Crappies are often the first fish Ohio anglers catch each season, as the early spawners swim into the shallows, in range of shore anglers and boat fishermen alike. Action continues through the spring and well into summer for anglers who know how to pattern the oft-suspending fish after the easy pickin’s of spring.
The fish put on a feed come fall as well, providing late season anglers with catches in locations that may offer under-the-ice hookups through the winter season. But no time is better than the spring for catching crappies hand over fist using simple tactics like a live minnow or jig – or both – fished a foot or two under a bobber placed near shoreline brush.
It’s no wonder that crappies, both black and white, are Ohio anglers’ favorite panfish, and the subject of considerable study and effort by the state fisheries biologists to make sure opportunities for catching them are readily available.
As such, the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) conducts netting and creel survey studies across the state on lakes 50 acres and larger in size to help them manage those water for optimum crappie fishing opportunities.
Executive administrator for fish management and research for the ODOW, Rich Carter, explained that such management has resulted in crappies that are more abundant and larger in size, and that the future is bright for Buckeye State crappie anglers.
In 2009 the agency implemented a 9 inch minimum length and a 30 fish bag limit on crappies at most of Ohio’s popular inland fishing lakes, a move that Carter credits with “boosting the numbers of large crappies and improved growth rates,” a trend that anglers have benefitted from for the past decade. In the years since, significant “tweaking” of regulations on a lake-by-lake basis has resulted in even more success in both the size and numbers of crappies available to Ohio anglers throughout the year.
Ohio Crappies by the Season
Carter explained that when water surface water temperatures approach the 60 degree mark each spring, crappies move into the shallows to spawn and to feed, targeting brush, rock or wood cover less than 12 feet deep. That typically takes place anytime from late March through April and into early May, according to the fisheries biologist. It’s at that time that in any water harboring the popular panfish, “Is when the crappies are most vulnerable to our fishermen from both boat and shore and when anglers have the greatest success,” said Carter.
That easy action begins to wane once the surface water temperatures hit the 70 degree mark and crappies move out of the shallows, often suspending in open water off their spawning area.
Anglers casting jigs, using slip bobbers with live bait, or trolling crankbaits often cash in once the suspended schools of post-spawn crappies are located, tactics that prove productive throughout the summer months as the fish move farther away from shore and hover, often in tight schools, over deeper water.
Come autumn, falling air and water temperatures prompt a return to the near-shore areas off their spawning grounds, often at the first drop-off to deeper water from those shallows, where the fish may be found throughout the winter months.
Plenty of Ohio lakes hold healthy populations of these predictable fish, thanks to crappie being able to adapt to various habitat types, from deep, rocky lakes to shallow, silt-bottom impoundments and farm ponds. A large part of that adaptability, according to Carter, is due to the crappies’ varied diets, which range from forage fish to insects and their larvae.
Wildlife District ONE/CENTRAL OHIO Crappie Destination
For sheer numbers of crappies, the ODOW data shows that Madison Lake deserves top consideration among District One anglers for overall crappie abundance and size, according to ODOW surveys, followed by Knox and Delaware lakes. Not only is the Madison County lake best in the district in both categories, it ranks second statewide in numbers and is at the top of list in percentage of crappies measuring at least 9 inches. Madison Lake offers some five miles of shoreline, and is located about three miles east of the city of London and accessible from Cheseldine Road and Park Drive East.
Indian Lake and Delaware Reservoir round out the top waters in District One for offering the best chance at catching a good number of keeper crappies. Delaware is one of the state’s first waters designated a “Trophy” crappie lake and managed thusly with nine inch/30 fish daily bag limits that have since been extended to other state waters. As such, the Delaware County lake has more than its share of large crappies.
Delaware reservoir offers 1200 acres of water more than 30 miles of shoreline, all of it accessible by shore, courtesy of its namesake state park and wildlife area that surrounds the flood control impoundment, located on the East side of US Route 23 north of Columbus.
Indian Lake ranks second in the District in terms of large crappies available, according to the survey results. The 5800-acre lake is located in northwest Logan County.
For fishing maps and more information about crappie fishing in central Ohio, call the Wildlife District One offices at 614-644-3925 or visit wildohio.gov.
Wildlife District Two/Northwest Ohio Crappie Destinations
According to the most recent surveys, in Wildlife District Two crappie anglers will find the most, and largest, crappies on average in the same lake — Charles Mill. The 1,347-acre reservoir that spills from eastern Richland into western Wayne country east of Mansfield ranks tops in the northwest district in both categories, followed by Harrison Lake in relative crappie numbers and Clear Fork Reservoir in the percentage of crappies measuring 9 inches or longer.
Pleasant Hill Reservoir is second in the average size and ranks third in crappie abundance in the panfish surveys. Carter said it has good forage and habitat and excellent numbers of quality sized fish. The 783-acre Muskingum Watershed Conservancy lake is located on the Richland-Ashland County line, approximately 2 miles southwest of Perrysville. The boat ramp and marina are on Covert Road off State Route 95. The marina is on the north end of the Mohican State Park lands that surround the popular destination.
Ranked second in relative numbers and #4 in the average number of nine-inch-plus crappies, 142-acre Harrison Lake in western Fulton County is worth of visit by Northwest crappies fanciers as well and features a popular state park surrounding the rural reservoir.
For lake maps and more crappie fishing information for northwest Ohio, call the Wildlife District Two offices at 419-424-5000 or visit wildohio.gov.
Crappie Fishing with Brad Chappell
Wildlife District Three/Northeast Ohio
Spencer Lake ranks at the top in both crappie numbers and size in Northeast Ohio according to survey data. The 618-acre Medina County lake is also tops in the state in the abundance category and third in that population’s percentage of fish that measure at least nine inches. Spencer Lake is located in northeastern Ohio in Medina County, approximately two miles east of the village of Spencer, north of State Route 162 and Medina County roads 27 and 58.
Chippewa Lake is ranked second in crappie abundance and fifth in the district in relative size of those fish. The 161-acre natural lake is located in Medina County, seven miles southwest of Medina, two miles north of I-71.
Atwood Lake is ranked second in crappie size and third in relative crappie abundance of all of Northeast Ohio’s lakes, according to survey findings. Located in Tuscarawas and Carroll counties, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) reservoir covers 1,562 acres and more than 12 miles of shoreline that is open to crappie fishing.
Berlin is another northeast Ohio reservoir that’s become a consistent crappie fishery,” said Carter. “Anglers who live in the area know that in the spring a lot of the willows around the lake are flooded and prime places to fish for crappie early in the season.”
Berlin Lake, fourth in the average number of nine inch crappies, according to the survey, is a consistent producer for northeast Ohio ‘slab’ anglers, says Carter. Located at the junction of Stark, Portage, and Mahoning counties, Berlin is located on and is accessible from U. S. Route 224 and State Routes 14 and 225, where if offers anglers 3,340 surface acres of water and 79 miles of productive crappie catching shoreline.
For lake maps and more crappie fishing information for Northeast Ohio, call the District Three Wildlife office at 330-644-2293 or visit wildohio.gov.
Wildlife District Four/Southeast Ohio Crappie Destinations
Veto and Seneca lakes top the list for the best lakes in southwest Ohio in terms of relative crappie population and average size, according to survey data. Veto Lake is located in southwestern Washington County and offers 160 acres of prime crappie fishing waters located off US Route 50 take State Route 339 south to the scenic lake.
Much larger, Seneca Lake at 3,585 acres, is a massive MWCD reservoir that is a favorite of crappie anglers, and ranked tops in the district for its relative numbers of nine-inch-or-longer crappies. Located primarily in Noble County, with northern portions in Guernsey County, Seneca’s dam is located 2 miles east of Senecaville on State Route 313 and 12 miles southeast of Cambridge via Interstate 77 and State Route 313.
Piedmont Lake, another big MWCD reservoir at 2,285 acres, is ranked second for crappie size in southeast Ohio. Piedmont Lake is in Belmont and Harrison counties, with the largest portion in Kirkwood and Flushing Townships of Belmont County, with a small segment in Moorefield Township of Harrison County. The lake is on State Route 22 midway between Cambridge and Cadiz and approximately 10 miles north of Interstate 70 off State Route 800.
For lake maps and more crappie fishing information for Southeast Ohio, call the Wildlife District Four offices at 740-589-9930 or visit wildohio.gov.
Wildlife District Five/Southwest Ohio Crappie Destinations
Lake Loramie takes top prize in both size and numbers of crappie offered anglers in southwest Ohio, going by the most recent fish surveys. Lake Loramie’s 870 acres of surface water are located in Shelby and Auglaize counties in west central Ohio, two miles southeast of Minster on State Route 362, and six miles west of Anna on State Route 119.Grant Lake, at 181 acres in Brown County, ranks second in crappie abundance while Rocky Fork Lake takes the #2 position in terms of relative fish size in the District. Rocky Fork Lake covers 1,954 acres and lies within Rocky Fork State Park in Highland County, some five miles east of Hillsboro, 25 miles west of Chillicothe, and accessible from U.S. Route 50 and State Routes 124, 506, and 753.
For lake maps and additional crappie fishing information for southwest Ohio call the Wildlife District five office at 937-372-9261 or visit wildohio.com.