Suppose you wanted to catch some 2-pound slab crappie. . . . Where would you go? Here are a half-dozen great suggestions! (April 2010)
Each year, I shoot hundreds of crappie photos. I use these to illustrate the many crappie-fishing articles I write for magazines, newspapers, blogs and Web sites.
Lake Greeson fishing guide Jerry Blake of Kirby hefts a 2-pound slab from that lake. He says fish this size are fairly common catches there.
Photo by Keith Sutton
The subjects of these photos could be crappie of any size, I suppose, but I much prefer photographing the real slabs that weigh at least 2 pounds. A 2-pounder is approaching trophy size, and any crappie weighing more than 2 1/2 pounds is a wallhanger for most folks. Big fish make my photos more attractive to the viewer.
To obtain crappie that size, I must know which bodies of water are top spots for 2-pounders. The fish must be caught on site so they look fresh and lively. And they must be caught quickly to allow more time for setting up and shooting photos.
All that being said, here are some of the lakes I visit when it's time for a spring photo shoot, and some of the techniques I use to catch jumbo crappie in those waters.
Often as not, when it's big crappie I want, I head straight for Lake Greeson, a 7,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment near Kirby in west-central Arkansas. The surrounding Ouachita Mountains create a scenic backdrop for my photos, and the lake seldom has much boat traffic, and action for 16-inch-plus crappie -- fish weighing 2 pounds or more -- can be extraordinary, especially in spring when egg-laden females come shallow to spawn.
One of the first things you'll notice when fishing Greeson is the lack of visible cover. Only rarely will you see stumps, treetops, brushpiles or other habitat used by crappie. There are, however, hundreds of manmade fish attractors of cedar and bamboo beneath the water's surface -- all placed here by local guides, anglers and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. And the lack of natural cover means most crappie are apt to be gathered around these easy-to-find "crappie condos."
Use a fishfinder to pinpoint the brushpiles (there usually are several in each cove), keying on those in shallow water during the spring spawning season. Then use a trolling motor to circle near the fish attractors while you present a live minnow, jig or jig/minnow combo right up against the brush. A slip-bobber on the line allows you to position the bait at the proper depth and provides a visual cue when a crappie bites.
On a good day in April, you might catch a 20-fish limit of crappie in just an hour or two. The average fish is about 12 inches long and weighs about 1 pound, but most limit stringers will be anchored with several slabs weighing 2 to 2 1/2 pounds. When crappie are found and a pattern develops, it doesn't take long to catch enough for supper.
Greeson is one of few Arkansas lakes where you can hire a good crappie-fishing guide. Full-service trips are available by contacting Jerry Blake at Action Fishing Trips, (501) 844-9028, www.actionfishingtrips. com; or Darryl Morris at Family Fishing Trips, (501) 844-5418, or www.familyfishingtrips.com. Fishing supplies, food, boat rentals and superb overnight accommodations are available at Self Creek Lodge and Marina, (870) 398-5000, or www.selfcreek.com, on Highway 70 in Kirby. For additional information about the lake, contact the Corps of Engineers' Lake Greeson Field Office, (870) 285-2151, or www.mvk.usace.army.mil/Lakes/ar/greeson.
Southwest of Lake Greeson near the Arkansas/Texas border is another of the Natural State's top crappie hotspots, Millwood Lake. This 29,200-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment has been churning out 2-pound-plus crappie since shortly after it was built in 1966.
Unlike Greeson, Millwood features an abundance of visible crappie cover -- cypress trees, button willows, standing snags, logs, treetops, brushpiles and more. Crappie-attracting bottom structures, such as creek channels, points, dropoffs and inundated lakes, also are plentiful. Focus your fishing efforts on the latter during the pre-spawn period, and then move to the shallower woody cover as the spawn begins.
The timing of the crappie spawn on Millwood varies year to year depending on spring weather conditions. But the peak spawning period typically falls during the first three weeks in April. Crappie spawn on the west-northwest side of the lake earlier than they do on the south side because that area warms first. Spawning begins when the water temperature reaches about 62 degrees.
Visiting anglers have little trouble finding fish on their beds. All you must do to hook up is drop a jig or minnow near visible cover in the shallows. Many crappie are caught around cypress trees and knees, but the largest fish often spawn in deeper water out from the banks, a fact many anglers overlook. Fishing 4- to 5-foot depths may produce more slabs than working 2 to 3 feet of water if you can locate a little pocket of just-right cover where the big ones are bedding.
The daily crappie limit on Millwood is 20. Guided crappie-fishing trips are available through Millwood Lake Guide Service, (870) 772-6840, www.millwoodguideservice.com. For additional information, contact the Millwood Lake Project Office, (870) 898-3343, or visit www.swl.usace. army.mil/parks/millwood.
Big Corps of Engineers impoundments aren't the only Arkansas waters producing crappie exceeding 2 pounds. Lake Columbia, a 3,000-acre city water-supply lake in south-central Arkansas, also harbors some huge panfish. And because it's less than half the size of Greeson, and 1/10th the size of Millwood, pinpointing slab hideouts can be much less time-consuming.
Columbia probably isn't a good lake to fish if you're hoping to catch a 30-fish limit. But while it lacks an abundance of crappie, fish caught there tend to be heavyweights. Visiting anglers often report catching 10 or more 2-pound-plus crappie during a day's outing, a fact that makes this Columbia County lake one of the best in the region.
You'll never go wrong fishing jigs or minnows for crappie, there or anywhere else. But don't overlook other good crappie enticements, such as small spinners, spoons and crankbaits. Good fishing areas in Columbia include the flooded timber covering about half the lake, submerged brushpiles and ponds, and along the old creek channel traversing the lake bottom from northeast to southwest. Fish shelters have been sunk near the fishing piers to improve bank-fishing action.
Lake Columbia is six miles northwest of Magnolia on
Arkansas Highway 344. The lake is divided into four zones, including a small area at the lake's southwest corner that's off-limits to unauthorized visitors. Fishing is allowed on the rest of the lake. For additional information, contact the Game and Fish Commission at (877) 836-4612, or visit www.agfc. com.
The lakes discussed so far have been in western and southern Arkansas, but when it comes to big crappie producers, we shouldn't overlook some of the waters in the Delta of eastern Arkansas, either. One of the best is Midway Lake, a 1,000-acre oxbow of the Mississippi River. On some maps, Midway is called Council Lake, but that name never stuck. Because the lake is midway between Arkansas and Mississippi, straddling the state line between West Memphis and Helena, local folks dubbed it Midway Lake, and that's the name now commonly used.
I've been fishing Midway off and on for more than 40 years, and it's a rare day when I don't catch a dozen or more 2-pound-plus slabs there. A fertile soil base and river overflows enrich the water with nutrients that produce a plentiful forage base of minnows, shad and other baitfish. Woody cover is abundant, and crappie find ideal spawning grounds in the lake's shallow, brushy flats. All this combines to produce the exceptionally large population of slab crappie that draws anglers from throughout the tri-state region of Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Midway is shaped like a big horseshoe with one fat arm and one skinny arm. The lake's northeastern arm gouges a four- or five-mile channel through the Delta flatlands, but this section is extremely narrow with relatively few first-rate crappie-fishing areas. The southeast arm, on the other hand, stretches about the same distance and is much broader, with a greater variety of crappie habitat and structure. That's the part of the lake where most crappie anglers concentrate their efforts. When you drive over the Mississippi River levee and first see the lake, the arm appears to be just another broad expanse of open water. But an on-the-water inspection proves otherwise.
On the east shore of this section are two large points, known locally as the Big Killdee and Little Killdee. Each is blanketed in a thick cover of button willows that provides first-rate crappie habitat. The lower east side, especially the southeast corner, also provides excellent fishing with lots of willows, big cypress trees, fallen timber and other woody areas attractive to crappie. Drop a jig or minnow in or near shallow cover in spring and chances are good you'll quickly get a hit from a feisty slab. The best fishing is during periods when there are no overflows from the adjacent Mississippi River. When overflows happen, as is common in spring, check the water level readings in local newspapers and try to fish during periods with little fluctuation. If the lake is rising or falling fast, crappie probably won't bite.
Midway's west shore abuts the Mississippi River levee. That bank is skirted by small bushes, logs and treetops, and has long stretches of riprap. It seldom produces the same quantities of big crappie found elsewhere on the lake, but it, too, sometimes is a productive fishing area.
It's tough finding reliable information on Midway. Your best bet is to inquire with Fowler's Boat Camp on the lake. Phone (870) 339-2888.
OLD TOWN LAKE
Old Town Lake, southwest of West Helena, is considered by many to be the best lake for jumbo crappie in east Arkansas. This old Mississippi oxbow is separated from the main river by a levee and drains into Big Creek in the White River drainage. Fishing conditions are not highly influenced by any river, however, and water levels are generally quite stable, a definite advantage for visiting crappie anglers. The lake is at the town of Lakeview on Arkansas Highway 44 in Phillips County.
Fishing Old Town during the spring crappie-spawning season can be extraordinary. As the water warms in April, it's not uncommon to take a 30-fish limit weighing 40 pounds or more. The lake is extremely shallow, less than 6 feet throughout, and most fish are taken on minnows and jigs around the bases of big cypress trees and in brush and treetops.
When I fish Old Town in spring, I focus my efforts on shallow backwaters along the southeast side of the lake. Big galleries of cypress trees tower over the water, and if you take your time, you can use a trolling motor to get back in the trees where an ultralight spinning rig will let you cast toward shore. Spawning crappie often are in water no more than 6 inches deep and will hit a jig or minnow beneath a bobber. Donning waders and wading the shallows with a long pole and jig is a good tactic.
More information on Old Town Lake is available from the Game and Fish Commission's District 4 office in Brinkley by phoning (877) 734-4581.
In central Arkansas, Lake Conway is one of the most consistently productive big-crappie lakes. Located adjacent Interstate 40 just east of its namesake city, this 6,700-acre Game and Fish Commission lake often produces 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-pound crappie, and limit stringers of 20 fish usually are anchored by slabs of such size.
Many April crappie anglers use 6- to 12-pound line on cane poles or jigging poles, and fish live minnows or jigs around the dense stumps, logs and standing timber prevalent throughout the lake. The best timber hotspots often are along inundated creek channels and lakes. The Green's Lake and Adam's Lake areas on the east side are good bets early in the month, as is the flooded timber adjacent the boat lanes at the Highway 89 bridge, just east of I-40 at the Mayflower exit. Plenty of slabs are taken from the latter spot by anglers fishing from the bank on both sides of the highway bridge.
When the water has warmed to the magic 62- to 65-degree mark, crappie leave their deep-water haunts and move toward shore. Small jig/spinner combos worked around brush or timber flats in 2 to 5 feet of water are deadly for crappie at this time. That's especially true when fishing Conway's three major creek arms: Palarm Creek on the northeast, Stone Dam Creek on the northwest, and Pierce Creek on the far southeast corner of the lake. Good crappie are caught by anglers who fish from the pier on the Pierce Creek arm, just a few miles east of the interstate on Highway 89.
Lake Conway is ringed with excellent commercial fishing docks catering to visiting anglers. Most offer boat and motor rental, and some have rustic cabins and campsites for rent at a reasonable price. Restaurants and lodging are available in nearby Mayflower and Conway.
Exit 135 (Mayflower) on I-40 offers access by way of State Highway 365 to docks on the west side of the lake, or by State Highway 89 and Clinton Road to docks on the east side. A map of the lake or additional information is available on the AGFC Web site at www.agfc.com.
So there you have it! Any of these six great crappie lakes can put slabs in your boat and a big smile on your face this month. And don't even get me started talking about how great they'll taste!