These tips from Master Angler crappie catchers may be just what you need to put you on the slabs this month. (May 2006)
Beatrice crappie-catcher Kelly Pella says that, first of all, you need to be able to distinguish a true slab from an ordinary crappie. The 3-pound, 4-ounce specimen in her right hand would qualify as a slab anywhere! Photo courtesy of Dennis Pella.
Nebraska anglers who consistently catch big crappie must do a good job of scouting to find the Cornhusker State honeyholes for this popular panfish. Great Plains Game & Fish questioned a number of successful fishermen for the tips that follow.
The crappie ranks seventh or eighth in the number of Master Angler Awards issued by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission each year for trophy fish. Entered for an award in 2004, the most recent year for which information is available, were 85 slabs weighing at least 2 pounds or measuring at least 15 inches. In 2003 95 made the cut; in 2002, 90 awards were issued.
The largest entered late last year was an impressive 19-incher that weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces. It was caught in early July from a farm pond by Beatrice's Kelly Pella, who was using a yellow and white jig.
"My family" -- husband Dennis and sons Brandon and Bailey -- "loves to fish, and we go about every weekend," said Mrs. Pella. "We fish a number of ponds not too far from home. We also fish Wolf-Wildcat Lake near Virginia" -- a 42-acre natural resource district lake that offers crappie as well as bass, bluegills and catfish.
"I'm not much of an expert on tackle," continued Kelly. "I use an open-faced reel, and I think it's loaded with 10-pound-test line. I like it, and have caught a lot of fish with it. I like to fish with a jig for crappie, and my favorite color, of course, is yellow and white since I caught that big one using that color."
Nebraska doesn't offer a huge choice of crappie water. Private farm ponds and sandpit lakes account for the most fish. The best public waters for crappie in the southeast include Czechland, Pawnee, Branched Oak, Burchard, Wehrspann and Zorinsky lakes. In the northeast are three pretty good lakes: Willow Creek, Maskenthine and Grove.
The better ones in south-central Nebraska include Sherman County and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District's canal system and reservoirs. They include Midway, Gallagher Canyon and Plum Creek reservoirs.
A number of sandpit lakes along Interstate 80 offer some crappie fishing. The best of these has been the one at Mormon Island State Recreation Area south of Grand Island. Harlan County Reservoir has been an on-again, off-again crappie producer.
In north-central Nebraska, look to Calamus and Merritt reservoirs for some good crappie action. North Twin Lake, southeast of Bassett, and Big Alkali Lake, south of Valentine, have both produced quite a few slabs over the past few years.
Nebraska's Panhandle comes up a little short on crappie water. Its top three this year will likely be Box Butte, Whitney and Oliver reservoirs. In the southwest, Red Willow and Medicine Creek, along with Diamond Bar Lake, should offer some good crappie fishing. Diamond Bar, in the Sandhills west of Tryon has good numbers of fish in the 10- to maybe 15-inch class.
Larry Placzek, whose day job involves running an auto repair shop, spends a lot of his free time fishing Sherman County Reservoir for crappie and walleyes. He also guides for other anglers, and treats senior citizens to a little fishing action aboard his 21-foot Crestliner.
"The crappie action gets started in March," said Placzek. "We find the best fishing off trails 3, 6, and 8, and at the inlet, as well as along the face of the dam. The fish will stage in the deeper water just off the cover they will spawn in, and then, as the water temperature climbs, they will move shallower until you might catch them at times in a foot of water in the willows and weed patches.
"I usually find the fish along the dam in about 15 feet of water and use 1/8-ounce white or chartreuse jigs or tube lures. I use a light spinning outfit rigged with 6-pound-test line.
"In fishing the coves off the trails, I use the finder to locate the old creek channels and the crappie," the Loup City fisherman continued. "They can be suspended at 8 or 10 feet over maybe 20 feet of water in the channels, and a lot of times they will move in toward the brush, where you will catch them at the same depths. A slip-bobber works pretty well in the coves as you can adjust it to different depths, cast it and move the bait or lure very slowly until you find fish."
Austin Barnst, a fourth-grader in Tri-County School in DeWitt, is a fishing fanatic, says his dad, Andy. "I'm not much of a fisherman, but his granddad, Richard Stansberry of Beatrice, is, and they fish together a lot," Andy stated. "They spend quite a bit of time at Rockford Lake east of town fishing for bass, crappie and catfish. Austin got pumped up a bit last summer when he boated an 18-inch crappie in September using a white jig."
"He's quite a fisherman," added Grandpa Stansberry. "He's my steady fishing partner. Last year he caught an 18-incher at Rockford on Sept. 17, and two weeks later we were fishing in about the same spot when we each caught one about the same size.
"Rockford has a good population of bass, catfish and bluegills as well as crappie, but the boat and ski traffic on the lake in the summer makes it tough to fish. We also fish Burchard Lake, and we do well on bass as well as crappie there.
"Austin would like to fish worms more, but I keep telling him he should use artificials," said Stansberry. "He's getting better since he caught those big crappie. Quite a few people saw his first big one, and they agreed that they had never seen a crappie that big in their lives."
Vern Younger and his 15-year-old daughter Desirre, both of Bertrand, landed a pair of Master Angler crappie last year at Lake No. 8 at the Sandy Channel State Recreation Area near Elm Creek. Dad's, caught on March 3, measured 15 inches and weighed 2 pounds; Desirre's, taken on April 8, was a 15-incher as well.
"I fish walleyes, bass and wipers a lot more than I do crappie, but I target crappie early in the year," said the senior Younger. "We fish Sandy Channel occasionally, but Elwood Reservoir is our favorite. Elwood has some brushpiles in it, and they hold both bass and crappie. I catch most of my crappie on 1/16-ounce tube lures, and I lean toward those with a blue back and a silver belly.
"I really think the tube lure is great. They have a different action than a jig or twistertail, in that they don't sink as fast, and they spiral as they sink. I think the fish see them as an easy meal -- a woun
ded baitfish. I don't discount the other jigs and use them too, but if I don't get action and see fish on the finder, I'll tie on a tube."
Younger, a 41-year-old heavy-equipment operator, uses a 4 1/2- to 5-foot ultralight rod fitted with a reel that he loads with 4-pound-test line for crappie fishing. "The crappie is my favorite fish to eat," he said. "My favorite fish to catch is the wiper, and Elwood has a pretty good population of them. The daily limit of three is pretty restrictive on Elwood, but they are fun to catch. Fall fishing can be fair to good on crappie at times, but it can be explosive on wipers."
Younger started a limited guide service last spring and hopes to spend more time at it this year.
A large percentage of big crappie are caught on minnows, but as is evident from talking to many anglers, jig and tube lures account for a lot of them too. And the crappie will take other offerings, too.
Gil Hedges of Fremont was fishing a private pond last November when he caught a 17-incher that took a worm. In May, Cari Ellwanger of Butte caught a 2-pound, 8-ounce specimen below Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River; measuring 18 inches, that one fell to an artificial lizard. Also in May, Culbertson's Jason Hauxwell, who was fishing at a private impoundment, used a plastic crawdad to fool a 2-pound, 8-ounce fish.
Rules and regulations for crappie vary from the statewide norm at some waters in the state, so check the 2006 edition of the Nebraska Fishing Guide for details before fishing.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
If you'd like to arrange a fishing trip with either of the guides mentioned in this story, here's their contact info: Larry Placzek, (308) 745-1693; Vern Younger, (308) 472-5118 (evenings).