February 04, 2015
By John Felsher
Anyone who chases crappie knows that Alabama offers some of the best fishing in the nation, but now it's official!
In a recent national angling survey, Alabama led the nation with eight lakes named in its list of the Top 50 best places to catch crappie.
While Grenada Lake in Mississippi took the top spot, four Alabama lakes cracked the Top 10. The highest ranked lake in Alabama, Weiss Lake, came in at No. 4. Often called the "Crappie Capital of the World," the Coosa River impoundment covers about 30,200 acres on the Coosa River near Gadsden. Created in 1958 as a hydroelectric power reservoir, the lake offers anglers more than 447 shoreline miles. Several flats and large coves with deep drop-offs and a myriad of creek channels offer excellent cover.
"Weiss Lake is one of the best crappie lakes in the nation," said T.J. Stallings with TTI-Blakemore. "Weiss has an excellent population of both black and white crappie. The lake produces some giant fish each year. Weiss Lake is full of docks. Crappies like to get under the docks to shade their eyes. Many anglers shoot the docks on Weiss Lake."
Anglers can also vertically jig next to bridge pilings or troll for crappie along the river and creek channel edges. The state and the power company created some reefs from donated Christmas trees to add more crappie-attracting cover to Weiss and other Coosa River lakes.
Neely Henry Lake & Lake Logan Morgan
Also on the Coosa River, Neely Henry Lake came in at No. 8, while Lake Logan Martin hit the list at No. 10. Situated between Lake Logan Martin and Weiss Lake, Lake Neely Henry dates to 1966, and covers about 11,200 acres south of Gadsden. Over the years, Neely Henry Lake has produced many 3-pounders and even some crappie exceeding 4 pounds.
Impounded in 1964, Lake Logan Martin spreads across 15,263 acres near Pell City. It offers anglers more than 275 miles of shoreline, but both lakes fish more like rivers. Neely Henry Lake runs about 77 miles, while Lake Logan Martin runs more than 50 miles along the Coosa River.
"Neely Henry and Logan Martin are both great crappie lakes," said Mike Holley, biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in Eastaboga. "An angler pulled a 17-inch, 3-pound black crappie from Neely Henry in 2012. Logan Martin seemed to be improving for crappie numbers during the last couple of years. Both Neely Henry and Weiss have had moderate year-classes of crappie the past two years after a boom year-class was produced in both lakes in 2010. Numbers may be down a little at both lakes, but fish from the 2010 year-class should provide some large crappie for anglers this year."
The Alabama River landed in seventh place on the Top 50 list. Formed where the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers meet about six miles north of Montgomery, the Alabama River meanders 312 miles until it hits the Tombigbee River near Mount Vernon to create the Mobile River. The Cahaba River enters the Alabama River about 10 miles below Selma. The Mobile and Tensaw rivers create the 250,000 Mobile-Tensaw Delta north of Mobile Bay.
"The Alabama River from Montgomery to Wilcox County can be very good for crappie," Stallings said. "The fishery is strong. I caught a 2.78-pounder in early 2013 and saw a 2.84- and a 2.99-pounder. The river also produces big numbers. It's not unusual to catch a limit by 10 a.m. and start culling."
William "Bill" Dannelly Reservoir (Miller's Ferry Lake) & Lake Claiborne
Part of the Alabama River, the William "Bill" Dannelly Reservoir comes in at No. 27 on this list. Also called Miller's Ferry Lake, the impoundment covers 27,280 acres in Dallas and Wilcox counties. It offers anglers about 500 shoreline miles.
Although not on the list, Lake Claiborne near Monroeville also provides excellent crappie fishing. The reservoir stretches about 60 miles along the Alabama River between Miller's Ferry Dam and the Claiborne Dam. It covers about 5,930 acres and drops to about 25-feet deep in places.
"The best crappie waters in my area are Millers Ferry and Lake Claiborne," said Dave Armstrong, an ADWFF biologist supervisor in Spanish Fort. "For numbers, I think Claiborne is somewhat better than Millers Ferry based on recent surveys. Both Millers Ferry and Claiborne have similar sizes with about 15 percent of our fish at 12 inches or bigger. The upper Mobile-Tensaw Delta is another good area."
On the rivers, look for places where crappie can escape the current, such as a downed tree, a sandbar or obstruction. Sandbars typically form on the inside bends where the current slackens and silt falls out of the water column. Often, sandbars create slack pockets.
"When fishing a river, pay attention to the bends," Stallings advised. "Look for places with less current, like a downed tree or a sandbar. They like to hide behind trees to get out of the current and sunlight. I go up to a fallen tree and start working from the outside toward the middle. I like to drop a Road Runner or a bare hook with a live minnow into little potholes behind the trees."
Pickwick Lake & Bear Creek
Pickwick Lake made the list at No. 11. A riverine impoundment, Pickwick Lake spreads across 47,500 acres and runs 53 miles along the Tennessee River from Florence, Ala., to Counce, Tenn. It touches Mississippi, allowing anglers to fish in three states at once. Anglers can fish from dam to dam in the main part of the lake with an Alabama license.
"Pickwick is very influenced by current," said Keith Floyd, ADWFF biologist supervisor in Tanner. "In February and March, crappie start staging before the spawn. They normally spawn in April. I start trolling for crappie in February. I fish from 2 feet to 6-feet deep. Many crappie anglers who fish Pickwick go to the Bear Creek embayment on the Mississippi line. Anglers also fish for crappie in the Second Creek area."
The largest Pickwick tributary, Bear Creek enters the system from the south near the Mississippi-Alabama state line. Deep and wide, it runs about 15 miles and actually looks more like a second lake than a creek. Yellow Creek flows into Pickwick Lake near where the Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi state lines converge. Indian Creek enters the lake from the south near Coleman State Park in Mississippi.
"Bear Creek has both deep and shallow fishing," said Brad Whitehead, a crappie guide from Muscle Shoals. "Toward the back of the creek, it has some great shallow-water fishing. I like to fish the deeper parts of the creek channel in about 20 to 25 feet of water. Pickwick is more known for producing monster smallmouth bass, but it can produce some big crappie. A friend caught a 3.2- and a 3.3-pounder as verified by certified scales."
Better known for harboring double-digit largemouth bass, Lake Guntersville landed the No. 29 spot on the Top 50 crappie lakes list. In April 1974, Jack Grant pulled a 4.5-pound white crappie from Lake Guntersville to tie the state record.
"Lake Guntersville can produce some nice crappie," Floyd said. "It has produced some fish in the 3-pound range. In spring, people fish under the causeway bridges over Lake Guntersville."
Guntersville, the largest lake in Alabama, covers 69,100 acres along the Tennessee River near the town of Guntersville. Part of the lake extends into Tennessee.
"In February, it doesn't get much better than Guntersville," Whitehead claimed. "That's a great time to shoot the docks. Lake Guntersville has large numbers of black crappie, including some over 3 pounds. Black crappie have slightly smaller mouths so they want slightly smaller baits."
Also making the list, Lake Eufaula came in at No. 45. Officially named Walter F. George Reservoir, Lake Eufaula spreads over 45,181 acres along the Chattahoochee River near the town of Eufaula and creates part of the Alabama-Georgia border. The main river and numerous creek channels combine to create 640 shoreline miles.
"We should have a great year for crappie on Lake Eufaula in 2015," says Sam Williams with Hawk's Fishing Guide Service. "In 2014, we had plenty of shad and the fish were healthy. I've seen a lot of crappie in the 2.5- to 3-pound range in the past couple of years. I heard about a couple 4-pounders."
Some of the best fishing occurs in Cowikee Creek near Lakepoint State Park Resort. Many people troll the creek with jigs or small lipless shad-pattern crankbaits. Some holes in the creek channel drop to more than 30-feet deep. Other crappie creeks include White Oak Creek, Pataula Creek, Hardridge Creek, Chewalla and Chenyhatchee creeks.
"In February or March, crappie start transitioning to the shallows before spawning," Williams said. "First, they get on the river ledges. We like to troll over the ledges until we find a place where we get a lot of hits. Then, we keep the trolling motor in one spot or anchor and drop down a jig with a live minnow. We usually fish from about 3 feet to 15-feet deep. Where the creeks hit the river are also good places to fish."
Black Warrior & Tombigbee Reservoirs
Although not on the official list, two reservoirs along the Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers near Demopolis can provide good crappie action as well. Demopolis Reservoir spreads across 10,000 acres of Marengo County, where the Black Warrior River hits the Tombigbee River in Demopolis. The second largest reservoir on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee system, the lake runs about 48 miles up the Black Warrior and 53 miles up the Tombigbee. People consistently catch 9- to 12-inch crappie in these waters.
"Demopolis Reservoir is a really good numbers lake," advised Jay Haffner ADWFF biologist supervisor in Tuscaloosa. "It's a very fertile, lowland riverine reservoir with numerous backwaters and creeks. In late winter and early spring, people typically fish the larger backwater creeks such as Runaway Branch, French Creek and McConnico Creek. After a few warm sunny days in February, crappie start leaving the deeper creek channels and head for the banks. They'll be from about 5- to 8-feet deep after three or four warm days in February."
Bankhead Lake forms the border between Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties. Dating to 1915, it spreads over 9,200 acres about 15 miles west of Birmingham. The lake can produce some crappie exceeding 3 pounds.
"When we sampled Bankhead Reservoir, I was pleasantly surprised at the numbers and average sizes we found," Haffner recalled. "It's similar to Demopolis in that it's a riverine reservoir with numerous creeks and backwater sloughs. In our surveys, we found some really big, thick fish. I recommend fishing Lost Creek, Prescott Creek and Fryers Creek. I'm expecting really good crappie fishing from these lakes in 2015."