Wet weather in 2008 produced prime conditions for Missouri's crappie fisheries. Here's what you can expect on eight of our top crappie waters this year, along with a few tips on maximizing your catch! (March 2009)
I predict a great crappie year in 2009: How's that for going out on a limb?
Flooding in 2008 in Missouri resulted in strong survival rates for young-of-the-year crappie, as well as excellent shad production in waters across the state. Photo by Keith Sutton.
After talking with several fisheries management biologists and reviewing the weather conditions experienced in Missouri last year, I found that it wasn't hard to make the prediction.
In 2008, Missouri experienced one of the wettest years on record. Rainfall exceeded 50 inches in places. Reservoirs expanded into overflow lands early and late; small impoundments and ponds filled and then overflowed; rivers flooded.
But that same flooding afforded crappie populations a buffer during the 2008 fishing season, and, as a result, survival of young-of-the-year and yearling crappie was good to outstanding. Shad production was also outstanding, prompting Missouri Department of Conservation biologists to predict good reproduction in 2009. All told, spring fishing should be outstanding this year.
For many years, anglers and biologists believed that crappie in large lakes often drifted into overpopulation resulting in many small crappie and few large individuals. At that time, biologists felt that the solution was to increase harvests.
That was then; this is now. MDC researchers ultimately disproved the theory. The crappie populations weren't "stunted;" rather, they were overharvested and simply weren't living long enough to grow large. Anglers harvested fish as soon as they reached an acceptable size, usually 6 to 8 inches. As Walt Kelly's Pogo said: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Most of Missouri's popular crappie lakes now have a minimum-length limit that allows crappie to live three years and longer and grow to at least 9 or 10 inches before being harvested. One interesting side note: Biologists also found that, even with the high length limit and reduced creel, crappie anglers actually harvested more eatable meat than they had before the regulation change.
Most large lakes produce legal crappie two or three years after they've hatched. Spring spawners provide the early flush of great crappie fishing each year, later in the year, as 2- and 3-year-old crappie grow to legal size. They sustain the fishery.
Depending on the lake in question, we've had several years of good to great crappie production in Missouri. When you combine production with high water in 2008 and a reduction in crappie harvest, you have the makings of a great crappie year in 2009.
Join me as I explore what crappie anglers can expect at several of Missouri's large lakes and talk with MDC biologists responsible for the great fishing. During the journey I'll provide fishing tips to improve your crappie angling success.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
Year in and year out, Lake of the Ozarks is one of Missouri's best crappie lakes. Based on 2008 angling results and high water levels, MDC management biologist Greg Stoner expects more of the same in 2009.
He cautioned that the crappie harvest over the last two years had declined slightly, but anglers reported nice catches of 12- to 14-inch crappie, with an occasional 14- to 16-inch individual to sweeten the creel.
Stoner explained that the high water this past year also triggered good plankton blooms that allowed for good survival of young-of-the year crappie. Those crappie will enter the creel late in 2009 and in 2010.
He also explained that MDC had established brushpiles in several locations to attract crappie. Lake of the Ozarks is unique. During construction, builders removed all timber in the basin. The brushpiles improve fish habitat in the lake.
To locate brushpiles, Stoner suggested visiting the MDC Web site, www.mdc.mo.gov/. Click on the state map at the bottom of the opening page for additional information about lakes and brushpiles.
The MDC is expected to have brushpile maps for all of the state's managed lakes available online soon.
Crappie fishing should be good this spring, with about 69 percent of the fish in fall samples equal to or greater than 9 inches on the Glaize Arm. On the Niangua Arm, 57 percent of the fish exceeded 9 inches.
Target brushpiles, especially those located on or near points. Locating good structure, Stoner explained, is key to catching crappie in Lake of the Ozarks.
POMME DE TERRE LAKE
Pomme de Terre Lake in southwest Missouri is historically is one of Missouri's best crappie lakes, according to MDC management biologist Dale Cornelius.
This year should be no exception, as Cornelius projected that black crappie represent about 80 percent of the population, while white crappie constitute 20 percent. About 53 percent of the crappie exceeded 9 inches. The shad hatch in 2009 will allow good growth and survival.
"All (a) crappie had to do was open its mouth to find food." Cornelius said.
Because of clear water, anglers need to locate brushpiles for crappie concentrations. Interestingly, Cornelius suggested that spring crappie anglers fish brushpiles first for concentrations of female crappie, and along the nearby shore in about 10 feet of water for males guarding nests. Brushpile locations can be found at www.mdc.mo.gov/fish/ sport/crappie/.
LITTLE DIXIE LAKE
MDC biologist Craig Gemming reported that while Little Dixie Lake consistently produces good to great crappie fishing each year, the lack of a length limit will keep most of the papermouths there in the 6- to 8-inch range.
According to Gemming, anglers harvest more than 45 percent of the crappie in the lake each year.
Anglers will catch good numbers of the intermediate-size crappie in 2009. However, according to Gemming, the lake receives more anglers per acre each year than Lake of the Ozarks.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
Crappie fishing should continue to be fair to good here during 2009. The best slab action will be met with in the James River Arm, Kings River Arm and upper Long Creek Arm. Biologists suggest that anglers fish minnows and small plastic jigs in submerged trees. An inte
ractive fish habitat map is available on the MDC Web site, www.mdc.mo.gov.
Lake Wappapello in southeast Missouri has historically been one of Missouri's best crappie lakes. That said, it should be acknowledged that it's changed over the past 10 years. Although anglers still harvest lots of crappie each year, most measure less than 6 or 7 inches.
Mark Boone, the MDC's management biologist for the lake, is working to improve crappie fishing at Wappapello. The MDC implemented a 9-inch length limit in 2006. Anglers can still keep 30 crappie per day, but they must be 9 inches or longer.
I asked Boone during fall 2008 if the change was working. "It's too early to tell," he answered. "I'll know more when I finish my population sampling. We have great recruitment each year, but growth rates are relatively slow, and black crappie seldom grow longer than 7 inches or so.
The good news: Black crappie represent only 25 percent of the population, while white crappie, which grow larger, represent 75 percent."
Boone said that Wappapello received lots of water early and late in 2008. The early flush helped produce a great shad year-class and probably slowed crappie harvests.
Add to that new brushpiles, and Boone believes crappie fishing in 2009 will be good and possibly outstanding.
THOMAS HILL RESERVOIR
This lake in north-central Missouri both provides cooling water for Associated Electric's coal-fired generators and consistently supports some of the Show-Me State's best crappie fishing. The warmwater discharge creates a unique winter fishery. About 80 percent of white crappie are longer than 9 inches.
Mike Anderson, MDC management biologist, said this lake grows large crappie, with most reaching 9 inches or longer in three growing seasons. "Thomas Hill crappie have shoulders on them in three years," says Anderson.
According to Anderson, the lake received several large rains in 2008. Fishing was poor, and the reservoir was turbid. This, he suggested, will result in great early crappie fishing in the warmwater arm, and then later during the spawn.
Brushpile maps are available on the Internet, or by calling the district office. Brushpile locations are marked with yellow signs.
Netting information from fall 2007 shows an improved outlook for 2009. About 40 percent of white crappie measured more than 9 inches, compared to only 1 percent of the black crappie.
Biologists saw legal white crappie numbers jump to 65 percent and those 10 inches and longer increase to 45 percent. Black crappie showed similar improvement, and all crappie were in excellent condition. Overall, about 27 percent of crappie in Smithville are legal, and 19 percent longer than 10 inches.
Smithville also had an excellent shad spawn, providing plenty of food for crappie.
The key to successful crappie fishing in Smithville is to locate white crappie concentrations. This will increase the average size of your catch dramatically. Fall can be an excellent time to catch crappie here.
MARK TWAIN LAKE
Mark Twain Lake continues to provide spotty crappie fishing, according to MDC management biologist Ross Dames. Crappie density is low because of four years of poor recruitment, with most fish measuring 9 inches or longer.
"Anglers will not have to sort through a bunch of small fish to catch a limit of 15 keeper crappie," said Dames. "Recruitment in 2007 was fair to good, but anglers will not benefit until late in 2009 and 2010.
Although overall crappie abundance continues to decline as a consequence of lower-than-normal reproduction, good crappie growth and predominately older fish in the population resulted in a 27 percent increase in large crappie. This trend should continue in 2009.
The high water in 2008 is good news for crappie anglers this year. Mark Twain experienced record high water several times in 2008, high enough to close the lake to angling and boating.
The high water protected crappie from anglers and allowed many fish that normally would have been harvested to survive and grow. These larger fish will be available in 2009, making for some good early-season crappie fishing.
NORTH MISSOURI COMMUNITY & WATERSHED LAKES
Don't forget about north Missouri's watershed and community lakes. These waters are full of large crappie and typically are lightly fished. They provide great crappie fishing throughout the year. In spring, bank anglers reap the benefits of these small lakes.
For location information about community lakes managed by MDC and watershed lakes, check out the MDC's Conservation Atlas or Missouri Atlas and Gazetteer, or visit the NRCS county offices. Community lakes are public lakes; watershed lakes and ponds are usually private and require permission for access.