Iowa's crappie fishing will be excellent again this year, and anglers all over the state have plenty of places to go. (March 2007)
Photo by Ronnie Garrison
The crappie is one of the Hawkeye State's most popular fish. Every spring thousands of anglers hit the water in earnest to enjoy some of the best fishing Iowa offers.
According to Scott Gritters, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, the crappie ranks third in popularity behind catfish and bass but rises to second place when it comes to the dinner table.
And there will be plenty of crappies to go around again this year, according to Gritters. "Seven or 8 million crappies are caught in Iowa every year, and statewide, the crappie is doing well," he said.
But crappie populations explode and then recede even on the best of waters. A lake that's full of fish one year can be left high and dry the next, and then in a few years anglers are taking them out by the bucketful again.
"Crappie populations are cyclical in nature," said Gritters. "The crappie spawns on nests during May when the water temperatures are between 50 and 60 degrees and the spawning period only lasts a couple of weeks. Weather fronts and water level fluctuations seem to play a critical role in the success of the hatch. Fish like bluegills spawn over a longer period of time, and at some point perfect spawning conditions are likely to exist. Not so with crappies. Crappies seem to disappear for awhile and then -- bang! They're back."
A number of factors probably play into the up-and-down nature of crappie populations. Food, angling pressure and environmental conditions all take a part. "Crappies tend to have very successful spawns following a high-water period," said Chris Larson, a fisheries biologist in Lewis. "Once a large year-class is established, they can dominate the fishery for the next several years. These cyclic population swings typically last five years or so."
The increase in the number of crappies in any given body of water isn't nearly as difficult to explain as their decline, according to biologists. Both blacks and whites multiply full bore, with a single female able to produce from 20,000 to 60,000 eggs; at times, a particularly fertile female can produce upwards of a 100,000 eggs. If only the smallest fraction of eggs are successfully fertilized, hatch and survive, a single pair of crappies can repopulate a small lake by themselves.
Here's a look at waters whose crappie populations should be on the upswing this year and whose fishing should be excellent.
PRAIRIE ROSE LAKE
"Prairie Rose should produce some very good crappie fishing in 2007," said biologist Larson. "In the spring of 2006 we saw incredible numbers of 7- to 8-inch black crappies in both our fyke netting and electrofishing surveys. If these fish grew even a little, anglers should be able to catch buckets full this year. The best time for crappies is during the spring spawning season, which usually occurs the during the first three weeks of May, but colder spring temperatures can push it back a week or two."
A proven technique that works well during the crappie spawn is to fish with small leadhead jigs in the 1/16- to 1/32-ounce sizes, said Larson. Using light line in the 4-pound test range, fish near the shoreline in some woody structure that juts out into the water or along large riprap. Another approach on Prairie Rose is to fish the shallower bays first in early May, starting in the upper reaches of the lake. Move down the lake to deeper drop-offs as spring progresses.
Prairie Rose covers 204 acres in Shelby County and is part of Prairie Rose State Park.
Larson pointed to two other lakes in his management area that should be good this year. Both are in Adair County. Nodaway Lake at 25 acres and Lake Orient at 15 acres are definitely small, but both support good numbers of 10-inch fish, said Larson. Fishing was excellent for crappies this past year, and the fisheries surveys conducted in 2006 indicate that there should be good numbers of these larger fish in 2007.
For more information, contact the Cold Springs Fish Management unit at (712) 769-2587 or the Prairie Rose State Park at (712) 773-2701.
BROWN'S LAKE AND GREEN ISLAND WILDLIFE AREA
Brown's Lake and the Green Island Wildlife Area are neighbors along the Missouri River and just a stone's throw away from each other. A dike separates the two bodies of water, and when one isn't producing, the other probably is.
"Brown's is an oxbow on the Missouri River that isn't connected to the river anymore," said Don Herrig, fisheries technician with the Black Hawk Unit. "The outside edge is deeper than the inside and any of the deeper water is good for crappies. There aren't many rockpiles or points for the fish to relate to, so the crappies will still be deep in the early spring. As the water warms, they'll move up into the shallows."
According to Herrig, lots of springtime crappies are taken off the campground and along the east side of the lake. "When we were sampling the fish population there were some good ones. Fish measuring 10 inches were common and in good numbers," he said.
Brown's Lake covers 580 acres in Woodbury County just a short distance from Green Island Wildlife Area. "The Green Island area is a productive crappie, bluegill, bass and northern pike fishery," said wildlife biologist Bob Sheets. "The water totals 3,550 acres and is subject to heavy weed growth once midsummer arrives. It's tough access, and requires walking a dike -- but the crappies are there."
Gene Jones, a biologist who also manages the area, pointed out that though anglers were disappointed with crappie catches last year, things can change fast, and this year might not be as disappointing. "It can be a really good crappie fishery," he said. "The area is managed for waterfowl so there is a lot of vegetation, and it's only about 4 feet deep. The problem is that the area both summer- and winterkills. The good news is that, whenever the dike breaks, we restock the lake, and these newly introduced crappies grow fast, since there isn't any competition from other year classes. This fishery can change fast."
The IDNR pumps water into the wildlife area to keep the water levels up. The dikes provide walk-in opportunities to areas difficult to reach. Once you're on the water, canoes are the best form of transportation.
"It's a good fishery and when it's hot, it's hot," said Jones. "If you hear about anglers taking crappies, that's when to go. The nice thing about Brown's Lake and Green Island is that if the fish aren't biti
ng in one area, then try the other one. That's what I do."
For additional information, contact the Black Hawk unit at (712) 657-2638.
This little lake only covers 100 Franklin County acres, but it's loaded with crappies this year, said James Wahl, fisheries biologist in north-central Iowa.
"The 2006 fishery survey showed good numbers of 7 1/2- to 9-inch fish," he said. "Both white and black crappies are present, but the blacks are dominant. Crappies on Beeds will move into the shallow water beginning in May and hit the peak of the spawn right around the middle of the month. At this time the fish can be taken within the rocks of the causeway or from the five fishing jetties that are located around the lake. During the summer months, anglers are successful by drifting across the main-lake basin."
A 1/32-ounce tube jig with 4-pound test line is the ticket, said Wahl. And anglers need to remember to fish above the thermocline when the water warms up. Most fish are caught from 4 to 6 feet deep on this lake, since oxygen levels below this can become depleted during the summer months.
Fallen trees are out in the lake near the boat launch north of 165th Street. There is a no-wake rule in place, but motors of any size are allowed.
Beeds Lake, part of Beeds Lake State Park, is two miles northwest of Hampton on 165th Street. For more info, contact the Clear Lake Fish Management unit at (641) 357-3517 or the Beeds Lake State Park at (641) 456-2047.
BRIGGS WOODS LAKE
"The 2006 electrofishing survey showed good numbers of 10-inchers in the half-pound range with a very strong year-class of younger crappies coming on for 2007," said Wahl. "Good growth rates should put these younger fish into a size range that will be acceptable for anglers this year."
Most of the crappies in Briggs Woods are taken on the weed edges or suspended over cover, said Wahl. Small minnows under a bobber or a 1/32-ounce jig tipped with insect larvae both work well. Wahl recommends using good electronics to locate suspended schools of fish and then going at it.
Briggs Woods Lake covers 59 acres in Hamilton County. Two access points are found on the lake, one on the south side in the Briggs Woods County Park, the other on the northwest section of the lake.
For more information, contact the Clear Lake Fish Management unit at (641) 357-3517.
"The crappie populations in my area are down in a number of spots right now," said Dick McWilliams, a fisheries biologist in Boone. "The most consistent crappie fishery in recent years has been Red Rock, which has some really dandy crappies, if the fishery surveys say anything. There are fish at 3/4 of a pound or better."
Anglers targeting Red Rock's crappies have a lot of room to roam. The lake covers 19,000 acres in Marion, Polk, Jasper and Warren counties.
McWilliams recommends that anglers trying Red Rock for the first time begin in the shallower and warmer sections of the lake such as the Whitebreast area. As the remainder of the lake warms up, trying the rocky areas along the dam and breakwaters can be productive. If water levels are right, points near Elk Rock have been good producers as well. Look for woody cover to tag fish in those areas.
"Without a doubt the favorite lures are jigs and minnows," said McWilliams.
Crappies on Red Rock will quit cooperating if a cold front moves in. Anglers will have to search for them out in the mouths of the bays, where they'll hold until warmer weather is back. During these periods, a slow, deliberate approach is best for suspended crappies, especially with a slip float and a small minnow.
Red Rock is north of Knoxville. Several modern boat ramps provide good access to the lake. For additional info, contact the Boone Fish Management station at (515) 432-2823.
ROCK CREEK LAKE
"Crappies are in the 7- to 9-inch range in Rock Creek, but I hesitate to recommend the lake because of the fishing pressure it's been getting," said McWilliams. "There are a few larger fish, but not many. And in general, this fishery is similar to the way one fishes Red Rock. Jigs and minnows in the spring worked around the points in the coves and the bays. I've found over the years that this is the best bet."
Rock Creek crappies acted a little differently last year than did their counterparts in other waters, said McWilliams. As the water temperature rose, lot of crappies suspended rather than make the usual move to deeper water. McWilliams has observed this behavior in the past, and an angler with electronics will have the advantage.
Be willing to motor throughout the northern half of the lake in the early spring. The lake is very shallow and somewhat featureless above Road F27, but the hole at the bridge is always a good spot to try.
Rock Creek Lake is in Jasper County and covers 491 acres. The average depth is 9 feet; it does stratify.
Four ramps are located off Rock Creek West Road, Rock Creek East Road and Lakeside Road.
Contact the Boone Fish Management station in west-central Iowa at (515) 432-2823 for more.
"In pools 9 through 11 we have lots of good crappie fishing," said Gritters, who manages this section of the river. "In Pool 9, the Minnesota Slough near New Albin is a good bet. In Pool 10, the Norwegian and Methodist areas south of McGregor are good, and in Pool 11 the Bertom Lake area south of Cassville, Wis., has had some of the more consistently producing backwaters."
Pool 13 is hot right now, according to biologist Jones. "There's a good class of 10- to 11-inch crappies. Fishing will be good in 2007."
Bernard Schonhoff, a fisheries manager in Muscatine, picks the Big Timber area in Pool 17 as his best crappie spot. "The Big Timber area has been a consistently good spot for crappies," he said. "The area is a backwater just south of Muscatine between river miles 443 and 445, and is known locally as The Breaks."
The Big Timber area is accessible by boat from the small concrete ramp and a gravel ramp at the south end of the river where it connects to the main river. According to Schonhoff, there is good shoreline access but most of the better crappie areas are only accessible by boat.
Gritters tells newcomers to the river to look for crappies away from the current, both on the main river and in the backwaters. Fallen trees in about 4 feet of water are usually productive, but according to Gritters, not all trees are created equal. "The best trees have fallen out and away from the bank where they are accessible from the deeper water," he said. In quieter water, using slip-bobbers with minnow is the way to go.
Locating the spawning areas up in the weeds and brush in the shallower water is the key to springtime success.
Gritters noted a lot of techniques are successful on the Mississippi, most of which involve a minnow. Slip-bobbers and minnows on jigs are both popular, and one thing to keep in mind is that you'll be losing baits if you're close to the fish.
"A hook that has the ability to bend is a must when fishing up in the brush on the Mississippi River," said Gritters.
Though anglers can expect to see the occasional 14-incher, fish in the 9- to 11-inch bracket are more common.
For more information, contact the Guttenberg Fisheries Station at (563) 252-1156 or the Fairport Fish Hatchery at (563) 263-5062.
Crappie regulations differ according to the type of water being fished. There is no closed season on inland waters and boundary rivers, and no daily bag limit restrictions, with the exception of the Mississippi River and its backwaters. On the Mississippi River and connected backwaters along the state border, the daily possession limit is 25 and the overall possession limit 50.
For tourism information, contact the Iowa Tourism Division at (515) 242-4705 or visit online at www. traveliowa.com.
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