Ohio's fishery biologists expect more and bigger fish for spring anglers in these proven Buckeye State crappie lakes. Grab your bait bucket, and let's go! (May 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Papermouth purists can be found chasing their speckled quarry at any time of year. But perhaps no period is more popular than spring. With water temperatures climbing, spring crappies head into shallow water for spawning in great numbers.
Spring is a great time to target them, but the timing of the spawn can vary depending on weather and water temperatures. But the quality of even established crappie fisheries can vary from one year to the next.
Most crappie populations are cyclic, having a natural ebb and flow. They'll see great peaks in fishing quality and then slide into a down period that may last a season or longer. To you to get in on the hottest action, which lakes are offering the best opportunities this year?
Our state is divided into five wildlife management districts (WMDs). Throughout the state are great crappie destinations, so here's a rundown of some the best spots to find great papermouth fishing right now:
"There are lots of good crappie lakes in central Ohio," said Ken Cunningham, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District One fisheries supervisor. He noted that numerous lakes in the district offer prime fishing and there is at least one surprise hotspot.
Madison Lake in Madison County is not expected to have good crappie fishing and doesn't get a lot of attention. In fact, this 104-acre lake has even been referred to as "a mud hole." But in a recent fall trap-netting survey, biologists found good numbers of crappies in all size groups.
The real surprise came in the "big fish" sizes -- a large number of fish at 11 inches or greater. For targeting large-sized crappies on small water, Madison Lake may be the lake of choice in central Ohio, where electric motors only are allowed.
Three other lakes in District One should offer some excellent crappie fishing this spring. Deer Creek Lake in Madison, Pickaway, and Fayette counties, Delaware Lake in Delaware County and Hoover Lake in Delaware and Franklin counties all look great for 2007.
Cunningham said the crappie fisheries at all three lakes mirror each other. All three lakes have good distributions of fish in all sizes. There are even good numbers of big fish.
What makes these lakes look really good for 2007 and even into 2008 is that sampling last year showed a large year-class of fish in the 8- to 9-inch range, which should grow into good keeper size this year and next.
Crappies in central Ohio usually start to move shallow by mid-April. Look for them in good numbers around shallow woody structure by late April. The timing of the spawn depends on weather conditions, but typically begins by the latter part of the month and continues on into May.
At these lakes, Woody structure is also fairly uniform. Anglers will typically find more structure farther away from the dams. There is a good amount of shoreline cover from the middle sections of the lakes into the upper ends. Look for crappies in the usual spots around fallen trees, brush piles, and aquatic vegetation.
When fishing the lower ends of the lake, however, don't overlook riprap areas. The rocky areas around the dams will attract a fair number of papermouths.
Hoover Lake is 2,818 acres and has a 10-horsepower motor restriction. There are no motor restrictions at the 1,287-acre Deer Creek Lake or at 1,017-acre Delaware Lake, but there is a 9-inch minimum-length limit for crappies harvested from these two impoundments.
For more information on any of the lakes in District One, call (618) 644-3925.
Anglers in the northwestern portion of the state may want to target Pleasant Hill Reservoir in Richland County. While the average crappie measures just under 10 inches, good numbers of fish up to 16 inches are available.
Biologist Mike Wilkerson said this lake had one of the highest catch rates during sampling attempts. The bulk of the population is comprised of white crappies, but there are some black crappies as well.
There is a lot of woody structure at Pleasant Hill. The lake is very steep-sided, and many trees angle into the water from the shoreline. Timber structure is abundant in both shallow and deeper-water areas.
This lake is 850 acres and a Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) Lake. There is a public boat ramp, marina and campsite.
Anglers can get more information online at MWCDLakes.com< or by calling the Pleasant Hill Lake Park office at (419) 938-7884.
Clear Fork Reservoir is also in Richland County. This 1,012-acre lake is home to both black and white crappies. Most will average between 8 and 10 inches. Larger fish up to 12 inches are caught less frequently.
There are unlimited spots for great crappie angling on this lake. It's not a particularly deep lake and is timbered all the way around. There are plenty of downed trees and submerged woody structure. There are also a couple of islands with leaning timber that provides prime crappie hotspots.
The lake features a good boat ramp with ample parking. There is no horsepower restriction on the lake, but boat speed is limited to 8 miles per hour.
The best source of information on Clear Fork Lake is at the ranger station, at (419) 884-1408
Wilkerson said the sleeper lake in District Two is 105-acre Harrison Lake in Fulton County. This lake has good numbers of fish as well as good size distribution. Crappies caught here will range from 7 to 11 inches.
There is not a lot of structure near the dam. However, the remainder of the lake has plenty of leaning trees and other structure. Fishing submerged pine trees can be phenomenal when the crappies move into the shallows.
Harrison Lake lies within Harrison Lake State Park. There is a boat ramp at the lake, and anglers are allowed to use electric motors only.
You can obtain more information by visiting the state park in person or by calling (419) 237-2593 or toll-free at 1-866-644-6727. You can also access
park and lake information online at DNR.State.OH.US.
The best crappie lake in this northeastern Ohio district is Mosquito Lake in Trumbull County. The fishery is primarily made up of black crappies, but there are a fair number of white crappies. Both species have good size representation in the lake, with many measuring between 8 and 11 inches. Fishing is expected to be excellent in 2007.
There is some brush in the lake, but not an overabundance of good structure. Fishing near the causeway off state Route 88 can yield some great crappie fishing at times. Many anglers use minnows and will fish this area at night.
Mosquito Lake covers 7,241 acres, and unlimited horsepower motors are allowed. There are five boat ramps on the lake, and amenities are available at Mosquito Lake State Park. The state park office may be reached at (330) 637-2856.
Nearby Pymatuning Lake in Ashtabula County also should offer some great crappie fishing this spring. This fishery is also dominated by black crappies, but white crappies are beginning to rebound, following a few down years. The average size of harvested fish remains around 10 inches, and good numbers of fish are between 8 and 10 inches. A few will top out around 12 inches.
Most anglers find the best success in spring by targeting stumps in the north end of the lake, brushpiles and the occasional fallen tree.
Weedbeds are another great option at this lake. Additionally, there has been some pallet structure added to the lake to increase habitat diversity.
This lake covers about 14,650 acres within Ohio and nearly 3,000 acres in Pennsylvania. Boat anglers may fish the entire lake with an Ohio license, but shore-bound anglers may fish only within the state in which they're licensed.
For more information, contact the Pymatuning State Park office at (440) 293-6030. Additional fishing information on both Pymatuning and Mosquito lakes can be obtained by calling the Highlandtown Fish Unit at (330) 679-2201.
Berlin Lake covers 3,280 acres in Portage, Mahoning, and Stark counties. At this lake, anglers will find both black and white crappies up to 12 inches. Most fish will range between 8 and 10 inches.
The lake can be relatively deep at times, depending on lake level management. There is a wide variety of habitat in both shallow and deep-water locations. Water willow, which is prevalent in the lake, can be a great crappie attractor at times. There are brushpiles along the shore, and the ODOW has also installed some artificial habitat.
A structure and habitat map for the lake is available by contacting Matt Wolfe at the district office. Call him at (330) 644-2293, Ext. 3016.
More information on the lake may be obtained at the same number, or by calling the Berlin Fish Unit at (330) 654-2392.
Seneca Lake is the third-largest inland lake in Ohio. It's also one of the best spots in the southeastern portion of the Buckeye State, according to Tm Parrett, the ODOW's District Four fisheries supervisor.
This 3,508-acre reservoir lies in Noble and Guernsey counties. Parrett said crappies grow well at this lake and typically, 65 percent of them reach harvestable size by the time they reach a year old. Fish are typically 10 inches or more by their second year. This is a great growth rate compared to many other area lakes.
The fishery is dominated by white crappies, but a few black crappies occasionally turn up. The average-sized fish caught in a recent trap-net survey was 7 inches. There were also plenty of crappies in the 6- to 8-inch range, and some measured up to 12 inches. The minimum size for keepers is 9 inches.
There's a wide range of crappie habitat at this lake. The shoreline is dotted with fallen trees and limbs as well as brush. Some of the coves also have fallen woody structure and beaver lodges. Christmas trees have also been added to the lake.
Maps showing the locations of these fish attractors are available from the ODOW.
Seneca Lake has a 299-horsepower motor limit. There is one public boat ramp off state Route 574 and a marina at the lake.
More information on the lake is available at MWCDLakes.com. Or call the lake at (740) 685-6013 or the marina at (740) 685-5831.
One of the most scenic lakes in the district is Piedmont Lake, covering some 2,270 acres in Belmont and Harrison counties. It is a much quieter lake, thanks to a 10-horsepower motor restriction.
Parrett said surveys indicate plenty of crappies in the 8- to 10-inch range. Crappies are fast growing in this lake and usually reach 10 inches by two years of age. The crappies are mostly white ones, with a scattering of black crappies in the mix.
Piedmont Lake has more small bays than does Seneca Lake, and there is a good bit of woody and brushy structure located in these smaller coves. Additionally, some shoreline trees have been cut and dropped into the water to enhance crappie habitat.
The upper end of the lake tends to be shallow and is a bit muddier than the middle and lower portions.
There are two public boat ramps on Piedmont Lake.
Piedmont anglers can use the same MWCD contacts for Seneca Lake, listed above.
An additional contact is the Piedmont Marina, which you can reach at (740) 658-3735.
One of the best crappie spots in District Five is East Fork Lake in Clermont County. Anglers in southwestern Ohio find plenty of action with 8 1/2- to 10-inch fish, according to Doug Maloney, DNR district supervisor. There are also a decent number of fish up to 13 inches, and a few bigger specimens.
There are both black and white crappies at this reservoir. But surveys indicate that more black crappies were caught by anglers in 2006.
By mid-April, anglers usually start focusing their attention on crappies that will be in 15 to 20 feet of water. The crappies will typically start their journey into shallow-water spawning areas by late April or early May. By mid-May, spawning activity is usually on track.
A number of coves still contain standing timber. These areas can be real hotspots during spring. Anglers fishing on the main lake should concentrate on areas with fallen logs and other woody structure.
There are six boat ramps on this 2,160-acre lake, and there is no restriction on horsepower. There are 35.8 miles of shoreline.
information, contact the East Fork State Park office at (513) 734-4323.
For more good crappie fishing in this district, try Rocky Fork Lake in Highland County. This lake is dominated by white crappies, but black crappies are present as well.
Biologist Maloney said he expects to see a good number of 8- to 10 1/2-inch fish this season.
Crappies are usually still in deep water in early April, but during the latter part of the month, they should begin moving into as little as two feet of water. With a normal spring with normal warming patterns, the fish will usually begin heading for shallow water by the beginning of May.
Spawning activity should be going strong by the second to third week of the month.
There is some woody structure at the lake. Shoreline brush and fallen trees predominate. There is also a fair number of boat docks scattered around the lake. Crappie will be found under these docks at various times of the year, but especially in spring.
Rocky Fork Lake covers 2,080 acres and has approximately 30 miles of shoreline adorned with some 16 boat launches. There are no motor restrictions.
Anglers may contact the Rocky Fork State Park office at (937) 393-4284. Fishing information for District Five lakes may be obtained by calling the district office at (937) 372-9261.
Before you go, you may also want to consult the Ohio Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE, or log onto OhioDNR.com.
Traveling anglers can learn about lodging, food, and other necessities by calling 1-800-BUCKEYE, or by visiting .