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Catching The 'Middle' Crappie

Catching The 'Middle' Crappie

Our experts say that Nebraska's crappie fishing is at its peak during the springtime -- so the perfect time to get in the middle of some fabulous papermouth action is right now!

Tim Ryba of Columbus shows one of eight Master Angler slabs that he took at one of his favorite sandpit lakes last year. He reports catching 200 crappie in about two weeks!
Photo courtesy of Tim Ryba

April and May are the top months for action with a number of fish species in Nebraska waters. They're unquestionably the best two months of the year for crappie angling.

"I firmly believe May is the best month for crappie fishing in Nebraska," said Brad Newcomb, district fisheries supervisor for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Kearney office. "After the spring bite, the fish are more scattered, and that results in lower fishing success. Anglers fishing for crappie during the summer and fall months should spend time searching for the fish with sonar units, and by using techniques that cover a lot of area, such as trolling.

"In my district, which includes 18 counties in south-central Nebraska, the best public crappie waters include Sherman Reservoir and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District's canal system and reservoirs. The latter includes the canals as well as Midway, Gallagher Canyon and Plum Creek reservoirs.

"The sandpit lakes along Interstate 80 provide limited success on slab crappie, and Mormon Island State Recreation Area south of Grand Island is one of the best spots."

Newcomb's overview of crappie fishing differs little from those of fisheries biologists and fishermen across Nebraska -- the playing fields change, but the game's basically the same.

"Merritt and Calamus reservoirs, along with Twin and Big Alkali lakes, are the best crappie waters in my district," said Joel Klammer, district fisheries supervisor at the NGPC's Bassett office. "For slabs I would pick North Twin, Calamus and Big Alkali; for numbers it would be Merritt.


"The crappie is a popular fish in the district, and anglers love to fish for them, but we just don't have a lot of places for them to do it."

Klammer believes that the best fishing is had from January to May. "Twin Lakes (North and South) is a good winter fishery, as is Merritt, and all are good during the spring bite in May," he said.

Al Hanson, district fisheries chief at Alliance, reports that Box Butte, Whitney and Oliver reservoirs are his best crappie waters. "I'd pick May and June as the peak months here in the Panhandle," he offered. "All of these reservoirs have some slab crappie. Whitney is best for numbers, with quite a few fish in the 10- to 12-inch class."

In the southwest, says district fisheries biologist Steve Brezenski at North Platte, the best three public crappie spots in the district are Red Willow and Medicine Creek reservoirs along with Diamond Bar Lake. "I'd pick May as the best month for crappie," he stated, "and I would say Diamond Bar would be the best for slabs as well as numbers. The crappie is a popular fish, and if the numbers are there, people will go after them. However, right now the supply is pretty low here in the southwest, due to low water levels in the reservoirs the past four or five years."

As for the southeast, Jeff Jackson, district fisheries supervisor at the Lincoln office, offered some qualifications respecting the crappie waters in his area. "Most of the public fishing areas (reservoirs) in the district are under 400 acres in size, and due to a number of factors -- including fishing pressure -- they don't produce many slab crappie," he said. "Branched Oak Reservoir is our largest (1,800 acres), and I believe if the water comes up this spring, it should produce some fair to good fishing for slab crappie. Pawnee (740 acres) has been a good crappie reservoir over the years. The better of the smaller ones, in my opinion, will be Czechland, Burchard, Wehrspann and Zorinsky.

"For numbers I would look to Wehrspann and Zorinsky in April, when we drop the 10-inch size limit and restrict the bag limit to 10 fish. I would add that the private farm ponds and sandpit lakes in the district (and the state) offer a lot of good crappie fishing."

The state-record black crappie, a specimen weighing 4 pounds, 8 ounces, was caught at an Otoe County farm pond in 2003 by Nebraska City's Allen Paap Jr.

In the northeast, Willow Creek and Maskenthine reservoirs, along with Grove Lake, are the picks for the top three crappie spots of Jeff Schuckman, district fisheries supervisor at the NGPC's Norfolk office. "Willow Creek looks like the best for slabs this year," he said. "Maskenthine and Grove have good numbers of crappie. I would pick May and June as the best months for crappie, but there is also a significant fall bite."

Having reviewed the playing field, let's look at the game plans for catching enough for a tasty fish fry.

"A 1/16-ounce jig has always been my favorite for crappie," Schuckman said. "I think color, style and presentation make a difference. Sometimes curlytails are best, and sometimes a straight tube jig is the ticket. I fish the jigs on a 5- to 5-1/2-foot ultralight rod using 6-pound-test line.

"For midsummer fishing, I would suggest using a depthfinder to locate suspended fish. Once the fish are found, use a minnow and split shot or a jig and suspend it on a bobber at the right depth."

Newcomb agrees with Schuckman on the advisability of using electronics to find fish. "You will likely have to cover a lot of water to find summer crappie," he observed. "Trolling or drift-fishing at controlled depths is the way I would go about it. Ultralight is the way to go for crappie, especially in clear-water situations such as those found in sand pit lakes along the Platte Valley."

Klammer likes light line for fishing small jigs. "Tube jigs are good as are small Beetle Spins and other similar artificials," he said. "I think the best colors often change day by day. Keep trying different ones until you find what they like."

Hanson prefers a black and white Beetle Spin. "Ultralight tackle is fine, but I think line size (4-pound-test) and tying the line on the lure rather, than using line clips or snaps, is important," he offered. "Crappie can be very size- and speed-sensitive when it comes to the fisherman's presentation. I have used a bobber with a jig and used a pull-and-pause retrieve with good results when a steady retrieve produces nothing. I sometimes tip the jig with a small piece of crawler."

Jackson thinks that ultraligh

t tackle is a smart idea for crappie fishermen. "I stick with 4-pound-test line and use a 1/16-ounce white or black jig," he said. "We know that crappie move into deeper water in the summer. Finding structure that is about 12 to 15 feet deep at that time can help locate these fish. Night-fishing is another method of catching crappie in the summer. It used to be very popular at reservoirs such as Branched Oak and Pawnee, but it isn't used very much there anymore."

Sherman Reservoir is considered by most of the biologists to be the top crappie lake in the state. Dan Boss of Columbus fishes the popular lake each spring. On April 29 of last year he took his largest slab, a 15-incher, on a twistertail jig.

"Funny thing is, I caught the biggest one off the dock at the marina," he recalled. "I fish from both boat and shore, and I'll use minnows as well as twistertail jigs. I like chartreuse or white twistertails and either a pink or red-headed jig"

Tim Ryba of Columbus zeroes in on crappie for about two weeks in the spring. "I have a couple or three sandpit lakes that are good for big crappie," he said, "but I also fish Lake North and Calamus Reservoir. I caught a lot of crappie last spring -- around a couple hundred. The largest ones came from a sandpit lake. I caught eight last spring that qualified for a Master Angler Award (15 inches or better) and I caught them on a minnow using a slip-bobber. The largest one was a 19-incher that I caught on May 3. It weighed 3 pounds."

According to the NGPC's Newcomb, Mormon Island State Recreation Area has been known to yield up some plus-size crappie. Randall Pokor of Grand Island beached an 18-incher weighing 2 pounds, 12 ounces there on May 7.

Floyd Glassmeyer of Wayne fished Willow Creek Reservoir on May 19 and came away with a 2-pound, 12-ounce white crappie that hit a night crawler. Jake Koenig of Yutan landed a 15-incher at Calamus Reservoir, as did Jim Hoag of Grand Island. Koenig's fish was caught on May 6.

Harlan County Reservoir served up some rewarding crappie action, too. Jeff Hansen of Minden caught a pair of 16-inchers on May 15; the Minden angler used a jig-minnow combination.

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