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Cream-Of-The-Crop Crappie Waters

Cream-Of-The-Crop Crappie Waters

When it comes to great places to catch spring crappie in Kansas, these hotspots are the cream of the crop!

By Tim Lilley

When it comes to Kansas crappie fishing, you have to ask yourself: Who has hooked whom? Is it Sunflower State anglers who hook crappie in healthy numbers and good sizes every season? Or is it this scrappy, tasty game fish, which can grow to true "slab" proportions in many state waters, that has hooked Kansas anglers season after season?

It's probably a little bit of both.

Residents and non-residents alike continue to spend plenty of quality fishing time going after crappie on our state's waters. And the fish continue to cooperate, bringing those anglers back for more year after year.

When it comes to this story's title, it's not tough to argue that "cream of the crop" is a relative term. Many waters around the state, large and small, are home to healthy, dynamic crappie fisheries. True, some do stand out. But by and large, crappie are just about everywhere, and you can catch them throughout the fishing season.

None of that rhetoric, however, gets a writer off the forecasting hook. You, the reader, want to know where to go this season for the best crappie action. The easy answer: the same places you've been going for years. But if you look at the Sunflower State's crappie landscape in more detail, you begin to see there are some real jewels among our crappie lakes.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Maybe the best way to break things up is to consider first quantity and then quality. Admittedly, some waters will overlap. From here, those will be the best bets of all because anglers who frequent them will have a chance to catch good numbers of fish, with some of those fish being truly large.


Many crappie chasers, however, prefer one to the other. Either they don't care whether the fish are really large - as long as they can catch plenty of them on a given trip - or they'd prefer to fillet fewer fish that are heavier and bigger. By the end of this story, you should have the information you need to enjoy the best of Kansas' crappie fishing this season, no matter what your interest.

For the most part, this story will deal with white crappie, which are the predominant species in the Sunflower State. That's not to say there aren't some fine black-crappie fisheries, but the whites dominate the fishing action. You'll get information on both in what follows.

Every year, biologists with our Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks survey waters around Kansas to develop data on various game fish populations and size distribution. Biologists compile the information and add their own personal observations in arriving at ratings for various lakes statewide. These numbers and opinions, although they vary slightly from season to season, do paint a pretty consistent picture of the crappie fisheries around the state.

And when it comes to sheer numbers, the picture is large - as in the state's largest reservoirs, and primarily those in the eastern half of Kansas. With the possible exception of channel catfish, no other fish offers anglers so much hope for strength in numbers on Kansas' U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs.

As evidence, consider this: During one recent sampling, biologists came up with an average of more than 51 white crappie at least 8 inches long per unit sampled on Perry Reservoir north of Topeka, which boasts 12,600 surface-acres. That's a lot of crappie! But the number really shouldn't come as a surprise. Perry may be the closest thing to a "crappie factory" of an ecosystem you'll find anywhere.

Even throughout a decade-long study conducted through the 1980s and into the 1990s, biologists found Perry to be one consistently prolific crappie lake. That title hasn't tarnished over time. Looking further into survey data, you'll see that Perry offers almost 20 fish per unit sampled at least 10 inches long, and a couple at least a foot long.

Those numbers suggest a fairly balanced fishery that includes good and consistent development of year-classes. Throughout its history, Perry has been regularly turning out these kinds of numbers, and they have been bringing fishermen back season after season.

Recent survey data suggests, however, that Perry is not alone when it comes to producing crappie in good numbers. Nine of the 21 large reservoirs included in this research revealed averages of more than 10 crappie per unit surveyed that were at least 8 inches long. With the smallest of the nine being Fall River, at more than 2,400 surface-acres, it's easy to see how Kansas' largest reservoirs continue to offer anglers great fishing for good numbers of white crappie.

For the record, those nine lakes are (in alphabetical order) Clinton, Council Grove, Fall River, Hillsdale, Marion, Melvern, Milford, Perry and Toronto. That pretty much keeps the best of the "quantity" white-crappie fisheries in eastern Kansas.

With the exception of Hillsdale Reservoir, the opposite is true for black crappie. It's significant to note that KDWP biologists only included a half-dozen major reservoirs in the sampling report for blacks, and Hillsdale is the only eastern impoundment in the mix. And to prove the point made earlier that whites rule the crappie roost in Kansas - on the large lakes, at least - note that Cedar Bluff had the highest density ratio, at only 2.9 crappie per unit surveyed that were at least 8 inches long. The other four big lakes surveyed include western impoundments Glen Elder, Kirwin, Sebelius and Webster.

There are a dozen smaller lakes around the state that have data for blacks included, and all of those density ratios are in double digits. But when compared to whites, the state's black-crappie fishery is just not as strong or significant; those big reservoirs really make the difference.

On the smaller lakes, when it comes to quantity, blacks seem to hold their own with whites. Although several more lakes are included in the survey with numbers for white crappie at least 8 inches long, there are only 15 with density ratings in double digits. Compare that to the dozen mentioned above for blacks, and you can see that the numbers are pretty similar. There are, nonetheless, at least a few more lakes with fishable populations of white crappie around the state.

Following are a selection of small-lake suggestions for each subspecies of crappie. Consider these the best of the best, if you're looking for sheer numbers of fish.

Black crappie: Brown State Fishing Lake, Cowley SFL, Neosho SFL and Plainville Lake.

White crappie: Cedar Lake in Olathe, old Herrington City Lake, Louisburg City Lake, Meade State Lake and Plainville.

Notice something? Sitting unobtrusively, way out west in Rooks County, Plainville Lake may be one of the best crappie fisheries in Kansas. It's only 100 acres in area, but boasts good densities of both black and white crappie. And for the record, it's loaded with largemouth bass, too!

Admittedly, Kansas City- and Wichita-area anglers aren't likely to make a drive from their homes almost to Webster Reservoir to fish a lake that size. The town of Plainville is about 20 miles southeast of Webster along U.S. Highway 183. But doggone it, if you're after numbers - and don't mind catching some bass, too - Plainville is a small lake with some awfully big numbers.

Distinguishing crappie destinations for those anglers who are after truly large crappie is much tougher. Oh, the survey numbers reveal some specific lakes you should target, but the fact remains that the big slabsides sometimes can be more elusive than you imagine.

Nothing about the survey results, for example, would suggest Lake Olathe, in Johnson County, as a crappie destination. But I have taken blacks weighing more than a pound there. And Clinton's survey results suggest that you should expect fish of about 1 1/2 pounds to be the largest you'll find - but I have taken larger ones there.

These facts reveal the one intangible of the surveys; that is, the largest fish don't always show up in the research. Biologists know that, and always suggest that anglers use the numbers as guides. Keep in mind that you're likely to find at least a few slabs anywhere you find crappie.

My friend Jim Givens has a tiny pothole of a pond on his Johnson County property, and it's home to some of the largest white crappie I've ever taken. The thought here is that any farm ponds you have access to that are home to crappie also likely will have some real trophies. Never exclude ponds from your list of hotspots if you know they have crappie in them, at least not when you're targeting truly big fish.

If you prefer bigger waters, none of the large reservoirs will match Toronto for big crappie. With an average of more than four crappie at least a foot long per unit sampled - and at 2,800 surface-acres - this impoundment is the state's best bet for anglers who want to catch big crappie in decent numbers.

This impoundment on the Verdigris River straddles the Greenwood-Woodson County line just south of U.S. Highway 54 in southeastern Kansas. It's not far from either Fall River Reservoir or Woodson SFL, which makes it an enticing destination for anglers who have the time to fish more than one lake for various species. Fall River's bass angling can be pretty good, for example, and Woodson SFL also has some crappie, but more bass.

If there's one lake in Kansas that I'd target specifically for the largest possible crappie, it would have to be La Cygne, in Linn County, about an hour south of Kansas City. Honestly, if trophy fish were my game, La Cygne would be my playing field for any of the species it's home to, and with good reason. No other lake in the Sunflower State offers game fish the length of growing season provided by this power-plant reservoir and, specifically, its hot-water outlet.

On any day of the year, anglers can find water temperatures on La Cygne that promote "normal" fish activity. They will react and feed as fish in other lakes do only during optimum times of year. Every day is optimum somewhere on La Cygne, or darned close to it. If there's ever a predictably unrewarding stretch here, it'd come only during the hottest weeks of the year. But even then, at roughly 2,600 surface-acres, the lake offers at least some refuge from the warmest water temperatures, because fish can move south, away from the hot water, or north into the feeder creek channel and coves.

Biologists have reported 2-pound crappie there, and chances are at least decent that there are larger specimens in the lake. As noted earlier, surveys can miss fish, especially the largest ones. With that in mind, keep La Cygne at or near the top of your list of fishing spots when you're in search of the biggest crappie in the Sunflower State.

On the white crappie list, Council Grove, Kanopolis, Marion and Milford also will be good bets - especially the latter. Milford offers anglers more than 16,000 surface-acres; it's a sprawling impoundment with a healthy crappie fishery. Biologists have found 1 1/2-pound slabs there, which suggests to this angler that larger fish are a possibility.

If you're after big fish in small ponds - or, specifically, large crappie in the state's smaller public waters - remember Plainville and Ottawa SFL. The latter is located just east of U.S. Highway 81, about 20 miles north of Salina. Like Plainville, it's kind of an out-of-the-way lake, especially for anglers in the state's population centers. But its density and the size of its white crappie make it worth considering.

If you'd like to catch a really big black crappie, those western reservoirs probably are your best bets. And of the bunch, Cedar Bluff likely will be the best of the best because it has suffered the least from the hot, dry summer of 2003. No longer used for irrigation, Cedar Bluff dropped only as a result of evaporation last season, and thus was down by only several feet by the end of the summer, while other western impoundments like Webster and Sebelius were several times lower.

If you can gain access to fish them, they'll have fish more bunched up than is usual, thanks to their low water. But the deal is problematic, because that same low water tends to complicate access.

Hillsdale will likely be in the best shape of any of the black-crappie reservoirs in the state as you read these words, but when it comes to large black crappie, the lake just doesn't measure up. While biologists were sampling blacks over a pound on each of the five western reservoirs, Hillsdale gave up a black weighing barely more than a half-pound.

This angler remains convinced there likely are larger black crappie available in the lake. And being so close to Kansas City, there are plenty of anglers who can invest a few hours to check out that possibility.

As for the better smaller lakes around the state, the data suggest Brown SFL, Logan City Lake, Antelope Lake in Graham County and Atchison City Lake No. 23 as the best bets for anglers after large black crappie. Just keep in mind that, at 80 acres, Antelope is the largest of the bunch.

Brown SFL is tucked away in the state's northeast corner, east of Hiawatha and just north of U.S. Highway 36. It's within relatively easy reach of anglers from Topeka or Kansas City, so that makes it an option for those after a more unique trophy - a large Kansas black crappie. In the time it takes a fisherman in Kansas City to get ready and head down to Hillsdale, he could be fairly close to Brown SFL. Although it appears on the map to be fairly remote, that perspective is colored by its relative location from the metro area. It is remote, but i

t's not a whole lot farther from town than Hillsdale.

* * *

The information in this story should help you to see how dynamic, in terms of region, the state's best crappie waters are. Specific waters have been included that cover much of the state's geography, with the exception of the far southwest. Around the rest of the state, anglers have opportunities seemingly at every turn to get out after crappie, black or white, in either good numbers or good quality - and in some cases, both.

Big lakes, small lakes, even farm ponds: All are options this season for the Sunflower State crappie chaser. As noted here, some are better than are others. It's hard to beat Perry, day in and day out, as the No. 1 crappie fishery in the state. It's got the best numbers, and at more than 12,000 acres, it likely holds its fair share of truly large papermouths. Certainly, at that size, it offers you plenty of likely fishing spots.

For black crappie, those western reservoirs hold the most promise - especially Cedar Bluff. But Kansas City-area fishermen shouldn't overlook Hillsdale as an option. And for truly large crappie, eastern Kansas has the top destination in La Cygne.

So take your pick. Whatever your favorite crappie niche, you'll find some great places to enjoy your sport in the Sunflower State this season.

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