When it comes to catching crappie in April, these two Missouri hotspots are hard to beat! (April 2010)
Plastic jigs will be the undoing of many Missouri crappie this month. Expect to see plenty of slabs at Clearwater and Stockton lakes.
Photo by Billie R. Cooper.
World War II interrupted the construction of Clearwater Lake dam, which began in 1940. The dam closed finally in 1948, creating much-needed flood control and flat water recreation in southeast Missouri. The 1,300-acre reservoir, six miles from Piedmont in Reynolds County, can swell to 10,000 acres with heavy rains.
I first discovered Clearwater crappie fishing while thrashing the water for white bass in the early 1980s. A friend and I trolled the lake late into the night looking for the mother lode of white bass. Not much to our dismay, we found the mother lode of crappie. They were holding in staging areas while preparing their bodies for the April spawn.
We hooked the first crappie of the night as we rounded a point in 6 feet of water. It didn't take us long to figure out that the fish were hanging out around rock rubble waiting for the right temperatures to move to the sand and gravel pockets along the shoreline to begin the annual spawn.
I had been dragging a 1/8-ounce white marabou jig behind the boat when we discovered the slabs. I switched to a 1/16-ounce model and began casting it to likely spots and retrieving the minnow-imitating lure at an ultra-slow pace to keep it in the strike zone. The tactic worked.
My partner elected to utilize a small slip-float. The iridescent float glowed in the dark; my buddy watched it constantly in order to lift his rod tip for the hookset when the light went out. His tactic worked too.
Fisheries management biologist Paul Cieslewiez is very optimistic about the crappie fishing at Clearwater for 2010. "High water forced us to take our fish samples from the main lake in April of 2009. We only captured about 100 crappie. Of those, 73 percent measured over 9 inches. The five-year average is 65 percent. Fifty-five percent of those over 9 inches were over 10 inches.
"The lake experienced an exceptional spawn in the high water of 2008. Crappie grow slowly here, so those 2008 fry will provide good fishing in 2010 and 2011. It takes a crappie three years to reach 9 inches in Clearwater. The lake drains a very infertile watershed."
Cieslewiez noted that as April approaches, many of the older fishermen begin to troll jigs and minnows across the shallow, flat banks. If the anglers don't connect with fish there, they begin to move toward deep water.
"We have brushpiles up close to the banks," he said. "The brushpiles are generally loaded with fish, too, because Clearwater Lake is habitat poor. If you see a piece of structure, there will be fish on it."
Early April temperatures can be finicky. Cieslewiez pointed out that crappie move to the banks as temperatures warm, but are quick to move to deeper water if temperatures swing to the cooler side of the thermometer. When water temperatures reach 60 degrees, it is time to start fishing seriously for crappie.
Staging crappie can be hard to find at times. Cieslewiez recommends that anglers begin looking for transition zones, or areas where two types of structure join, such as boulders and cobblestones. But once the spawn begins, fishermen should look for the gravel banks.
If the water temperatures are right, anglers should stick with it. Cieslewiez remarked that the crappie spawn drags out for a long time. Everyone likes to catch the peak of the spawn, but fish can be caught for weeks.
"Minnows are my favorite bait," Cieslewiez admitted, "but I prefer to use tube baits. They are less messy and easy to use. Everyone has their favorite colors, but I start out with purple and white. All white with silver flakes is a good second choice."
For further information about crappie fishing at Clearwater Lake, call Paul Cieslewiez at the MDC office at (573) 290-5730. He's eager to give anglers the latest information.
Stockton Lake in southwest Missouri is a jewel in the string of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs. This 24,900-acre lake is a crappie fisherman's dream.
Dale Cornelius is the fisheries management biologist at Stockton. He is very optimistic about the prospects for good crappie fishing there in 2010. "Numbers of crappie are up over the last several years," he pointed out. "Our 2008 survey also indicated there were more black crappie than whites in the lake for the first time. Seventy-four percent of our catch was black crappie. Ten percent of the combined species were over 10 inches, while 50 percent were over 9 inches. Those fish will be growing into the legal 10-inch range throughout the season in 2010."
The lake has experienced high water for the last three years. Cornelius expects good year-classes from those high waters. "It is often hard to get a good sample of the spawn during high water levels, but generally speaking, high water means good spawns." In early April, Cornelius advises anglers to fish the brushpiles, which are marked with green fish attractor signs. Or they can run up into the lake arms, which still have standing timber. As the water warms toward 60 degrees, anglers need to begin looking for a mixture of rock, gravel and dirt; that is the bottom type Stockton crappie use to spawn. Stay away from chunk rock with a clay mixture. Crappie do not like that.
Bob Bennett grew up fishing Stockton Lake with his family. A dream came true for him when he retired from the Kansas City Police Department and returned to the lake as a full-time fishing guide.
He loves his job!
Bennett quickly pointed out that anglers need to look to the points and cuts in early April for staging crappie. "Fish will hold in these areas until water temperatures start heading into the high 50s. Then they will start moving toward the banks to spawn.
"I like to throw tomato and chartreuse Roadrunners in 1/16 ounce this time of year," Bennett said. "I also use a lot of Tripple Ripple jigs. I change colors by the day, depending on the clarity of the water, wind and cloud cover."
As water temperatures increase, Bennett leaves the points and heads up the creeks looking for fish. As they begin to spawn, he follows them back down the creeks and looks for gravel and sand banks. Bennett offered a sound piece of advice for anxious anglers.
"Stockton Lake can get some h
eavy fishing pressure when the spawn begins. Fishermen can often meet with more success by simply looking for small cuts, pockets and banks that other people are not fishing. Many of these tiny spots get overlooked, but they often hold fish."
Fishing methods change as the spawn progresses, too. Bennett likes to use a strike indicator when fishing small jigs in 7 to 9 feet of water. He pops the jig to give it some action, and the indicator also helps reduce hang-ups.
Bennett advises anglers to start shallow once the spawn gets into full swing. "If you don't find fish up shallow, simply begin moving a little deeper."
According to Bennett, there should be plenty of legal crappie available for anglers in 2010. "The spawn was excellent the last two years. I hope for some stable water this spring. It can be tough fishing in high water, but I know they are there."
To schedule a trip with Bennett, call (417) 208-9535. For further lake information, call the MDC office at (417) 532-7612.
Choosing between these two crappie-fishing jewels may be the major challenge facing you. Of course, you could fish them both!