Low water levels have drained enthusiasm for crappie fishing. But that's going to change in 2010. Recent infusions of water and excellent production in the state's reservoirs will prove crappie is king in Kansas.
Larry Clontz of Bluffton used a small jig with a twistertail to fool this slab.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.
There are certain rites of spring that signal that the long, cold winter is finally over.
In Kansas, spring means that hot action for crappie is in full swing. No other fish, with the possible exception of catfish, gets the Sunflower State's anglers fired up more than spring crappie. And the good thing is that there's a good crappie hole not far from where you live.
Most of the action focuses on the state's major reservoirs. With adequate moisture in recent years, the stage is set for some incredible action this spring.
"In recent years, we've gotten the one thing you need to have good crappie fishing in Kansas -- water," said regions 4 and 5 state fisheries biologist Tom Swan. "Water levels are the most important factor for good crappie fishing on the major reservoirs. You need the right water levels for good reproduction. The last couple of years we've had good water."
But water alone won't produce great crappie fishing. Timing is important, too.
"Ideally, the water comes up just before the crappies spawn," said Swan. When that happens, crappie can use the newly flooded vegetation to spawn in, and the fry, and then fingerlings, have a place to hide to avoid predators.
"Then all you can hope for is that the water doesn't drop too fast," said biologist Swan. If it does, that would leave the newly hatched crappie high and dry.
The young crappie also need something to eat. If we have a successful spawn, the next most important thing is forage, particularly shad. While crappie are not above eating aquatic insects, nothing jumpstarts a crappie's early life stages than a steady supply of fat shad. When a good shad hatch coincides with a healthy crappie spawn it can set the fishery up for several years of great fishing.
Large reservoirs give crappie plenty of room to roam. There's usually ample forage, so crappie populations rarely get overpopulated or stunted in reservoirs.
But that may not be the case on some smaller lakes. Predators then play an important role in keeping crappie numbers in check.
"We may introduce walleyes, largemouths or wipers on some of the smaller lakes to balance the crappie population," said Swan.
Biologists use a different set of variables to determine the status of a fishery. The term "density" is used in the fishery forecasts to indicate the number of fish that were of higher quality (in the case of crappie, 8-inches plus) per unit of sampling. The higher the rating, the more high-quality-sized fish there are per acre.
The preferred rating indicates how many above-average fish are in the reservoir as a percentage of the sampling. A reservoir can have good density, but produce few fish more than 10 inches and a low preferred rating.
Lunker rating is like density rating, but it's relative to the density of trophy fish in the population. Biologists also rate the fisheries depending on species as (F) fair, (G) good and (E) excellent. Crappie fishing reports and forecasts are available on the KDWP Web site: www.kdwp.state.ks.us/news/fishing/fishing-forecast.
Each year a fishing forecast is compiled for each region. Net samplings are conducted in the fall by fisheries personnel in an approximately one-acre area in the same location each year. Although changes in water levels and other factors can affect the accuracy of the reports, it gives biologists a relative idea of crappie size and abundance in each body of water.
Information from previous years' reports combined with fishing reports from this season can give researchers and anglers a heads up on the hottest fisheries for 2010. With continued higher water levels, the hot crappie waters are only likely to get hotter in 2010.
REGION 1 NORTHWEST
Region 1 encompasses the northwest and north-central portions of Kansas. It is a crappie-rich region with eight major federal reservoirs, several of which are considered some of the top up-and-coming crappie fisheries in the state.
Regional fisheries supervisor Steve Price said he's expecting the crappie rating to go up at Sebelius, Webster, Glen Elder and Kirwin reservoirs.
"This is based on the success anglers actually had this year and the expected impact high water levels in 2009 will have on crappie growth and survival," he said.
The 2,300-acre Keith Sebelius Reservoir, or Norton Reservoir as it is also called, is located three miles southwest of Norton. It's a crappie hotspot in the making and should provide some great angling in 2010.
In the fall of 2009, the reservoir was a holding just below conservation pool, which bodes well for crappie and crappie fishermen in 2010.
"We've had some stable water levels because of an agreement we have with the local irrigation district," said Price. "The fish have responded well to the improved water levels with good reproduction."
In the last survey on Sebelius, researchers reported that white crappie numbers were up slightly, but the numbers of black crappie had almost tripled. In fact, 2009 found crappie present in good numbers for blacks and fair numbers for whites. Both black and white crappie had good spawns this past year; so hopefully, there will be good recruitment to provide a healthy year-class and good fishing in years to come.
Crappie in the 3- to 6-inch size range accounted for 93 percent of the sample. Crappie in the 6- to 10-inch range accounted for 5 percent, and fish 10 inches plus accounted for 2 percent. Crappie under 3/4 of a pound dominated the catch this year with fish in the 1- to 1 1/2-pound range common. The density rating for Sebelius black crappie was second among all reservoirs in the state in 2009. The biggest white crappie sampled weighed 1.07 pounds, and the biggest black crappie tipped the scales at 1.51 pounds.
Hot areas on Sebelius in the spring include the public fishing dock, marina slips, fish attractors or up in the coves. Jigs, jigs tipped with minnows and small slab spoons all take their fair share of Sebelius specks.
Excellent water levels last year produced a bumper crop of young-of-the-year white crappie in Webster Reservoir with 91 percent of the sampling being 2- to 5-inch fish and another 1 percent in the 5- to 7-inch range. Those fish should provide outstanding fishing on Webster Reservoir in 2010. And there's no shortage of slabs in the lake either. Eight percent of the crappie in the last survey measured between 8 and 12 inches.
With regard to density rating for black crappie 8 inches and above, Webster was rated the No. 1 reservoir (20.88) in the state. The biggest specimen last year was a black of 1.24 pounds.
"Webster has been refilling over the last two years, and the higher levels have jump-started the fishery," said Price. "The fish were pretty decent size last year, and it should get even better."
Price said the higher water has provided excellent escape cover so young crappie can avoid predators.
The 3,780-acre Webster Reservoir is located eight miles west of Stockton off U.S. 24. If you're headed to the reservoir in search of big specks, try the north and south shore fish attractors, the breakwaters on the north and south sides, along the dam, Rock Point Cove and Old Marina Cove.
The 5,000-acre Kirwin Reservoir crappie population is on the verge of exploding. When sampled in 2008, biologists found that numbers of both black and white crappie were on the rise because of improved water levels. After another year of good spawning success, crappie numbers should be booming.
Productive areas on the reservoir are near the north and south shore fish attractors and dropoffs.
For more information on crappie waters in Region 1, contact the KDWP Dodge City office at (785) 628-8614.
REGION 2 NORTHEAST
Region 2 doesn't have an abundance of impoundments, but it does have some good ones for crappie.
"Clinton Reservoir has traditionally been one of the better crappie impoundments in the region," said regional fisheries biologist Chuck Bever. "The fishing should be much improved in 2010 and even better in 2011."
Water levels were elevated on the 7,000-acre impoundment the last couple of years, flooding lakeside vegetation, which led to consecutive spawns that produced bumper crops of fingerlings. The stage is set for some great crappie fishing.
Clinton Reservoir is located five miles west of Lawrence off Highway K-10.
Clinton Reservoir didn't fare that well during the 2008 survey. It posted a 3.54 density rating and a 1.75 preferred rating for white crappie. But it's an up-and-coming fishery for 2010 and beyond.
"Perry Reservoir should provide some good opportunities in 2010," said Bever. "It has a 10-inch minimum size limit on it, so it produces some good fish. It's not as good as it was 10 years ago, but it's still a good fishery, even when it's just normal."
This 11,600-acre reservoir is formed by the Delaware River and is located 18 miles northeast of Topeka off US 24.
During the 2008 survey, Perry Reservoir had the second highest density rating in the state for white crappie at 23.00 and a preferred rating of 16.56. The density rating is pretty close to the three-year average of 22.53, which means Perry Reservoir has been producing some very steady fishing, and it's likely to get even better in the next few years.
Hillsdale Reservoir is fed by a couple of larger creeks -- Big and Little Bull. "It's traditionally a good fishery and is an up-and-comer," said Bever.
Hillsdale Reservoir spans some 4,580 acres and is three miles northwest of Paola. The reservoir's density rating for white crappie was 21.80 in 2008, third highest in the state. It had a very respectable preferred rating of 12.40 and a three-year density rating of an astounding 56.13. Biologist Bever rated the fishery as good. That may be an understatement.
The expansive Milford Reservoir is located northwest of Junction City off U.S. 77 and covers 16,020 acres.
"Milford Reservoir is not typically a great fishery, but it has good harvest," said Bever.
Like all Kansas reservoirs, it should benefit from improved water levels. Statistics showed that white crappie density was only 3.75 on Milford during the 2008 survey and the preferred rating was low. Still, the reservoir produces consistent catches.
You won't find Tuttle Creek in the upper portion of any of the forecast categories. Low water has been plaguing the 15,800-acre reservoir. That is in the process of changing.
"They have been working on the dam, so the water levels have been way down," said Bever. "The work has been completed now, so the reservoir is filling back up. It should produce some good fishing in the next couple of years."
Tuttle Creek Reservoir is formed by the Big Blue River and is located six miles north of Manhattan off Highway 13.
For more information on crappie waters in Region 2, contact the KDWP Topeka office at (785) 273-6740.
REGION 3 SOUTHWEST
Southwest Kansas doesn't have any federal reservoirs, but it does have some smaller reservoirs that produce good crappie action. Banner Creek Impoundment
"Some of the smaller 400- to 500-acre impoundments in the region produce some pretty good fishing," said Bever. "Banner Creek Impoundment is one."
It's about 500 acres and is located about 30 miles from Topeka. It has a very good population of black crappie that will run from 9 to 11 inches.
Another one is Centennial Reservoir. It's a 400-acre impoundment formed by the Vermillion River that has a good crappie population. The reservoir is located about two miles southwest of Centennial.
For more information on crappie waters in Region 3, contact the KDWP Dodge City office at (785) 628-8614.
REGION 4 SOUTH-CENTRAL
The south-central region of Kansas has four federal reservoirs. A couple of them are considered good-to-excellent crappie holes.
The 6,160-acre Marion Reservoir is four miles northwest of Marion off U.S. 56. Marion Reservoir rated highest among Region 4 waters for white crappie density at 14.25 and a preferred rating of 3.56. It's capable of producing good numbers of specks and some sizeable fish. The biggest collected during the survey was pushing 1 1/2 pounds.
Council Grove Reservoir
Another Region 4 reservoir worth checking out is Council Grove Reservoir. Council Grove rated in the middle of the pack with a 10.80 density rating and a 4.0 preferred density rating, but it produces steady crappie action, good numbers and is an improving fishery. The reservoir is located one mile north of Council Grove off Highway K-177.
REGION 5 SOUTHEAST
Reservoir-rich Region 5 boasts some of the best crappie fisheries in the state.
Fall River Reservoir
Leading the pack is Fall River Reservoir, located 56 miles east of Wichita. White crappie prefer more turbid water than black crappie. Habitat for whites is ideal in 2,500-acre Fall River Reservoir.
During the survey, Fall River posted an incredible 23.81 density rating and a 16.56 preferred rating, so the fishery is not only good for numbers, but also size. The three-year average density rating was 15.87. In fact, if you're looking for a speck to adorn the den wall, a 2.65-pound papermouth was captured during the survey and the reservoir had the highest lunker rating in the state at 3.81.
Toronto Reservoir is another southeast reservoir that rated very high. The 2,800-acre impoundment had an unbelievable 105.30 three-year density average.
During the last survey, researchers discovered crappies better than 8 inches rated 15.56, fourth best in the state for white crappie. The preferred rating of 6.56 and a lunker rating of 2.06 was also very respectable.
With much improved water levels, Toronto Reservoir might be ready for another crappie explosion.
Toronto is located 15 miles west of Yates Center off U.S. 54.
For information on crappie fisheries in regions 4 and 5, contact the KDWP office in Wichita at (316) 683-8069.