October 30, 2018
Many people only fish for crappie in late winter or during the spring spawn when fish congregate in larger schools. However, fall can also deliver excellent crappie action, as crappie are gorging themselves before winter hits. Crappie roam more frequently in the fall as they look for baitfish. Therefore, anglers might not find crappie bunched up around their favorite brush piles. However, if they find the right spot, they can put a bunch in the boat. In addition, as many sportsmen start hunting, crappie fanatics might find themselves alone over the best honey holes in Mississippi or Louisiana.
Mississippi habitually tops any crappie destination lists. The “Big Four” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes — Arkabutla, Enid, Grenada and Sardis — all yield monster crappie. However, the USACE typically draws these reservoirs down in the fall and winter. The falling water concentrates fish in major river channels and deeper water near the dams.
“The four flood control reservoirs are consistently among the best crappie lakes in the entire nation,” remarked Keith Meals, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks biologist. “All four lakes can produce a lot of 2-pound fish and some 3-pounders.”
Of the four, Grenada Lake frequently tops any list for consistently producing the biggest slabs. The lake produced at least one crappie approaching 5 pounds, with numerous 3-pounders and some in the 4-pound range.
“The nickname for Grenada Lake is ‘the home of the 3-pound crappie,” quipped Jarad Roper, professional crappie angler (roperoutdoors.com). “It does produce bigger than average fish every year. It produces more 4-pounders than any other lake I know.”
Impounded on the Yalobusha River, the reservoir covers about 36,000 acres in the summer. In the winter, however, it shrinks to about 10,000 acres, as the water drops more than 20 feet.
In the fall, anglers must keep up with the water levels in the main channels until the lake stabilizes at winter pool. That means a hot spot this week could sit on a mudflat the next. Anglers also need to watch where they run in the extremely stumpy lake as the water continues to fall. Besides the Yalobusha, the Skuna River creates a second main arm that holds deep water as the lake level drops.
“I primarily fish the Skuna side in the fall,” Roper claimed. “It has water that’s a little clearer than the other side. By November, the lake is down to just the main channels.”
Nearby Sardis Lake traditionally comes in a close second among Mississippi reservoirs for consistently producing slabs. The lake on the Little Tallahatchie River southeast of the town of Sardis produces good numbers of 3-pound crappie and many more in the 1- to 2.5-pound range. One of the deepest lakes in Mississippi, it plunges more than 70 feet deep in places.
South of Batesville, Enid Lake covers about 17,000 acres at full pool, while Arkabutla Lake spreads over 11,240 acres of Tate and DeSoto counties.In the fall, the Mississippi River typically flows lowest for the year. With falling water comes good fishing in many oxbows along its course. One of the best, Tunica Cutoff, also called Tunica Lake, covers about 2,500 acres west of Arkabutla Lake. Still connected to the Mississippi River, the oxbow produces excellent numbers when the river gauge reads 10 to 15 feet and falling at Memphis.
Another good oxbow, Lake Washington covers about 3,000 acres south of Greenville. Anglers catch many crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range with some bigger ones. The lake produced at least one 4-pounder in recent years.
“Lake Washington is one of the largest natural lakes in the state,” stated Nathan Aycock, MDWFP fisheries biologist. “The water level might only go up or down a foot or two throughout the year, so fish grow really fast and catch rates remain high.”
Down the Mississippi from Lake Washington, many people fish Eagle Lake, Chotard Lake and Albemarle Lake near Vicksburg. Eagle Lake covers 4,700 acres. Chotard and Albemarle are still connected to the Mississippi River, so water levels fluctuate wildly. Each lake produces many 1- to 2-pound crappie and occasional 3-pounders.
“All of our oxbow lakes are improving, but for the biggest crappie in this part of Mississippi, I recommend Eagle Lake,” advised Ryan Jones, MDWFP biologist. “The crappie in our spring creel surveys average about 1.25 pounds.”
Convenient to Jackson, the 33,000-acre Ross Barnett Reservoir ranks among the best bass lakes in the nation, but it also produces good crappie catches. Much of the shallow lake resembles a swamp, but some old oxbows off the original Pearl River channel drop to more than 40 feet deep.
Many other small lakes and rivers across Mississippi also hold good fish. Anglers might consider fishing Okatibbee Reservoir near Meridian or Lake Tangipahoa in Percy Quinn State Park or the lakes along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
Just across the Mississippi River from Eagle Lake, Poverty Point Reservoir covers about 2,700 acres north of Delhi. One of the newest fishing lakes in Louisiana, the reservoir began filling in 1998 and opened to fishing in 2003. The state heavily stocked the impoundment with bass, crappie and more.
Now, some giants come out of the small lake. The reservoir holds the state record for black crappie with a 2.84-pounder. Since 2011, the lake also added six white crappie to the Louisiana Top 10 list, including three of the four biggest fish ever caught in the state.
“Poverty Point has a very good average size for crappie,” noted Ryan Daniel, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. “We put some artificial reefs in the reservoirs in 2017.”
Three more ancient oxbows, Yucatan Lake, Lake St. John and Lake Bruin, also produce good catches. About five miles from Newellton in Tensas Parish, Yucatan Lake still connects to the Mississippi River. Fishing turns hot when the water depth at Vicksburg hits 20 feet and falling.
Just downstream the Mississippi River, Lake Bruin covers about 3,000 acres near St. Joseph. Lake St. John covers about 2,200 acres near Ferriday. The state built some artificial reefs to attract fish in St. John. The lakes can produce some fish in the 2- to 2.5-pound class and a few bigger ones.
Moving westward, Lake D’Arbonne covers 15,000 acres near Farmerville and looks more like a cypress swamp in many areas. Normally considered a spring lake, the system also provides excellent fall fishing as well.
“Year in and year out, Lake D’Arbonne is one of the best crappie lakes in Louisiana,” Daniel emphasized. “A couple big creeks bring in a lot of nutrients. That fertility produces a lot of food for big crappie. The lake has an above average crappie population with incredible habitat and a good variety of cover.”
In the fall, crappie descend into deep channels as water cools. Many people fish the edges of Little Corney Creek or Little D’Arbonne Bayou. Anglers might also try Stowe Creek or Four-Mile Creek. Much of the lake averages about 8 feet deep, but some holes in the old channels drop to about 30 feet deep.In northwestern Louisiana, head to Lake Bistineau for big crappie. One of the oldest and most scenic lakes, Lake Bistineau covers about 15,550 acres northwest of Ringgold. The lake produces many 1- to 2-pound crappie, with some bigger fish.
“Lake Bistineau is one of the best lakes in northwestern Louisiana for producing big crappie,” confirmed Jeff Sibley, LDWF biologist. “The lake will continue to improve for fishing due to annual water level fluctuations that keep the vegetation under control.”
Always a top bass producer, Toledo Bend also holds some huge crappie. The massive reservoir produces excellent numbers of crappie in the 1- to 1.5-pound range with many exceeding 2 pounds and some topping 3 pounds. The lake delivered one 3.55-pound black crappie that tied for second place in the state. The lake produced bigger fish, but anglers weighed them on the Texas side of the impoundment. In the fall, many anglers fish the old Sabine River channel drop-off edges. Down near the dam, the water plummets to more than 110 feet deep in places.
In central Louisiana, the 8,000-acre Larto-Saline complex traditionally produces big crappie. Saline Lake covers about 1,971 acres near Deville. Deeper and more open than Saline, the horseshoe-shaped Lake Larto spreads across 2,325 acres about 25 miles south of Jonesville between the Black and Red rivers. This system commonly produces crappie in the 2-pound range and occasional larger fish.
Shallow Saline Lake averages about 5 to 6 feet deep, but Lake Larto averages about 20 feet deep. Therefore, the deeper lake typically offers better fishing in the fall. Many people vertically fish jigs along the drop-off edges in Saline Bayou, Muddy Bayou, Cross Bayou and other streams flowing through this wet labyrinth.
Southward down the Atchafalaya River, Lake Verret holds excellent numbers of fish with some monsters. Lake Verret covers about 14,000 acres near Morgan City. The cypress-lined swampy lake also connects to Lake Palourde and Grassy Lake plus numerous other waterways through myriad swamps, canals and bayous. Lake Verret set the state record for white crappie at 3.80 pounds.
“The area in and around Lake Verret, Grassy Lake and Lake Palourde are managed as maximum yield crappie fisheries, not for trophy size,” explained Brian Heimann, LDWF biologist. “Most crappie range from 8 to 12 inches, but anglers do catch some in the 12- to 15-inch range. However, these waters can produce some big fish, as evidenced by the state record white crappie.”
Also in south Louisiana, anglers might want to fish Vernon Lake, Henderson Lake or Lac Des Allemands west of New Orleans or some of the rivers north or west of Lake Pontchartrain, particularly the Pearl or the Tchefuncte river systems. Henderson Lake put two black crappie in the record books, including a 3.47-pounder that currently holds fourth place in the state.
Just about every freshwater system in Louisiana or Mississippi hosts abundant crappie populations. Anglers may not catch monster slabs every time, but crappie enthusiasts fishing almost any lake or river in either state might load an ice chest. In the fall, they just need to get out and find them.