Kansas' Midsized Crappie Lakes

These lakes aren't the biggest in Kansas, but the crappie fishing is topnotch, and the slabs they produce are just as big as any from the big reservoirs.

By Jeff Kurrus

Give me a lake that I can drop my bass boat in and troll for white crappie. Give me a lake in which I can bypass the big boat and chase black crappie around with my 10-foot johnboat. Or better yet, give me a lake to which I can take a young angler in search of that first slab.

Give me all of these. Give them to me in Kansas, and give them to me in midsized proportions.

All too often, anglers pass up chances to fish smaller, more compact lakes on their way to the large reservoirs. By skipping these midsized hotspots, Kansas' crappie anglers are too often ignoring some of the best slab waters in the world.

Many of the following lakes have been bypassed by more than one angler who claims that since crappie are traditionally big-water fish, larger bodies of water are the only spots to house large numbers and even large sizes of slabs. The list of hotspots, however, disagrees with the notion of "big water or no water" for catching crappie. Many are lakes you've probably driven by on your way to your favorite reservoir. Maybe next time you'll stop instead.

The following list, based on research in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the city of Wichita, is a breakdown of my picks for this month's best mid-sized crappie-fishing lakes. But remember to read this article as quickly as possible. You can do it - it only has three sections. Then, as soon as you stop reading, you can leave for the lake as soon as possible.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Plainville Lake's fish densities of white crappie over 12 inches ranked it second in the state, and its density of white crappie over 10 inches ranked fourth. For blacks, its fish densities over 8 inches ranked fifth in the state, and its densities of fish over 10 inches ranked third among 47 lakes and reservoirs surveyed for black crappie throughout Kansas.

Once you're on the lake, be prepared for water clarity that can run more than 20 inches in early spring. Also be prepared for smartweed to be covering most of the lake. This aquatic vegetation grows in dense strands, but only grows in water to a maximum of about 6 feet in depth.

"Fish the edges of this smartweed for the most success," says Kansas fisheries biologist Steve Price. "Anglers can also wade out once the water gets warmer and fish the openings in the smartweed by doodling."

During the 2002 fishing season, it wasn't a surprise to see anglers with black crappie in the 3/4- to 1-pound range, and whites in the 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound range. Early in the season, anglers traditionally fish the upper end of the lake, but spread out and cover the entire lake once summer arrives.

However, you'll want to catch your fish early at Plainville. The lake can drastically fluctuate from its maximum of 17 feet later in the summer and fall months.

This 138-acre lake gives anglers another small-lake opportunity in Region I of the state. White crappie as large as 3.2 pounds were surveyed three years ago, and catches over 2.2 pounds were surveyed most recently. Ottowa also boasts one of Kansas's highest concentrations of white crappie over 8 inches (third in the state) and over 10 inches (also ranked third).

When there, anglers can expect a few deep-water venues throughout the lake and especially near the dam where sunken trees and brush can be found down to the lake's 15-foot maximum depth. The KDWP has placed habitat markers on the lake to note underwater structure. For shallow crappie searching, fish the lily pads around the shoreline where the water clarity remains moderate.

One thing about Ottowa, however, is that numbers of smaller crappie are high throughout the lake. While big fish are manageable, many smaller fish will also be caught. There are two things that can help to change this: One that is in the state's hands, and one that is in the angler's hands.

First, the state is working on a crappie removal program to extract some of the lake's smaller fish, with these moves expected to increase the amount of bigger crappie harvested. Second, if anglers are catching smaller fish than they prefer, they can attempt what anglers at Ottawa have had success using in the past. Try fishing a small chartreuse Road Runner under a bobber to catch bigger fish. And, if that size fish is still too small, just increase the size of your Road Runner.

Marion County Lake, at 153 acres, is my best pick for crappie this spring. It ranks second in the state for densities of 8-inch white crappie, first in the state for 10-inch whites, and first in the state for 12-inch whites. District fisheries biologist Ken McKlosky isn't surprised. "Marion County Lake is the best crappie lake in this area," he says. According to McKlosky, anglers can expect to catch crappie in the 3/4- to 2-pound range.

There are a couple of reasons why Marion County currently has such good numbers and sizes of crappie. One, the lake has an excellent gizzard shad population that helps maintain crappie numbers and sizes. In addition, wipers and saugeyes were stocked in the last two years to improve crappie size throughout the lake. These predator fish will control the high number of the lake's smaller crappie, thus producing more slab potential for anglers.

Also, remember to bring your portable johnboat depthfinder when at Marion, owing to the large amount of submerged timber found throughout the lake. Or, if shore fishing is your choice, access the heated dock on those cool April mornings. Lastly, for additional up to date information, call Dale Snelling, lake manager of Marion County, at (620) 382-3240. He's been known to submerge a brushpile or two over the years, and might also be able to help anglers find a few crappie.

Lakes like Marion County often get the most exposure from anglers because of their scenic beauty and excellent angling. But, as we all know, when you want to catch fish, it doesn't matter what the lake looks like or if the background is mountains or buildings. With this is mind, 67-acre Wellington-Hargis Creek Lake is the sleeper of this spring.

Being a small and muddy impoundment, it doesn't get the pressure of a high-profile lake like Marion County, but still offers anglers the No. 1 aspect of returning to any lake: the chance to catch crappie.

Currently, the lake has a high number of stunted crappie, and the nicer fish are often tough to catch. But places like this, seem to find the light once everyone has given up on them. Fish the freestanding stobs and stickups throughout the lake; fish around the dam, and in the edges of the cattail patches. Boasting a high concentration of 8-inch whites, this lake is on the verge of something big. The 10-inch whites are one of the higher concentrations in the state (14th out of 85 lakes and reservoirs tested for white crappie), and lunker crappie are just around the corner.

Stay in this area and fish a lake that boast pound-plus crappie and has one of the best concentrations of 12-inch white crappie in the state (it's ranked ninth out of 85). Wellington City Lake, at 700 acres, is another good crappie lake early in the year. So, if you were thinking about fishing next month because you want to wait until it's warmer, don't. The crappie are there now on the lower end of the lake, in the clearer water. Plus, wipers and saugeyes are also part of this lake's fish population and they're working to produce a higher quantity of larger fish.

This old one acts as if it's new. With the highest concentration of white crappie over 8 inches in the state and one of the highest concentrations of whites over 10 inches (sixth of 85 lakes surveyed), Old Herington City Lake gives anglers a lot to look forward to this season. Good for bank-fisherman as well as boat anglers, this lake fishes about 150 to 200 acres, depending on the amount of marsh that emerges from the south end of the water. But once you get away from that end, the upper north end allows anglers plenty of brushpiles and manmade structures to take advantage of.

"When a crappie fisherman sees Herington City Lake for the first time, that angler will have no doubt as to where the crappie are on this lake," says district fisheries biologist John Reinke.

Be advised that there is an additional license requirement when fishing Herington.

This lake (42 acres) is very close to producing big whites. With a 10-inch density rating that ranks second in the state, 12-inchers are right around the corner. This lake is traditionally clear in early spring, and March, April and May often produce the best numbers of fish.

Kevin Rhodes, assistant manager at Watson Park, says, "Anglers can find fish on the west side of the lake north of the bridge, or off the lake's main peninsula working the south from the land."

Note: This lake is one that is accessible only by land, unless the paddleboat dock is opened on the lake. If it is, the paddleboat dock itself is often a hotspot for crappie anglers. But don't be discouraged. Sometimes boat anglers won't even try to fish lakes like this from the land. Oftentimes you'll have the lake to yourself.

Watson Park Lake gives anglers in the urban area of Wichita a place to catch fish. Call Watson Park at (319) 529-9940 for more information

The following list cannot be forgotten when specialty fishing for crappie. What does specialty fishing mean? You'll see.

At 62 acres, Brown isn't much on size. But for high quantities of fish, this is the lake. Brown had the second highest concentration of black crappie above 8 inches in the state.

The South Owl Lake at Yates Center boasts the highest number of black crappie above 8 inches in the state. Its 150-acre size allows seasoned veterans a chance to take younger, more inexperienced fisherman on a lake and show them a good time by catching a large number of fish.

Eureka (135 acres) does the same thing for white crappie enthusiasts that South Owl Lake does for black crappie anglers. It gives them a chance to practice new techniques or introduce a new angler to crappie fishing. With the fourth highest concentration of white crappie above 8 inches in the state, sometimes it's better to stay in the city!

This is the lunker hotspot for black crappie. This 80-acre lake has the highest concentration of lunker black crappie in the state, including reservoirs. It nearly quadruples the next competitor's density of fish over 12 inches.

* * *
Look at it this way: Sometimes David's lake fishes a little bit better than Goliath's does. And if I could tell you anything more, it would be this: Spend time searching the KDWP's Web site. On this site, there are fishing forecasts, including regularly updated fishing reports.

Plus, you can contact the regional offices throughout the state in order to get more specific information about the lakes of your choice, including water clarity, depth, and recent fishing success.

From my own research, I've found two things very well worth noting with the KDWP. First, their survey information for the species of choice is excellent. Kansas' Web site gives in-depth biological survey information. With this biological information, you can match your fishing desires with the results from the surveys. Second, I've never come across a nicer or more knowledgeable group of people than Kansas' fisheries biologists. They are an invaluable resource that's well worth checking out when it comes to finding out more about any fishing destination across the state.

Last, for your most up-to-date license, creel, and even the latest fishing reports for Kansas' crappie fishing hotspots, check out www.kdwp.state.ks.us.

Good luck. And don't forget the little guys.

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