Solid year-classes in the last several years foretell considerable crappie success for Missouri anglers in 2007. (March 2007)
Photo by Tom Berg
My phone rang. "What ya doing?" came the usual greeting from my fishing partner Dave.
"I'm sitting here in my office contemplating my navel": my usual response to Dave's calls.
"Let's check out crappie in my large lake. Ice's out. Morels are beginning to pop. And I'm hungry for a mess of crappie and mushrooms."
Now, Momma didn't raise no dummies. I quickly agreed to meet Dave for a day's fishing crappie followed by some mushroom hunting. Heck, it was spring -- and that's what crappie anglers do.
The crappie is the bread-and-butter fish for most Missouri anglers. Anglers catch and eat more crappie than any other fish species from Missouri's lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Dave has five ponds and one watershed lake, and has access to several other watershed lakes in the region. All support great crappie populations along with bass, bluegills, and other native fish species.
We met the next day and spent the day crappie fishing. I'd like to report catching bunches of crappie and finding sacks of morel mushrooms. It didn't happen. Fishing was slow but steady. Crappie ranged in size from 7 1/2 inches to over 15. We released all large crappie, swollen with eggs or sperm, to finish spawning, keeping only small individuals for the frying pan. In addition to crappie, we caught and kept a mess of largemouth bass and large bluegills over 8 inches.
Unfortunately, mushrooms were still elusive. It was just a little early. We found a few little brown morels, but not the mess we'd hoped for.
This all happened last spring, but prospects for trips like that are just as good this year. Join me now as we review what 2007's crappie anglers should be on the lookout for, and distinguish between crappie fishing sites that should be hot and those at which it's probably not. To learn what to expect, I talked with Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries managers from the different state regions, managers responsible for Missouri's best crappie lakes.
Northeast Missouri is, in some ways, a sleeper providing some great crappie fishing; however, in other ways crappie fishing can be mediocre at best. MDC fisheries management biologist Mike Anderson reported that Forrest Lake in Thousand Hills State Park, just northwest of Kirksville, supports a good population of intermediate-size 8- to 10-inch crappie with a few larger fish for anglers. Anglers will catch good numbers in 2007, but they run small.
Similarly, Thomas Hill Lake between Moberly and Macon also has lots of intermediate-size crappie, but fewer large individuals. The 2005 year-class should produce good fishing in 2007 as fish grow to 9 inches -- the legal length limit. Historically, this lake produces good to outstanding crappie fishing each year with biologists rating the winter fishing in the hot water arm as outstanding.
In addition, Mike Covin, a research scientist for MDC who's researching crappie management at several of Missouri's large lakes, reported that his sampling in July 2006 showed good numbers of 9-inch-and-larger crappie and good numbers of 11- to 12-inch fish, adding that some of the 12-inch crappie weighed an honest 16 ounces.
Mark Twain Lake consistently produces good crappie fishing, but, according to MDC management biologist Ross Dames, size has been relatively small because of slow growth, and though there should be good numbers of crappie for anglers, the general size will be less than 9 inches. For larger crappie, those over 9 inches, Dames recommended the North Fork or South Fork arms of the lake. Crappie grow faster in those arms, and receive less fishing pressure.
Hunnewell Lake, the water-supply lake for the MDC's Hunnewell Hatchery, supports excellent crappie fishing. Crappie anglers can expect to catch good numbers of 9-inch and longer crappie in 2007. Historically, the lake has produced great crappie fishing. (Morel hunting around the lake can be awesome, too.)
The northeast region of Missouri also contains good numbers of watershed lakes supporting good to outstanding crappie populations. Most lakes receive only light fishing. To locate a watershed lake, check with local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices for locations and ownerships; then, contact the owner for permission to fish.
ST. LOUIS REGION
In the St. Louis region, crappie anglers can expect to have fair to good crappie fishing in MDC lakes. MDC fisheries manager Marvin Boyer recommended the August A. Busch Memorial and Weldon Spring conservation areas. Lake 33 will again produce good crappie fishing, he said, especially early in the year, then again in the fall. Most crappie will be less than 9 inches long. Only about 10 percent are larger than 10 inches.
For larger crappie, Boyer suggested, fish lakes 34 and 35. Although these lakes have fewer crappie, the fish are larger, ranging from 12 to 13 inches. His sampling showed only about 10 crappie per hour, but 36 percent of the fish were 10 inches or larger. Many crappie anglers fish Lake 25 for the larger crappie, catching four or five, and then finishing off a limit with smaller fish by fishing Lake 33.
Boyer pointed out that in Lake 31, the area's only catch-and-release lake, crappie average 12 inches, with 80 percent 10 inches or larger. The most successful anglers at these areas use jigs or minnows, fished on light line.
The other relatively unfished crappie resource is the Mississippi River both upstream in the impounded locks and dams north of St. Louis, and downstream in the open reaches. Biologists recommend fishing in slack water, found in the mouths of tributaries, behind islands and island chutes, and in scour holes around brushpiles.
The Ozark Region has only two major lakes: Norfork and Bull Shoals Lake. Spring crappie fishing in the upper end of Norfork Lake can only be described as awesome, with large numbers of crappie attempting to spawn. A.J. Pratt, the biologist responsible for the lake, reported that 2007 should be no different than 2006, but also the last year for really good crappie fishing in the lake. Crappie anglers can expect good to excellent catches of 10-inch and larger crappie in 2007. However, next year will be a down year because of a lack of a strong crappie spawn.
Crappie fishing in Bull Shoals Lake during 2007 will be similar to 2006's, said Pratt, with good numbers of 10-inch and larger crap
pie available for anglers throughout the year. He recommended the west end near Forsyth. This area has good numbers of small fish that will grow to legal length during the year.
During the remainder of the year, he suggested, successful anglers need to fish over structure, including brushpiles. Brushpile maps are available by calling the West Plains regional office.
Clearwater Lake supports a good to excellent population of crappie. According to the manager, sampling shows about 74 percent of the crappie population are less than 10 inches -- so 26 percent are 10 inches and larger, which ought to make for good fishing in 2007.
Crappie fishing in Robert DeLaney Lake should be good this year, as the new 9-inch and 15-in-creel regulations imposed in 2006 take effect. Before the regulation change, the lake supported good numbers of small crappie that will grow to legal size in 2007 and be available to crappie anglers.
As at Robert DeLaney Lake, crappie fishing in 2007 at Lake Wappapello will continue to be good to excellent as the new 9-inch length limit established in 2006 comes into force. The lake had good numbers of small black and white crappie in 2006; those will reach legal size this year.
Southwest Missouri probably has greater crappie fishing opportunities than any other region of Missouri. According to MDC fisheries management biologist Tim Banek, Stockton Lake supports good to excellent crappie fishing, with good growth, good annual recruitment, and 45 percent of the crappie in the lake exceeding 10 inches. Crappie fishing in 2007 should be similar to that in 2006. This fishery has had excellent crappie spawns in 2003 and 2004, strong shad year-classes for food, and good growth rates.
He suggested that once the spawn is over, anglers should fish the 55 different brushpiles built over the past two years. For brushpile location information complete with GPS coordinates, go to www.mdc.mo.gov/ southwest.
MDC fisheries management biologist Dale Cornelius noted that Pomme de Terre Lake has an even more stable crappie population than does Stockton Lake, so crappie fishing at Pomme in 2007 should be as good as if not better than it was in 2006. He added that 58 percent of the black crappie and 64 percent of the white crappie exceed the 9-inch minimum-length limit. Unlike populations at Stockton and some other lakes, Pomme de Terre crappie exhibit little of the annual variation caused by inconsistent spawning and growth.
Interestingly enough, he remarked, the white crappie population has come on like gangbusters the last year or two. He recommended that once you get through the spring spawn, check out the brushpiles (locations of which are, as noted, available on MDC's Web site).
Further south at Table Rock Lake, management biologist Matt Mauk stated that the 2004, 2005, and 2006 crappie year-classes have dominated crappie populations and will continue to dominate again in 2007. The lake has good to excellent numbers of 10- to 12-inch crappie, with a few larger slabs.
Crappie fishing was excellent during 2005 and 2006. Catch rates should decline in 2007, as recruitment has been limited in recent years. Most crappie caught during 2007 will be legal length of 10 inches.
The best crappie fishing will be in the James River Arm, Kings River Arm, and upper Long Creek Arm. Using minnows and small plastic jigs is very effective amid submerged trees. An interactive fish habitat map is available on the MDC Web site, www.mdc.mo.gov.
However, Mauk hasn't seen a new dominant year-class show up, so 2008 could be a down year for Table Rock Lake crappie. Anglers have come to expect boom-and-bust crappie fishing in the lake, he observed.
In addition to all of the large lakes, this region also has some good close-in crappie fishing in Fellows Lake just north of Springfield. The lake has good numbers of 7- to 9-inch crappie available for anglers year 'round, with spring fishing producing some 10- to 13-inch fish.
The central region has a couple of large lakes and several small lakes. Little Dixie Lake, my home lake, is one of the most studied lakes in the state. Crappie fishing should continue to be good in 2007, with strong crappie year-classes produced in 2003, 2004, and 2005 supplying good numbers of 8- to 10-inch crappie for anglers. Also, the numbers of large crappie in the lake continues to increase.
Crappie fishing in Binder Lake in 2007 will continue to be only good, with about 25 percent 10 inches or larger.
Lake of the Ozarks may be the best, most reliable crappie lake in the region. It consistently produces good to excellent crappie fishing throughout the year, with many crappie larger than the minimum-length limit. Strong year-classes produced in 2002, 2003, and 2004 are currently supplying great crappie fishing. At the time of this writing, the 2005 year-class has not been assessed, but there's no reason to suspect it was a failure.
KANSAS CITY REGION
Crappie anglers near Kansas City can select from several lakes on the James A. Reed Memorial Conservation Area. Managers anticipate that spring crappie fishing should be good to excellent in Bodarc, Coot, Nell, Plover, and Gopher lakes in the area.
Lake Jacomo supports both black and white crappie
populations. Crappie fishing should be similar to 2006's, with most black crappie on the small side and white crappie, although not as numerous, providing more large fish for anglers. Area managers suggest looking for schools of white crappie in the south end of the lake and around sunken brushpiles.
Like Lake Jacomo, Blue Springs Lake supports both white crappie and black crappie. Black crappie continue to be numerous in the lake, but small, generally less than 9 inches. White Crappie although less numerous grow faster and will continue to provide larger individuals for successful crappie anglers in 2007.
The largest lake close to Kansas City is Smithville Lake just north of town. According to the manager, crappie angling's popularity ranks second only to bass angling's. The lake supports both black and white crappie populations, with about 20 percent larger than 9 inches. Fishing in 2007 should continue to be good, however; lake managers suggest looking for white crappie schools for the best fishing.
Truman Lake may be the best crappie lake in the Kansas City region and one of the best in Missouri. It consistently produces great crappie fishing and 2007 should be no exception. A strong crappie year-class produced in 2004 will grow through legal size during 2007, producing great fishing for crappie 9 inches and larger most of the year.
Crappie will continue to remain the angler's choice fish from Happy Holler Lake in 2007. Anglers can again expect to catch good numbers of 9- to 12-inch crappie during the year. Like o
ther northern Missouri lakes, Happy Holler Lake supports excellent winter ice fishing for large crappie.
Mozingo Lake will continue to produce great crappie fishing in 2007, with anglers catching limits of 9- to 17-inch crappie during the spring spawn and in the fall when the lake cools. In fall, managers recommend, look for suspended schools of crappie over brushpiles and downed timber.
To summarize the 2007 crappie outlook in Missouri lakes: Fishing should be good overall. If you're looking to harvest large numbers of crappie, fish lakes without a length limit. For large crappie, fish lakes with minimum-length limits and reduce creel limits. Studies have demonstrated that length limits produce consistent crappie fishing year to year and more large individuals than do unregulated lakes. The same studies also show anglers will take home the same amount or more crappie filets as measured by weight from regulated lakes. Anglers also rate fishing quality as much higher in regulated crappie lakes than in unregulated venues.
So go out and enjoy Missouri's crappie fishing in 2007.
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