From north to south and in between, here are five top-rated lakes to try this coming season for papermouths. Is one near you?(February 2008).
Finding a good crappie lake can be tricky these days. After all, a lake that was booming just a couple of years ago can be a bust today. Though no one can say for sure just why a great crappie lake bottoms out and a few years later is producing monster-sized slabs, we know that it works that way. So getting on the right water at the right time is crucial to success.
Jim McDonnell has been catching crappies all of his life. Few anglers can bring both expertise and common sense to the table like McDonnell can.
"First and foremost, you have to find the fish," McDonnell said. "That means going right up into the canals and shallow bays after ice-out. The crappies aren't interested in spawning quite yet. What they're interested in are the insects and minnows they can find as the water warms up, and this is where it warms up first."
Crappies are relating to structure and are on the prowl after a lean winter. Find both structure and food together in one place and you should be on the papermouths as well.
Here's a look at five lakes that will be producing crappies this year -- and how you can get in on the great slab-sided action.
"Summit Lake is a consistent producer of just about everything, including crappies," said Southern Region fisheries supervisor Brian Schoenung.
Most of the fishing action will be during the spawn that occurs during late April and early May, but crappies can be caught long before that time.
Summit Lake crappies are subject to the cyclical ups and downs of crappie populations but tend to be fairly consistent, much more so than in some smaller waters, Schoenung said. It's next to impossible to "fish out" the lake, since a single female crappie can lay several thousand eggs at a time. Good habitat and a solid forage base help to keep crappie numbers up to avoid the downswings other waters experience on a sporadic basis.
"Early in the spring, I'd send fishermen to the Beaver Creek area, which is really just a cove," said Ashley Miller of Miller's Great Outdoors.
"If the fish aren't biting there, move to the area around the shoreline curve near the campground; and if that isn't producing, go to the southeast side of Goose Island. As the season progresses, crappies seem to bite in these areas, moving along as the weather warms up. Some years, the fish will go as far as the shoreline up along the dam." (Continued)
Miller points out that the crappie fishing really gets going in mid- to late April. There are good numbers of fish present, so if anglers know how to approach Summit Lake, going home with plenty of fish is a real possibility. Miller knows of a five-brother team that targets crappies all year long. They'll keep up to 90 fish or so on each outing. The only special tactic these anglers use is to keep moving around until they connect with the fish.
Miller sells many minnows to spring crappie anglers, with red wigglers and bee moths coming a close second and third place. When anglers are using artificial baits, they're usually colored jigs with the color preferences changing from year to year.
"Two years ago, everyone wanted pink jigs. Last year, it was a chartreuse and white combination," Miller said. A relatively new tactic on Summit is to use ice jigs all year long.
Doing a little pre-scouting for good crappie locations is a practice that Jim McDonnell picked up a long time ago. He feels that even excellent anglers fail to take advantage of this aspect of papermouth angling.
"Crappie populations fluctuate," McDonnell said. "The fishing will be really good for two or three years and then go bust for a while, but eventually the crappie numbers will take off again. The trick is to hit the lake when the population is going upward and you do that by calling your fisheries management biologist and asking him which waters are going in that direction. Check in with bait shops and other good sources of information as well. That's the way I always approach it. Doing your homework is very important if you want to stay on top of where crappies are biting."
For additional information, contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife's (DFW) District 5 office at (765) 342-5527, the Summit Lake State Park at (765) 766-5873 or Miller's Great Outdoors at (765) 766-5873.
"For an up-and-coming crappie fishery I'd pick Waveland," biologist Schoenung said. "The crappie fishing should just about be ready to turn on following the renovation in 2002. This lake will follow the norm and be an April and May fishery with good fishing again in September and October."
Waveland's fate was sealed when the shad population exploded several years ago. The shad competed with young game fish for food, and as in some other Indiana waters, the shad took over. In 2002, the lake was drawn down and fish of all species were killed.
The DFW restocked the lake with black crappies in the fall of 2003. Well over 71,000 papermouths were released into the lake and are now big enough to harvest.
"We haven't seen a lot of the crappies yet," said Don Bickel, a local angler and outdoor column writer for the local newspaper in Crawfordsville.
There have been a few nice crappies caught along the riprap near the dam, but most of the anglers here are fishing for bluegills, Bickel said. He expects the crappie fishing will really take off fast this spring, especially off the riprap near the dam and in the bay to the east of the dam.
Waveland is acting like a new lake in its boom phase. Bickel prefers to take slabs with a minnow, but small tube jigs work, too. Try a number of colors until you find what the fish want and go from there, Bickel said, but it's the black and chartreuse that produce for him. Minnows are the mainstay and will tell anglers where the fish are. Anglers can always switch to tube jigs once the fish are located.
Finding where the crappies will be hitting is going to take some experimentation this spring, Bickel said. The fishery is new and where the crappies will be is anyone's guess. Bluegill anglers in the shallower end of the lake haven't been connecting with too many crappies, though few anglers have been looking for them.
Waveland Lake covers 358 acres in Montgomery and Parke counties and is two miles west of Waveland.
Contact the DFW's Southern Region office at (812) 279-1215 or the South Boulevard Sports and Bait Shop in Crawfordsville at (765) 362-0129 for more information. The Waveland Park office can be reached at (765) 435-2073.
Patoka is a lake with the crappie population on the upswing. According to fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan, the crappie fishery has become much better than it was in 2003. Numbers from the latest DFW survey haven't been crunched yet, but the outlook is promising.
"The crappie harvest is way up," Carnahan said. "There were 79,000 crappies taken home between April 1 and June 30, 2007, and they averaged 9 1/2 inches. The 2003 survey covered April 1 through Oct. 31, and during the entire sampling, the DFW found that only 57,000 crappies were harvested with a slightly smaller average length.
The number of fish is normally high in Patoka, Carnahan said. Catching the larger fish is usually the problem.
Patoka doesn't seem to go through the exaggerated boom-and-bust phases that other lakes do. Every year crappie reproduction has been fairly consistent.
According to Carnahan, early spring fishing is good in the Patoka River channel up from the Walls Ramp and the Little Patoka Arm. When the redbuds start blooming, the fishing really takes off.
"The crappie tournaments in the spring are usually fishing toward the main lake basin in the deeper water," said Oscar Hoffman of Jeff's Bait and Gun Shop.
"In the early spring, anglers usually launch from the Jackson State Recreation Area or the Walls Lake Ramp and fish in those areas, but a lot of crappie fishermen do prefer to put in at the Little Patoka Ramp."
Bank-fishermen aren't left out, Hoffman said. Walk-in access is along state Route 145 or near the reservoir's main public entrance.
According to guide Tim Gibson, 100-fish days are possible and sizes can run large. Last spring a client caught a 3-pound, 4-ounce crappie and there are plenty of 2-pound fish to be had.
Not that catching numbers of fish is always easy. At times, Gibson has to motor the entire lake to connect with enough fish to call it a day.
Gibson targets the Walls Lake Ramp area where the water is from 5 to 10 degrees warmer here than in the deeper section of the reservoir. Clear up to the Kings Bridge can also be good. There's plenty of standing timber, so fishing the channel in the main river with jigs is an excellent idea.
Jigging the vertical structure is one key that unlocks Patoka's crappies. Gibson's personal choice is the B&M Crappie Pole. The Sam's Super Sensitive 11-foot rod with a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jighead tipped with various colored tubes or a Power Crappie Nibble produces many spring slabs. Gibson's client took his 3-pounder on a 7-foot Sam's Super Sensitive rod.
Scent is a necessity for Patoka, said Gibson. Kodiak scents on the tubes are a mainstay for Gibson's efforts and something he wouldn't hit the water without.
For more information, contact the DFW's District 7 office at (812) 789-2724 or Jeff's Bait and Gun Shop in Jasper at (812) 482-6672. Tim Gibson's guide service can be reached by calling (812) 936-3382 or online at www.timsguideservice.com.
Patoka Reservoir covers 8,800 acres in Crawford, Dubois and Orange counties.
Wawasee Lake is a bird of a different feather. If you're looking for numbers of fish for the frying pan, you'll probably do better on another lake. There aren't many papermouths in the lake and the ones that are here are tough to find. What brings crappie aficionados to the lake are the sizes of these crappies.
"The average maximum size of a black crappie in Indiana's natural lakes is about 11 inches long," fisheries biologist Jed Pearson said. "The fact that there are crappies in Wawasee measuring 14 inches long indicates that it's a size rather than a numbers lake."
Pearson points out that during one survey that included Wawasee and Syracuse lakes, anglers took home 43,000 bluegills and 20,000 perch, but when it came to crappies, the lakes only produced 3,400 fish.
The most recent DNR survey was in 2004 and numbers were definitely not the lake's calling card. Only 2 percent of the fish sampled were crappies, but some of them were huge. In lakes with booming crappie populations, crappies might make up 35 percent of the total population for all species combined. It's not the case here, Pearson said.
Pearson said that Wawasee Lake crappies are often caught during the early ice in December in the man-made channels. Early spring fishing should be good in the same channels, especially where lily pads are developing.
"During the early May spawn, the crappies start to get serious about biting," said Bob Anweilar, owner of Smokey's Landing in Syracuse.
"The fish don't seem to concentrate in particular areas on Wawasee and no one spot is better than another. They'll be shallow, in maybe 10 to 12 feet of water, but except for the spawn, we don't see the fish up in the shallows very much."
The lake's water is generally clear due to the watershed being relatively small. Once the spawn is completed, the slabs will move out onto deeper flats and breaks, where they're a little tougher to locate. Local anglers seem to have their favorite spots staked out, Anweilar said, and visiting anglers will be wise to begin their search along the weedbeds once the weather warms.
The shallower spots in the lake warm up fast and are protected from wind and wave action. The cattail marshes may attract crappies as well, especially if the stalks are adjacent to deeper water. Docks are a proven producer and it will be worth the effort to motor along and toss a few tube jigs or jigs tipped with minnows.
According to Anweilar, the traditional live minnow produces more crappies than anything else. If an angler becomes tired of baiting a hook with a minnow, he can graduate to a jig with a black head and red trailer. Jigs tipped with a minnow or a wax worm often works wonders.
The lake covers 3,060 acres and is located four miles south of Syracuse in Kosciusko County.
For more information, contact the DFW's District 3 at (260) 691-3181 or the Smokey's Landing bait shop at (574) 457-5232.
"The Upper Wabash reservoirs have always been good for crappies, especially white crappies," said Stu Shipman, the Northern Fisheries supervisor. "The lake is
more of a numbers lake with most of the fish ranging in size from 6 to 8 inches. Occasionally, there's a 14-incher caught, and at times, there will be a lot of fish almost that large."
"The crappies are thick in here," said Max Eckelbarger of Buck's Bait in Peru. "Spawning crappies offer good fishing in the spring and there's some nice-sized fish. I've seen a few over 12 inches myself."
Fathead minnows are the way to go, Eckelbarger said. The old stand-by, a 1/32-ounce jighead with a colored tail, also catches plenty of fish. An angler just needs to start experimenting to find the color of the day.
Crappies start gravitating toward the warmest water in the lake to take advantage of inactive minnows and insects. Water temperatures in the 40- to 50-degree range draw them into the shallows and as temperatures reach 62 to 68 degrees, spawning takes off in earnest. Beds are formed near emergent vegetation and woody cover and the nest-guarding males are easily caught. For a couple of weeks, the bite will be hot.
As summer settles in, the fish will move out into deeper water where they often suspend. Electronics are especially effective in locating suspended or deeper crappies without spending much time beating dead water.
Mississinewa Lake is long and narrow, covering 3,280 acres. It goes through annual drawdowns and refilling, which is usually completed by early May. The gravel, limestone and rocks make up the lion's share of the structure. Downed trees are fish magnets.
The best spring location bets are the Liston and Goose creek areas, where these streams inflow the lake. Sometimes the fish will be just upstream and at other times out in deeper water.
The lake is located in Grant, Miami and Wabash counties.
For additional information, contact the Northern Region office at (260) 244-6805 or Buck's Bait at (765) 473-7612.
Visit the DFW's Web site at www.in.gov.dnr/fishwild/" for more information.