When it comes to American angling, crappie are unique fish. The world is home to only two species — the black crappie and white crappie — and both are native to North America.
Black crappie originated in the eastern half of the United States with the exception of the northeastern seaboard. Starting in the late 1800s, introduction efforts expanded the range of the species to nonnative eastern sections as well as territories in the West and Midwest.
The original range of the white crappie extended from eastern South Dakota to New York south to Alabama and Texas. This species has also been widely introduced to new waters, and like the black crappie, it now thrives in all lower 48 states.
Together, these two species comprise our most popular group of American panfish. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 6.1 million U.S. anglers aged 16 years and older fish for them. Only black bass, trout and catfish are more popular.
Crappie don't fight hard, and they don't get very big, either. A 3-pounder is a monster, and it may bite so lightly you won't even know it's there. People love crappie, nevertheless, because they are widespread, abundant in numbers, relatively easy to catch year-round and among the most delicious fish on the planet.
Yet, the primary question for panfish anglers remains: "Where can I fish so I have the greatest chance of catching as many crappie as the law allows?"
With so many possibilities, that can be a tough question to answer. But after extensive research, I believe the following 10 states encompass more topnotch crappie hotspots than any others. Plan a trip to one of these best states for crappie this year and you'll have a better than average chance of loading a live well, cooler or stringer with limit after limit of these scrumptious panfish, including, if you're lucky, some true slabs weighing 2 to 3 pounds or more.
As one avid crappie angler said when I polled him on the top crappie-fishing states, 'There's Mississippi and then there's everywhere else. The Magnolia State is its own crappie planet! '
Top here is Grenada Lake, a shallow, 36,000-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment 82 miles south of Memphis, Tenn., on I-55. It produces more trophy crappie than any other fishery in the country. Big fish are so common the local tourism board has nicknamed the lake 'Home of the 3-Pound Crappie. '
Add the many other blue-ribbon slab crappie lakes in Mississippi
— Enid (where Mississippi anglers Brandon Fulgham and Alex Brewer caught the massive stringers of fish in the accompanying photo), Sardis, Arkabutla, Washington and Ross Barnett, to name just a few — and you have a crappie angler's paradise.
Photo Provided by Brandon Fulgham
Weiss Lake in the state's northeast corner has long been known as 'The Crappie Capital of the World, ' a title guide Lee Pitts, pictured here with two Weiss slabs, says is well deserved.
But Weiss is just one of dozens of prime Alabama crappie waters that include the Alabama River and lakes Logan Martin, Neely Henry, Pickwick
, Guntersville, Aliceville and Miller's Ferry.
In recent years, the state has managed intensively for crappie in all its reservoirs, making this one of the nation's top destinations for 'barn door ' action. A 4-pound, 5-ounce state-record black crappie caught in Ft. Payne Reservoir in 2007 exemplifies this contention.
Photo Provided by Keith Sutton
Natural State anglers have been landing astounding numbers of huge crappie throughout the state in recent years, like this pair of 3-pounders caught by Dennis Bayles in Lake Dardanelle near Russellville.
In June 2011, 10-year-old Donivan Echols of Mena boated a new state-record black crappie weighing 5 pounds (tying the IGFA
world record) in 200-acre Lake Wilhelmina (Polk County).
Fish that size are as rare as 20-pound largemouths
, but waters like lakes Conway, Greeson, Maumelle, Bull Shoals, Millwood, Nimrod and oxbows along the White and Mississippi rivers continue to be renowned as top producers of gigantic crappie.
Photo Provided by Dennis Bayles
The Volunteer State undoubtedly ranks among the top in the nation for its crappie offerings. That comes in part from the simple fact that Tennessee is loaded with places where crappie find easy living.
Strings of major impoundments along the state's major rivers collectively offer hundreds of thousands of acres of prime crappie habitat. Add to this the fact that the state's Wildlife Resource Agency doesn't settle for the 'good ' fishing that would naturally occur. Instead, they actively manage Tennessee crappie waters to make them even better.
Top lakes include Reelfoot (where pro anglers Kent Driscoll and John Harrison caught the slabs pictured here), Percy Priest, Kentucky, Center Hill, Boone, Watauga, Chickamauga
Photo Provided by Keith Sutton
Sooner State crappie anglers are on the water year-round — spring, summer, fall and winter. Some like fishing so much they have built heated on-the-water shacks with holes in the floors so they can ply their favorite waters even on the coldest days.
Fortunately for them, there are plenty of lakes where 'specks ' are plentiful and easy to catch. Massive 102,000-acre Eufaula Lake, for example, not only produces lots of crappie, it gives up 2- to 3-pounders so often they hardly merit notice.
Arkansas angler Chris Gulstad caught this big stringer while fishing there. Other blue-ribbon waters for big crappie and lots of them include lakes Thunderbird, Hefner, Arcadia, Grand
, Ft. Gibson, Tenkiller and Texoma.
Photo Provided by Keith Sutton
6. South Carolina
The Santee-Cooper lakes, Marion and Moultrie, are famous for the world-record-class catfish
they have produced. But in recent months, the lakes' huge crappie have been in the limelight, with anglers like Kevin Black of Cross, pictured here, landing big catches of 2- to 3-pounders almost daily.
These lakes are but two of dozens of top-flight crappie waters in the Palmetto State, however, a fact exemplified by a 30-percent increase in the number of South Carolina crappie anglers between 2001 and 2006.
Other must-visit destinations include lakes Wateree, Murray, Wylie, Great Falls, Greenwood, Richard B. Russell
Photo Provided by Kevin Davis
With shirt-sleeve fishing weather throughout even the coldest months, the Sunshine State has been a popular crappie-fishing destination for years. This is black crappie country exclusively, and while these 'speckled perch ' seldom reach huge sizes, they're plentiful from the Panhandle to the Everglades.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission just released a list of the best lakes for 2014
, all of which can produce limit stringers of these good-eating panfish.
Included are lakes Monroe, Talquin, Lochloosa, Weohyacapka, Weir, Griffin, Arbuckle, Marian, Marion, West Tohopekaliga, Kissimee, Istokpoga, Trafford and the Mosaic and Tenoroc Fish Management Areas. Karen Presley of Merritt Island caught the nice fish pictured here in Lake Monroe.
Photo Provided by Ron Presley
Ranked second in popularity with Show-Me State anglers, crappie are easy to catch and plentiful in nearly all of Missouri's lakes and rivers.
Table Rock, Truman and Stockton lakes are well-known far outside the state's borders as top-of-the-heap honeyholes for big fish
, and there are scores of other waters statewide bristling with 1- to 2-pound crappie that often wind up on anglers' dinner tables.
Missouri's many small watershed lakes and ponds often produce whoppers, too, like the private Callaway County pond where John Horstman of Fulton caught the 5-pound, IGFA world-record black crappie (pictured here) in 2006.
Photo Provided by IGFA
Anglers like Bobby Phillips of West Monroe, pictured here with a stringer full of big Lake D'Arbonne slabs, haven't been speaking too loudly about their state's great crappie fishing. But word is out that the Bayou State is a top destination for anglers hoping to load coolers with crappie, including some heavyweights.
D'Arbonne has been listed among the top 50 crappie lakes in the country. Other Louisiana hotspots
include Caney Lake (which has produced three state-record black crappie), Toledo Bend Reservoir, Saline Lake, Vernon Lake, Poverty Point Reservoir and many bayous in the Atchafalaya River Basin.
Photo Provided by Glynn Harris
The Prairie State often gets overlooked when great crappie states are mentioned, but some of the enormous slabs caught there in recent years show it's a must-visit locale if you want a chance at a true wall-hanger
Kinkaid Lake near Murphysboro, for example, produced a 4-pound, 5-ounce fish in 2010, and a 4.5-pound hybrid crappie was pulled from a Jefferson County farm pond in 2008. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the best lakes for big black crappie are Evergreen, Shelbyville and Carlyle, and the best white crappie lakes are Braidwood, Heidecke and Shelbyville.
Here, Kyle Schoenherr, who guides on Rend Lake, Kinkaid Lake and Lake of Egypt, shows a crappie typical of those often caught in these southern Illinois impoundments.
Photo Provided by Keith Sutton
About the Author
With a resumé listing more than 3,800 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith "Catfish" Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country's best-known outdoor writers. In 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. The 12 books he's written are available through his website.