Top Spots For Arkansas Slabs

March is prime time for crappie fishing in all parts of the Natural State. Which waterways are likely to furnish the fastest action? (March 2006)

Every resident of the Natural State lives within an hour's drive of some outstanding crappie fishing. Crappie inhabit every Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake, every U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment, every oxbow lake and every warmwater stream in the state.

One way to get a good sampling of the best crappie waters in the Natural State is to take a look at top crappie waters in each of the state's 10 fisheries districts. A district fisheries biologist employed by the AGFC oversees fisheries work in each district, and thanks to the work of these men and women, each of our fisheries districts offers first-rate fishing for slab crappie in several lakes. Here are the best of the best, district by district.


DISTRICT 1


This northwest Arkansas district, which includes Benton, Carroll, Washington and Madison counties, has fair to good crappie fishing in lakes Bentonville, Crystal, Elmdale, Kidd and Hindsville. But when it comes to trophy-size slabs, Beaver Lake stands head and shoulders above the rest. A Corps project, Beaver is situated in the Ozark Mountains, with access available from several state and federal highways branching out from Rogers, Eureka Springs and Springdale.


Beaver Lake encompasses a lot of excellent crappie habitat. But because it covers 28,220 acres, its fish can be hard to find. When you locate them, though, you'll enjoy superb fishing. There were a lot of 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-pound crappie caught here last year. Some anglers brought in limits of big slabs day after day, and the potential for savvy fishermen this year is equally good.


Spring anglers do well fishing white twistertail jigs around stickups and cedar trees. The Coose Creek area is one of the best crappie fishing spots, and there's also excellent fishing in Esculapia Hollow, around the Ventris Recreation Area and in the Pine Creek area.

Call the Corps' Beaver Lake Project Office at (479) 636-1210) for more information, or check out the lake Web site at www.swl.usace.army.mil/ parks/


beaver.

DISTRICT 2

District 2 encompasses Boone, Marion, Baxter, Searcy, Stone, Independence and Izard counties in the northern Arkansas Ozarks. This region isn't considered one of the state's best crappie fishing areas, but anglers can find good action for slabs on the upper end of Bull Shoals Lake. This Corps reservoir covers 45,440 acres west of Mountain Home. Access is via Arkansas highways 14, 7, 178, 125, 202 and 281.

The upper end of Bull Shoals seems to provide better conditions for crappie than do its lower reaches. There's almost always a good spawn there, and there's a lot of good crappie habitat, where anglers can catch fish up to 2 pounds. Most will average 3/4 pound.

Big crappie action can be found in the areas around Tucker Hollow, Deer Cove and West Sugar Loaf. Most fishermen concentrate their efforts around sunken brushpiles. There's very little visible cover, so to find crappie, you might want to ask a local fisherman to show you the location of some brushpiles, or use a sonar unit to find them. When you find fish, you're in for a treat. This portion of the lake has served up really good fishing for the past several years.

For additional info on Bull Shoals, log on to www.bullshoalslake.comor www.bullshoals.org, or phone the Corps' Mountain Home Project Office at (870) 425-2700.

DISTRICT 3

District 3 covers the state's northeast corner-- Fulton, Randolph, Clay, Sharp, Lawrence, Greene, Jackson, Craighead, Poinsett and Mississippi counties. Several well-known lakes in this area -- Charles, Ashbaugh, Frierson, Mallard and Poinsett -- are very popular with crappie fishermen. But it's a little AGFC lake tucked away in delta farm country that produces some of the biggest slabs.

Lake Hogue was completely renovated in 1985, and since this makeover, it's been giving up some really nice crappie. A lot of big brood fish have been stocked in the lake, and the number of big crappie is up considerably from what it was just a few years ago. Most crappie average about a pound apiece, but 2-pounders aren't unheard of.

Hogue provides good spawning and feeding cover. Crappie grow fat on abundant aquatic insects and baitfish. And because Hogue only covers about 280 acres, it's easy to locate good fishing spots, even for first-time visitors. Lots of local anglers work jigs and minnows in deeper water around the edges of the lake. Borrow ditches were dug here when the lake levees were built, and crappie gather in the cooler depths around snags and other woody cover.

Lake Hogue is in the Earl Buss/ Bayou DeView Wildlife Management Area three miles west of state Highway 49 near Weiner. A highway sign marks the turnoff.

For more info on Hogue, log on to www.agfc.com or call the AGFC's District 3 office in Jonesboro, 1-877-972-5438.

DISTRICT 4

It's tough to pick the premier big crappie lake in District 4. This area covers Woodruff, Cross, Crittenden, St. Francis, Lonoke, Prairie, Monroe, Lee, Phillips and Arkansas counties, some of the best barn-door crappie territory in the southern U.S. A dozen lakes here qualify among the best in Arkansas, lakes like Midway, Whitehall, Old Town and the White River oxbows. If I were forced to pick just one, though, and I suppose I am, I'd have to pick Mellwood Old River Lake in Phillips County. Mellwood is on again, off again as far as crappie fishing is concerned. But catch it when it's hot, and it's not unusual to catch a 50-fish limit of 1-pound-plus crappie. Two-pounders are common, with occasional 3-pound giants.

Mellwood covers 1,000 acres just across the Mississippi River levee from the town of Mellwood on state Highway 44. Anglers must follow water conditions closely to pick the most productive crappie fishing days. Fishing is best when there's a slow rise in the water level. A slow fall isn't bad either, but a fast rise or fall hurts fishing. The best fishing is in buckbrush and treetops near shore, but follow river reports in local newspapers so you know when conditions are right to visit.

Information on Mellwood Old River is available from the AGFC's District 4 office in Brinkley by phoning 1-877-734-4581.

DISTRICT 5

This district covers Jefferson, Cleveland, Lincoln, Desha, Bradley, Drew, Ashley and Chicot counties in Arkansas' southeast corner. Many anglers who fish this region would quickly choose Lower Lake Chicot as the best slab crappie lake in the

area.

Actually, Lower Chicot is probably the only lake in this area that has consistently good action for big crappie. Jumbo slabs have always inhabited the lake, but before the lake renovation in 1985 and 1986, not many people fished here, because the water was so muddy. Since the renovation, though, the water has cleared tremendously, and more and more folks travel here to enjoy the first-class fishing. They're catching lots of crappie up to 2 pounds and more.

Some of the best crappie fishing is around the Connerly Bayou area, where there are creek conditions with lots of good cover. Most anglers fish around willows and cypress trees, but Connerly has lots of deep brushy tops that also hold good fish.

Lake Chicot, divided into upper and lower portions by a dam constructed in 1948, covers more than 5,000 acres in east-central Chicot County. The lake is easily accessed by state and federal highways traversing the city of Lake Village.

For additional information about Lake Chicot, contact the AGFC office in Monticello at 1-877-367-3559 or Lake Chicot State Park at (870) 265-5480.

DISTRICT 6

This district comprises Dallas, Ouachita, Calhoun, Columbia and Union counties in south-central Arkansas. Within this area, Felsenthal Reservoir is largely considered to be the best all-round crappie lake. But if it's big crappie you're after, White Oak Lake is the place to go.

Some local anglers say it's unusual to catch a small crappie in this large AGFC impoundment. The fish are almost always big, with quite a few in the 2- to 3-pound class.

The AGFC has White Oak fertilized on a regular basis. That means that plankton are abundant and the small baitfish on which papermouths dine get plenty to eat -- and well-fed crappie can reach exceptional sizes. In 2005, there were numerous reports of big stringers anchored by 2-pound crappie.

White Oak is considered two lakes in one, because a dam in the middle forms two separate bodies of water; the upper and lower portions together cover 2,000 acres. The lake is easily accessible from state highways 24, 387 and 57 northwest of Camden.

Call the AGFC's Camden office at 1-877-836-4612 for more info, or log on to www.agfc.com.

DISTRICT 7

District 7 is another swath of top crappie fishing territory. Covering Sevier, Howard, Pike, Little River, Hempstead, Nevada, Miller and Lafayette counties in Arkansas' southwest corner, this area contains such noted crappie waters as Lake Erling, First Old River Lake and Bois d'Arc Lake. It's not easy picking a single body of water from all these slab producers, but on a day-in, day-out basis, Millwood Lake is probably the best for big crappie. Lots of 2-pound crappie swim in the lake, and it's not unusual to catch a limit of fish that weigh 1-1/2 pounds and up.

Millwood, a Corps reservoir, covers 29,200 acres near Ashdown. Access is from state highways 32, 355, 27, 317 and 234 and U.S. Highway 71. The lake has nearly every kind of crappie-holding structure imaginable -- creek channels, points, dropoffs, underwater lakes and islands, and an abundance of dead timber and brush.

Many of the largest crappie are caught in the old river lakes now inundated by Millwood. One of the best spots is toward the lake's upper end in the Little River area on the west side. You'll catch many crappie around cypress timber, but larger fish often spawn in deeper water away from the banks, a fact many anglers overlook.

For more info, contact the Millwood Lake Project Office at (870) 898-3343, or go online to www.swl.usace.army.mil/parks/millwood/index.htm.

DISTRICT 8

Lakes DeGray, Ouachita, Greeson, Hamilton and Catherine are the largest lakes lying within this region that encompasses Polk, Montgomery, Garland, Saline, Hot Spring, Grant and Clark counties. Each of these lakes has its own devoted cadre of crappie anglers, but it's Lake Ouachita that comes out on top as the best honeyhole for oversized crappie.

Ouachita is a clear lake, and crappie there are found deeper than they usually are on many other Natural State waters, even in spring. Concentrate your search along brushy banks where the water gradually drops from shallow to deep and in the backs of coves. Crappie often are suspended 6 to 8 feet down in water that's usually not over 10 feet deep. You may find them considerably shallower than that early and late or on cloudy days.

Spring crappie most often are caught in the upper half of Lake Ouachita, although there are some outstanding crappie-fishing areas nearer the dam. Still, the upper reaches seem to be more consistent, perhaps because there's more shallow water there. There is a lot of good crappie fishing in the midlake area, too. Good bets include the Mountain Harbor, Joplin, Tompkins Bend, Crystal Springs and Big Fir public use areas on the south side, and Irons Fork, Avant and Buckville on the north shore.

Lake Ouachita is accessible throughout its length from U.S. Highway 270 west of Hot Springs (south side) or Arkansas 298 between the towns of Blue Springs and Story (north side). For more info, call the Lake Ouachita field office in Royal at (501) 767-2101 or log on to www.mvk.usace.army.mil and check the "Lakes" page for Lake Ouachita.

DISTRICT 9

With waters like Ozark, Atkins and Hinkle, District 9 (Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Newton, Pope, Sebastian, Logan, Scott and Yell counties) doesn't lack anything in the crappie department. My top pick for big crappie, however, may surprise some folks.

With crappie averaging well over a pound, and a lot of them in the 2-pound class, Blue Mountain Lake is my choice. Though this Corps impoundment is seldom mentioned when big crappie are the topic of conversation, it's been known to produce more than its share of 3 to 3 1/2-pound barn doors.

There's abundant crappie cover in the form of willows, buckbrush and brushpiles, and crappie find a healthy supply of shad and minnows to feed on. In spring, when the water is high and back in the bushes, some of the best fishing is from Hise Hill Landing on the lake's south side upriver (west) to the Third Bridge.

Situated 13 miles east of Booneville, this 2,900-acre lake is accessed via state highways 10, 217, 109 and 309. For more information, phone the Blue Mountain Lake Branch of the Corps in Havana at (479) 947-2372, or log on to www.swl.usace.army.mil/parks/bluemtn.

DISTRICT 10

This central Arkansas district includes Van Buren, Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, White and Perry counties. Although the area includes such well-known crappie lakes as Conway, Overcup and Harris Brake, few people would contest the choice of Lake Nimrod as the district's best slab hole. Nimrod has long been considered

one of Arkansas' premier crappie hot spots.

Nimrod produces lots of 1-pound crappie, and quite a few 2-pounders. Many stringers include fish pushing the 3-pound mark. The way the lake is managed for flood control makes it good. The water is usually high in spring and low in fall, which is good for crappie. There's also plenty of good spawning and feeding cover.

This 3,550-acre Corps project is south of Danville and Ola in Yell and Perry counties. Access is from state highways 60 and 28. The best crappie fishing is usually in late spring after water comes out of the buckbrush. If the water's not high, fish old creek channels running into the river channel, usually 6 to 8 feet deep. If the water is up, fish in and along the buckbrush.

Additional information is available from the Nimrod Project Office in Plainview; phone (479) 272-4324, or log onto www.swl.usace.army.mil/ parks/nimrod.

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