Now's the time to start filling the freezer with slab crappies, and these biologist-recommended hotspots are sure to produce great catches all spring. (March 2007)
Look for schools of big crappies in shallow water near natural or manmade structure this month.
Photo by Tom Berg
Spring is here, and with it comes the best time of the year for limits of slab crappies.
For the next month, crappies will be staging near deep dropoffs adjacent to their spawning flats, or will start to move into the shallows to begin spawning. Either way, this is bonanza time for crappie anglers. The fish will be aggressive, accessible and holding in numbers that make filling a limit easier now than at any other time of year.
Here's a look at where you can start to fill your livewell with big, hungry crappies this month:
Ken Cunningham, an Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist, said District One contains many great crappie lakes. In fact, he claimed that trying to pick the best of the lot was no easy task.
"Delaware Lake would have to be my first pick," Cunningham said. "It has great numbers of fish, and because of the size limit of 9 inches in place there, it also has some great trophy-fish potential. Crappie anglers regularly take fish ranging from 7 to 12 inches on Delaware Lake."
Fishermen should concentrate their efforts on the lake's northern end. There, they will do best if they fish close to shoreline structure.
Delaware Lake covers some 948 acres in Delaware County. Delaware State Park lies on the lake's western shore, with the Delaware Wildlife Area making up the eastern shore. The state park's shoreline has boat launching sites and a marina. There are also campground sites in the park as well. The eastern shore wildlife area also has a boat-launching site.
Anglers wanting to fish Delaware Lake can reach the state park off U.S. Route 23 or the Delaware Wildlife Area off state Route 229.
"Deer Creek would be a great second choice," Cunningham said. "It also has great numbers of fish and lots of trophy potential because there is a minimum-size limit of 9 inches."
The fish here, according to Cunningham, range from 7 to 12 inches.
Located in Fayette and Pickaway counties, Deer Creek Lake contains 1,271 acres of water. There is a boat- launching site on the western shore as well as a marina. A second launching site is on the lake's northeastern end. Parking is plentiful, and the lake also has campgrounds, cabins and a lodge. Deer Creek is best reached off state Route 207.
Number Three in Cunningham's picks of crappie hotspots in District One is Hoover Reservoir. Bisected by the Delaware and Franklin county line, most of the lake lies in Delaware County and has 2,818 acres of water. The lake has several boat ramps, parking areas and boat-harboring facilities scattered along its shoreline.
"Crappies from Hoover Reservoir average from 7 to 12 inches," Cunningham said. "They have been showing up in good numbers in our sampling nets."
Hoover Reservoir is easily accessed from an assortment of roads off state Route 3 to the west or from Interstate Route 71, a few miles further to the west.
Anglers wishing to sample the crappie fishing in District One can contact the ODOW's district office at (614) 644-3925, or write to them at 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215.
Mike Wilkerson, an ODOW fisheries biologist in District Two, picked Pleasant Hill Reservoir as a first choice.
"Pleasant Hill has the best numbers of crappies and the best trophy potential," he said. "There isn't a lot of shoreline access, but anglers with boats can do well. There are no limitations on motor size there."
Wilkerson also said that there's no size limit for crappies at Pleasant Hill Reservoir.
"The lower end of the lake is best," he added, "especially around the shoreline near the fallen trees."
Pleasant Hill Reservoir lies in Richland and Ashland counties. The lake has 781 acres of fishing water, with a marina, parking lot, launch site and campgrounds on the lake's northern shore. The lake can most easily be reached off state Route 95.
Wilkerson's next pick is Charles Mill Lake.
"The best crappie fishing on Charles Mill Lake is usually near the marina and along that side of the lake," he said. "Anglers should fish around the trees near the deeper water."
He added that there's no size limit on crappies here.
Charles Mill Lake also lies in Richland and Ashland counties. The lake has some 1,350 acres of water that features many small islands, bays and channels. Charles Mill Lake has a marina, campgrounds, cottages and boat-launching facilities.
There is a 10-horsepower engine limit on Charles Mill Lake, which is bisected by state Route 430. Most of the lake's facilities can be reached off this route. The lake may also be reached off U.S. Route 30 and state routes 39 and 603.
Clear Fork Reservoir is Wilkerson's third pick in District Two. Composed of 966 acres of water in Marrow and Richland counties, Clear Fork Reservoir has traditionally been a Buckeye State hotspot for slabs.
Clear Fork Reservoir can be reach off state Route 97, which borders the lake's southern shoreline. Marina and boat-launching facilities are at the lake's northern end, and there is access all along the south shoreline.
Fishing from the northern shore is prohibited, and anglers are advised to stay away from the dam area because access there is also restricted.
For more information, Buckeye State anglers may contact the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000 or write them at 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH 45840.
Biologist Andy Burk claims Ohio's District Three also has a lot of good crappie lakes.
"My first pick will have to be Mosquito Lake," Burk said. Mosquito Lake is renowned for producing consistent numbers of big crappies every year.
uito Lake crappies range from 13 to 15 inches," he said. "And there are a lot of them."
Mosquito Lake lies in Trumbull County. This 6,550-acre impoundment has parking lots, boat ramps and camping areas. Summer recreational action is heavy, but early-spring fishermen usually do not have to worry about water-skiers and such.
Near the middle of the lake, toward the dam end, there is a 25 mile-per-hour speed zone and a ski zone that boat anglers need to be aware of. Also, the lake's northern end is a wildlife refuge where hunting and fishing are prohibited.
Find the crappies on Mosquito Lake by fishing the fallen timber along the shoreline and also along the deep dropoffs from a point adjacent to the shallow-water flats.
Anglers may access Mosquito Lake from routes 5, 46, 305 or Route 88, which bisects the lake's northern end. Most of the lake's major facilities are off routes 5 or 305 at the lake's southern tip. Boats are available for rent off Route 88.
Burk's next pick is Highlandtown Lake.
"There are not as many crappies there," he said. "But the fish run bigger. Some anglers take crappies 16 to 17 inches long there, but it will require some searching."
With just 170 acres of fishing water, Highlandtown Lake is small enough for persistent crappie anglers to search for its schools of big slabs.
The lake lies in Columbiana County off state Route 39, just eight miles west of Wellsville. The lake abounds with fishing structure including trees, stumps and fallen timber. For anglers who enjoy shore-fishing, there are parking lots on both the northern and southern ends. The northern end of the lake also has a marina that can be reached off Osbourne Road.
As a third pick, Burk threw in an unusual choice: Pymatuning Lake, always a good lake for crappies. But Burk had the inside scoop on what anglers may expect from Pymatuning Lake this spring.
"Most of Pymatuning Lake is in Pennsylvania," he noted. "And the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has been catching a huge number of 2003 and 2004 year-class fish in their surveys. Those fish will be good-sized and in good numbers this spring."
At 14,650 acres, Pymatuning Lake offers a large number of bays, points and islands. With most of the lake in Pennsylvania, its Ohio portion lies in Ashtabula County. The Ohio shore may be reached off U.S. Route 322 and Route 85. Both routes will give the angler access to Pymatuning Lake Road, which parallels the lake's northern shore and grants access to the lake's boat ramps, cabins and marinas.
Crappie anglers wishing to give District Three a try and needing more information can contact the district office at (330) 644-2293. Anglers may also write the office at 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319.
Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist Tim Parrett of District Four chose Seneca Lake as his district's best pick.
"The lake has a 9-inch minimum size," Parrett said, "which has led to the fish there being on the bigger side. We have been installing fishing structures on Seneca Lake for years, and anglers wishing a map of them should contact our office."
Seneca Lake is another larger lake with some 3,509 acres of fishing water. Resting in Guernsey and Noble counties, the lake offers most of the amenities with a marina, boat ramps, camping areas and cabins along its northern and western ends.
Seneca Lake does suffer some summer recreational use like water-skiing and swimming, which usually peak later in the year when the water is warmer.
Crappie anglers can find Seneca Lake most easily off state Route 313, which travels along the lake's entire eastern and northern shores. You can also reach the lake from the west along state Route 574.
Parrett's second pick for top crappie fishing in District Four is Tycoon Lake.
"There are a lot of stumps and structure there," he explains. "And both numbers and sizes are pretty good."
Tycoon Lake is part of Tycoon Lake Wildlife Area in Gallia County. The wildlife area covers 684 acres, of which Tycoon Lake makes up about 204. A boat ramp and parking area are accessible from county Road 17 (Tycoon Road) from state Route 554 to the lakes south.
Parrett also had an unusual pick for District Four with Piedmont Lake. With 2,273 acres of water, Piedmont Lake has plenty of water.
"The crappie population crashed there about 10 years ago," Parrett said. "The crappies were almost nonexistent until a couple of years ago. Now they have really rebounded, and we are seeing good numbers of fish from there. We don't really know why the crappies cycled so low for so long, but it looks like we may be heading for the peak this spring."
Piedmont Lake lies in Guernsey, Harrison and Belmont counties. The lake offers camping, a boat ramp and a marina to anglers wishing to fish there.
The ODOW has put in many fish structures, and the lake has many natural bays and coves that give anglers plenty of places to try. You can reach Piedmont Lake off state Route 800 to its west, or state Route 331 to its east.
For more information about crappie fishing in District Four, anglers can contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 594-2211, or write them at 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701.
The best District Five picks for spring crappies came from Debbie Walters, an ODOW district fisheries biologist.
"The No. 1 choice in District Five would have to be Paint Creek Lake," Walters said. "Many of the crappies there are 12 inches or better and they exist in good numbers."
Walters cautions anglers eager to fish Paint Creek Lake this spring to call the park office before starting their trip, especially if it's been a rainy spring.
"Paint Creek Lake's water levels can go up quickly," she warned. "They draw the lake down about 10 foot during December to accommodate spring rains. But in a wet year, the lake can flood the parking lots and sometimes even the roads into the park."
Anglers can call the Paint Creek Park office at (937) 365-1401 for more information.
Paint Creek Lake lies in Highland and Ross counties and covers 1,190 acres. Most of the lake is surrounded by Paint Creek State Park. The northern end is part of the wildlife area.
The lake offers a boat ramp and parking south of state Route 753. The lake also offers boat ramps, a marina north of U.S. Ro
ute 50 and camping along the lake's eastern shore.
"East Fork Lake would have to be my second pick," Walters said. "East Fork is the second-deepest lake in the state," she added, "but still has plenty of shallow bays with standing timber. Anglers can catch both black and white crappies on East Fork, but the lake is also subject to flooding during wet springs."
East Fork Lake covers 2,160 acres in Clermont County north of Bantam. Anglers will find several boat ramps and parking areas around the lake, as well as many camping areas.
Access to East Fork Lake can be had via state Route 222 on the west and state Route 125 to the south. State Route 133 to the lakes east and Old State Route 32 to the north also provide access.
Biologist Walters' final pick is also a lake experiencing a great resurgence in its crappie population.
"Rocky Fork Lake had been in a low cycle," she said. "But now things seem to be on the upswing, with lots of 8-inch fish and quite a few 12-inch fish showing up last year. This spring should be a good one for crappies here."
Rocky Fork Lake has 1,992 acres of water in Highland County, with camping, marinas and boat ramps scattered along its shore.
U.S. Route 50 to the north and state Route 753 to the east provide access to Rocky Fork Lake.
For more information, anglers can reach the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261, or write them at 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385.
For more information on crappie- fishing opportunities in Ohio, you can contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division headquarters at (614) 265-6300. Or write to them at 2045 Morse Road, Building G, Columbus, OH 43229. Also check the agency's Web site at Dnr.Ohio.gov.
For travel information and accommodations, contact Discover Ohio at DiscoverOhio.com or call 1-800- BUCKEYE. Or write the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism, P.O. Box 1001, Columbus, OH 43229.