
Albert Valadez and fishing compadre Louie Guerrero have known about this secret stretch of river for years. Both anglers prefer to fish from kayaks, which are well suited along the Concho. Valadez said the lures of choice are small marabou jigs.
"It's exciting to fish here," said Valadez. "Most of your hits will be from crappie but an occasional big bass will bend rods."
The pair of Concho River anglers use monofilament line, usually under 12-pound test.
Anglers who fish the river normally launch their small boats at Ben Ficklin Park, under the Loop 306 Bridge where it crosses over the Concho, or at the spillway of Lake Nasworthy.
Very few visit the location on a frequent basis, but the ones who do have found a great site to catch giant crappie and a place to observe wildlife up close and personal. Although they are within the city limits of San Angelo, deer and turkey wander through the brush.
This stretch of the Concho River is no more than 50 yards across at its widest point. The water is relatively deep, up to 12 feet in sections. High banks harbor good shelters for anglers eager to escape the blustery winter winds in West Texas.