With the end to the cold grey days of winter quickly approaching, thoughts inevitably turn to fishing, especially West Virginia crappie fishing.
As the days get longer and the sun gains in strength, water temperatures start to rise, as does the anticipation of crappie fishermen all across the state.
Although not as famed as largemouth or smallmouth bass, crappie is one of the most popular game fish throughout the Mountain State because they have a voracious appetite and are excellent table fare. Another great thing about crappie are they can be found in just about every body of water across the state.
According to Jeff Hansbarger, fisheries biologist with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, spring crappie are very dependent on water temperature. On warm days, fish will move up into shallower water in search of food and areas to spawn, but a quick cold snap will send them back into the deeper areas of the lakes and rivers looking for thermal refuge.
However, even on cooler days, plenty of crappie can be caught by fishing deeper in the channels and main bodies of lakes.
Hansbarger also notes that the reverse happens in the heat of the late summer. As water temperatures rise, fish seek the deeper, cooler waters. Successful crappie fishing can be found year 'round if anglers pay attention to water temperatures.
When it comes to crappie, structure is a key ingredient, with successful anglers concentrating on submerged rock outcrops or humps, brushpiles, shoreline lay-downs, docks and piers, and man-made fish attractors.
Philip Farrish from Raleigh County spends a lot of time each spring pursuing crappie. He recommends that anglers not lock into one spot, rather try two or three baits and move on until the fish are found. However, he does caution to not fish baits too quickly; spring crappie often like slower moving baits.
The time is right to get out for spring crappie, and the Mountain State has numerous locales where anglers can spend a day on the water.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE
This 2,650-acre lake located in Lewis County is a perennial favorite for all types of game fish. Just minutes from I-79 near Roanoke, the lake gets more fame for its bass and muskie fishing, but don't count it out when it comes to crappie. The lake boasts great numbers of crappie for anglers interested in a busy day on the water. In the spring, crappie are sensitive to water temperature and will be shallow around structure. Be sure keep an eye on depth finders for structure, depth and warmer temperatures.
Tried and true jigs and minnows are great, but don't be afraid to try something new. Sometimes a new or odd color will be just enough to trigger fish, especially in pressured waters.
Jackson County's Woodrum Lake is on the small size at only 240 acres, but should be a real hotspot for spring papermouths. The lake was built in 1988, and has a maximum depth of 50 feet. Its average depth of 25 feet means the lake will warm rather quickly prompting crappie to move into spawning areas a little sooner than on larger impoundments. The standing timber in the four prominent arms of the lake offer some great cover and spawning habitat for fish as they move up into the shallower depths in search of food. Fishing small jigs and live minnows in the timber can produce when the time is right.
EAST LYNN LAKE
Just south of the town of Wayne, this 1,005-acre impoundment was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and recreations back in 1970. The lake edge has plenty of woody structure, partially thanks to recent chop-and-drop habitat work from the WVDNR in an effort to improve an already great fishery. In the last couple of summers, fishery employees selectively hinge cut and cable trees to fall into the water to create fish habitat. The lake also has several large tributaries with plenty of nooks and crannies to hold fish. Even with the abundance of natural cover, don't overlook man-made structure when looking for crappie. Bridges and boat docks are ideal spots for spawning fish to congregate. As with any of the great fisheries in the state, timing is key, and finding the fish at the right time can produce great fishing.
Located just 20 miles off of I-79 at exit 119, Tygart Lake is another U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake, completed in 1938. The 1,750-acre impoundment was established for flood control for a 1,184 square mile drainage area, but has become known as one of the better fisheries in the state.
The lake is famed for its exceptionally clear water and the steep terrain that makes for deep channels and banks that get shallow quickly. The lake backs up an impressive 10-mile pool length that produces plenty of irregularly shaped shoreline features for which crappie to hold. This length also makes the lake a popular pleasure and power boating destination, so anglers will need to look for out-of-the-way coves to find the best fishing. Three boat launches along the lake make access relatively easy and the bigger tributaries should hold ample cover and forage for pre-spawn crappie. Baits that mimic the natural food source should prove productive once they start moving out of the deeper water and into shallow spawning areas.
At less than a quarter of the size of its neighbor of Stonewall Jackson Lake, this 550-acre lake is one of the best-kept secrets in the state when it comes to fishing. The lake is located a few miles north of its much larger cousin, near the town of Horner. Stonecoal doesn't see nearly the pressure as other lakes in the state, but can truthfully boast some of the biggest fish. The lake has a 10-horsepower motor restriction so it is perfect for fishing in a smaller boat or even from a canoe or kayak. Crappie numbers are excellent, with occasional tales of some giants being brought into the boat.
Sam Duffield goes after the big fish with a 1/32-ounce jighead tipped with a 1-inch twister tail, saying when it comes to crappie, it doesn't take big baits to catch big fish. It is all about locating the fish and finding what they want. Stonecoal offers several good coves and channels for the fish to find cover. On a good day anglers can expect a cooler full of pan filling fillets for their efforts.
Hailed by many crappie anglers as the best in the state, this 2,040-acre impoundment nestled in the hills of Summers County boasts both numbers and size in regard to crappie. The lake is formed by the Bluestone and the New River, both notable fisheries in their own right, but which combine to make a diverse and nutrient rich impoundment perfect for aquatic life.
Anglers regularly catch crappie in the 14- to 16-inch range from the mud flats and submerged weed beds located throughout the reservoir. The terrain along the shoreline can go from gently rolling to steep sided cliffs quickly, creating a wide array of cover types.
As always, when it comes to crappie, anglers should key in on structure and be on the lookout for anything that will hold and congregate baitfish.
No boat, No Problem
If you find yourself without a boat this spring and have the urge to do some crappie fishing, don't count yourself out. There are plenty of opportunities to catch the pan-size fish right from the shoreline.
Any of the big, slow, moving rivers of the state hold good numbers of crappie and plenty of room along the shore. The Monongahela, Ohio and Kanawha rivers all have plenty of backwater areas crappie love.
When crappie fishing from the bank, it is always a good bet to fish the deeper pools, usually located in tight river bends. These bends are often catch points for woody debris that flows down swollen river, forming large brushpiles.
There are also opportunities for bank fishing in the lakes around the state. Boat docks are excellent spots, as the docks provide cover and food for schooling baitfish, which in turn draws in crappie.
Also, the relatively shallow water around most docks warms quickly drawing feeding crappie in sooner than in the colder stream-fed channels of the lake.