April 01, 2019
Straddling the Mississippi River, Louisiana and Mississippi can both produce excellent crappie catches practically anywhere in either state.
However, a few water bodies really stand out for good action. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The northern half of the Bayou State traditionally offers the best crappie fishing and Poverty Point Reservoir stands out among those lakes for producing big fish. The impoundment covers about 2,700 acres near Delhi and produced quite a few 2- to 3-pound crappie in recent years. In April 2010, Randy K. Causey set the Louisiana black crappie record with a 3.84-pounder. The lake also contributed six of the 10 largest white crappie in the state record book.
“Crappie fishing throughout northeast Louisiana has been very good in recent years, likely due to high water conditions during the spring and associated increases in spawning success and recruitment,” related Ryan Daniel, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. “Poverty Point is naturally fertile with good Mississippi delta soil and an abundant forage base.”
The lake averages about 7 feet deep, but some holes in the old Bayou Macon channel drop to nearly 30 feet. Some old oxbows now submerged under the reservoir waters make good places to look for crappie. A few wooden snags surrounding these oxbows give the fish cover. In 2017 and 2018, the state established some artificial reefs in the reservoir to increase the cover available.
More known for big largemouth bass, Toledo Bend Reservoir also ranks as one of the best crappie lakes in the nation. The 181,600-acre impoundment along the Sabine River on the Louisiana-Texas line produces many crappie in the 2- to 3-pound range and outstanding numbers of smaller fish.
In 2012, the lake dropped to record low levels. That allowed vegetation to sprout on the dry lake bottom. When the water returned and inundated those places, the terrestrial vegetation created outstanding spawning habitat. Many fish spawned after the drought now reach impressive sizes.
“Toledo Bend Reservoir was a great destination for crappie anglers in late winter and spring of 2018,” advised Villis Dowden, a LDWF fisheries biologist. “Crappie in great numbers were in the deep water along the Sabine River channel area known as the Chicken Coop. In late winter, anglers also caught a lot of fish farther north in the Huxley Bay area and such tributaries as Lanan Creek, Patroon Creek and Palo Gaucho Creek.”
With numerous creek arms and varied habitat, the massive reservoir offers abundant places to fish. Look for creek bends with visible stumps or fallen treetops along the shorelines and drop a live bait next to the cover.
“[In early spring], crappie begin moving from the main lake into drains, spawning areas and flats like the Blue Lake area just east of the Chicken Coop,” Dowden recommended. “Anglers can catch large female crappie between 12 and 14 inches in length on Road Runners, small rattle baits and beetle spinners in this area.”
Dowden also commented that Sibley Lake continues to improve for crappie. The lake spreads across 2,176 acres near Natchitoches. The shallow, stained lake warms a bit quicker than deeper lakes do, so crappie usually spawn earliest there. On warm February afternoons, anglers might catch crappie in 2 or 3 feet of water.
“The size of crappie harvested by anglers fishing Sibley Lake increased from a median of 9 inches in 1996 to 11 inches in 2016,” Dowden said. “The spawn in this part of the state might start as early as late February and usually ends by mid-April, depending on weather.”
Best Fishing Tips Ever-Terry Blankenship
Anglers looking for bigger crappie in western Louisiana might head to another small lake. John K. Kelly Grand Bayou Reservoir spreads across 2,700 acres near Coushatta. It contributed one 3.38-pound white crappie to the Louisiana record books, which currently holds sixth place. The lake also produces good numbers of 2- to 3-pound fish.
“Grand Bayou Reservoir produces quality crappie and good numbers,” Dowden said. “Grand Bayou Reservoir is experiencing increased amounts of habitat in the form of submerged vegetation for successful recruitment and survival following spawning.”
In Central Louisiana, the swampy, 8,000-acre Larto-Saline complex traditionally produces many crappie in the 2.5- to 3-pound range, with some bigger fish. Saline Lake covers about 1,971 acres near Deville. Lake Larto, a horseshoe-shaped old oxbow about 25 miles south of Jonesville, stretches across 2,325 acres. Slightly deeper and more open than Saline Lake, Larto usually offers the best winter fishing. Many anglers fish where Muddy Bayou, Nolan Bayou, Big Creek, Open Bayou and Saline Bayou flow into the main lakes. Associated lakes like Shad Lake can also produce good catches.
The Magnolia State habitually ranks among the top crappie destinations in the nation and the best action usually occurs in the “Big Four” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control reservoirs in northern Mississippi. This year promises more excellent action and big fish catches in the Big Four.
“All four reservoirs had good to excellent spawns in 2015 and 2016,” remarked Keith Meals, a Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks biologist. “All four had high water levels in 2018, so we anticipate they had good spawns. Creel surveys on those lakes show that crappie average 1.2 to 1.5 pounds, but all four of the lakes are capable of producing crappie exceeding 3 pounds. I would rank Enid and Sardis best for numbers and Arkabutla and Grenada best for size.”
Dubbed “the home of the 3-pound crappie,” Grenada Lake covers 35,000 acres at pool stage near the town of Grenada. Sardis Lake covers about 32,500 acres near the town of Sardis. Arkabutla Lake spreads across 11,240 acres of Tate and DeSoto counties and produced the state record black crappie at 4.25 pounds.
Sandwiched between Sardis and Grenada, Enid Lake often gets overlooked. The impoundment covers 17,000 near Batesville and produced the world record white crappie, a 5-pound, 3-ounce fish.
- Quick Tip: Vertical presentations are one of the go-to methods for shallow crappie on brush in the spring.
“Enid Lake is chock full of fish,” exclaimed Brandon Fulgham with Grenada Lake Crappie Guides, (662-417-9117, www.grenadalakecrappieguides.com) who guides on several Mississippi lakes. “From December through February, we can mop up on fish at Enid Lake if we haven’t had too much rain or bitter cold. It’s not uncommon to catch 200 fish a day. It’s as full of fish right now as I’ve ever seen it. In the winter, Enid Lake produces many 2- to 2.25-pound fish.”
In the fall, the USACE draws down the Big Four reservoirs to about a third of their summer pools. In a normal year, the lakes reach winter pool by Dec. 1. The Corps allows the lakes to begin refilling in January. The lakes typically reach summer pool levels by early May. During the winter drawdowns, fish concentrate in remaining channels, making them easier to find.
“Usually, in late January or early February, the water will start coming back up,” Fulgham said. “In late winter, I like to fish the old riverbed, creek channels and the mouths of major creeks or around points. I use my side-scan electronics to find big balls of shad. When we find shad wadded up, crappie will be around them.”
The old Yocona River channel and any creeks closest to the dam usually offer the best fishing in February. Some good areas in Enid Lake include Long Branch, the mouths of Bean and Wallace creeks and even up into the creeks. Anywhere that a large creek hits the main river channel could produce some good fish in late winter.
As waters warm to about 57 degrees, some crappie could start moving shallow. On warm years, crappie might begin spawning in February, but the spawn typically begins in the Big Four from mid- to late March. Crappie generally start spawning in Grenada first and then move northward to Arkabutla. The crappie spawn might last through early May.
A little farther south, Ross Barnett Reservoir covers about 33,000 acres on the old Pearl River channel along the historic Natchez Trace just outside Jackson. More known for numbers, “the Rez” does produce many fish in the 2- to 2.5-pound class with some topping 3 pounds.
“Crappie from a good spawn three years ago should fully recruit to the fishery, along with a good class of older fish from five years ago,” explained Ryan Jones, an MDWFP fisheries biologist. “Ross Barnett should have good numbers of big fish in 2019. In February, look for crappie along the channel edges, either upriver or just below Highway 43. First, look for shad on the electronics. Crappie should be near the shad.”
Much of the stumpy, shallow lake resembles a swamp. However, some old lakes that existed off the original Pearl River channel still exist as deeper portions of the reservoir. Some spots drop to more than 40 feet deep. Prior to spawning, crappie stage in water about 6 to 8 feet deep along the old river channel or major creeks before moving shallow.
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“February is an especially good time to catch big crappie on Ross Barnett Reservoir,” Fulgham advised. “Some holes just west of the Highway 43 bridge always produce some good fish in the winter. All of those old lakes along the river channel can still produce many good fish. Normally, the fish are right along the old river channel in February. Watch the electronics and troll the river channel and the edges of the little ditches off the old channel.”
People can also fish the stumps along the channel edges. Thoroughly probe all available cover with a single-pole rig. Drop a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jighead tipped with a tube jig next to the stumps and fish all around them. Some people add a live minnow to each tube.
“Ross Barnett is filled with stumps,” Fulgham detailed. “Many of them are under the water, but a lot of them are visible. Use side-scan electronics to mark fish around the stumps. I usually start right at the top of a tree or stump and work all the way around and down to the bottom until I find the fish. We never know where they might be at any given time or day. In the winter, we normally fish water between 17 and 25 feet deep. Depending upon how cold and muddy the water is the fish will normally be between 10 and 15 feet down over the stumps.”
Anglers might also fish some ancient oxbows off the Mississippi River. One of the oldest Mississippi River oxbows, Lake Washington dates back centuries and spreads over about 5,000 acres near Chatham. The lake produces many crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range and some 3-pounders. At least one 4-pounder came out of Lake Washington in 2015.
“Lake Washington is probably the best place for both big crappie and good numbers in this area,” noted Nathan Aycock, an MDWFP fisheries biologist. “Lake Washington always has good spawns and good recruitment because the water levels stay stable. People often troll in 8 to 12 feet of water in February and catch big fish that are starting to think about moving up to spawn.”
Although these waters traditionally offer outstanding winter crappie action, anglers in Louisiana and Mississippi can usually catch many crappie in other lakes and rivers close to their homes. Practically every freshwater system in either state can produce good crappie catches throughout the year and possibly some big fish. Anglers just need to put on the heavy coats and go looking for the slabs this month.
RESEARCHERS TRAWLING FOR INFORMATION
Most people along the Gulf Coast recognize the shrimp trawls, but who trawls for crappie in a lake? The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks does!
“We’re evaluating mid-water trawl sampling as a method of predicting white crappie spawning success,” explained Ryan Jones, a fisheries biologist. They are sampling portions of Ross Barnett Reservoir on transects deeper than 10 feet.
After pulling in the trawl, researchers sort the catch into different species, count them and record their lengths.
The biologists want to compare trawl data they obtain later in the year with spring angler creel data to determine crappie age and growth rates. They also want to evaluate harvest-per-hour rates. Trawl data is compared to fish harvested three years later, when the fry have reached catchable sizes.
“It’s a 10-year study due to the delayed evaluation period,” Jones said. “We evaluate each year-class by comparing angler harvest rates of 3-year-old white crappie. The creel data collected this year will be compared to 2015 trawl data.”