Our Top 10 Spring Crappie Lakes

Can't decide where to go for some great Ohio spring crappie fishing? Here's a look at 10 of the best public lakes for May crappies -- and we bet that at least one's near you.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Brian Ruzzo

At this time of year, many anglers concentrate on just one species: crappies. Most of those target them for their characteristics as great table fare, but others, while not denying the popular panfish's value as foodstuff, note that the crappie is one of the best all-around sportfishes available to springtime anglers.

Sure, other game fish, such as walleyes, grow larger; sure, bass, especially smallmouths, fight harder. But for nonstop action, it's tough to top a spring crappie outing. In just a few hours, a single angler can often catch 20 to 30 crappies, some of which may run well over 12 inches.

Fortunately for us in Ohio, finding those 20 to 30 crappies is not difficult. We asked fisheries biologists from around the state to tell us where the hottest action would be this spring, and here, distilled from their remarks, is a district-by-district run-down of best bets to consider this month.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife's District One boasts a handful of fine crappie lakes, but according to district fish management supervisor Steve Graham, Delaware Reservoir is the top spot.

"For numbers and size Delaware Reservoir is the place to be," said Graham. "Crappies grow rapidly at Delaware - they always have - and we get consistent reproduction there even though crappies are usually boom-and-bust spawners."

Filled during the winter of 1950, 1,330-acre Delaware Reservoir was created for flood control. Impounding the Olentangy River and Whitestone Creek, Delaware Reservoir is a narrow reservoir that follows the main river channel.

During the summer, crappies are usually found holding on deep dropoffs or points, especially those with woody cover. But in spring, anglers can expect crappies to be widely dispersed throughout the lake's shallows; look for woody cover or brush along the shoreline.

Both black and white crappies inhabit the lake. The average Delaware Reservoir crappie measures between 8 and 10 inches; however, biologists have recorded white crappies, which grow larger than the black variety, up to 15 inches. A 9-inch size limit is in effect at Delaware. (Currently there is no creel limit in Ohio.)

Several sites around the lake provide access to Delaware Reservoir. The state park, which is in the southern portion of the lake, has two different launching facilities.

State Route 23, which leads visitors to the park, becomes park Road 21 inside the park. The middle sections of the lake can be accessed via sites off D-8, D-12 and D-5. The lake map available from the ODOW clearly shows all sites and access roads.

The No. 2 District One lake was a tough call. Historically, Hoover Reservoir has offered solid action; as, however, biologists haven't conducted recent studies at Hoover, the ODOW's Graham points anglers to 3,387-acre Alum Creek Reservoir, which has also been very good.

Alum Creek Lake has a 9-inch size limit. Anglers should expect to catch plenty of 7- to 9-inch fish with an occasional crappie up to 13 or 14 inches.

This spring, white crappies will predominate in the creel. However, this can change from year to year, depending on spawning success. "The upper half of the lake has more crappie habitat," Graham observed. "It is shallower. Alum Creek Lake is not as uniform as Delaware."

Route 36 bisects the lake. For anglers planning to tackle the upper half of the reservoir (north of Route 36) there are two launch sites - one on the eastern side of the lake off Howard Road; the second, also on the eastern shore, south of state Route 36 near Cheshire.

For maps or more information regarding either Delaware or Alum Creek reservoirs contact the District One office of the ODOW at 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215, or call (614) 644-3925.

Picking northwestern Ohio's prime crappie locations wasn't hard. However, picking which lake was No. 1, and which number No. 2, was more difficult. According to Larry Goedde, the district's fisheries supervisor, Pleasant Hill Reservoir barely edges out Findlay Reservoir as the top choice.

Southeast of Mansfield, Pleasant Hill Reservoir boasts recent year-classes that are pretty impressive, which will spark catches this spring. Expect crappies to average close to 11 inches - and keep in mind that biologists have netted crappies over 13 inches. Currently, there's no size limit at Pleasant Hill Reservoir.

While both black and white crappies inhabit the lake, the whites are definitely dominant. Both species move into the shallows in late April, so fishing should peak early in May.

The best shallow-water habitat is in the upper half of the 850-acre lake. There's plenty of brush, so anglers should have no problem figuring out the crappies' whereabouts. Biologists recommend launching from the boat ramp on Pleasant Hill Road, which can be reached via state Route 95.

Pleasant Hill Reservoir is a unique fishery, as it actually consists of two adjacent reservoirs built to supply water to the city of Findlay. Totaling 827 acres, both reservoirs feature relatively flat bottoms averaging 25 feet deep. The two upground reservoirs are filled by pumping water from the Blanchard River.

Reservoir No. 1 is separated from Reservoir No. 2 by a dike, which has long been recognized as a hotspot for crappie anglers. The water near the dike is slightly shallower than that in the rest of the reservoir; the ODOW has submerged numerous Christmas trees in this section.

Boaters usually fare better than the shorebound, because they can access more of the water surrounding the dike, but shoreline anglers willing to hike some distance can get in on the action by parking at the lot off T-207 on the east side of the complex and following the road south approximately 750 feet to the dike. Boaters can get to Reservoir No. 1 and the dike from a parking lot and launch site off T-207 on the west side of the lake.

Findlay Reservoir crappies - most of which are white - should average 9 to 10 inches this spring, with some specimens up to 12 inches. No size limits are in force at Findlay.

For maps or more information on Pleasant Hill or Findlay reservoirs, contact the ODOW'

s District Two office, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH 45840, (419) 424-5000.

When we asked District Four fisheries biologist Andy Burt where the best northeastern Ohio crappie fishing might be this spring he didn't hesitate to name Mosquito Lake as his No. 1 pick. With slabs here averaging 10-plus inches, anglers should have no problem finding crappies enough to fill the skillet.

According to Burt, there are several reasons that the 6,550-acre Mosquito Lake is loaded with big crappies. First, the lake has plenty of quality cover, especially shallow vegetation, which improves the survival rates of young crappies. Second, Burt points out, the predator-prey balance here (walleyes and bass being the main enforcers) keeps crappies in check. It'd be tough to pinpoint the exact factor or combination of factors that will explain why the fishing at Mosquito's so good - but the results achieved by whatever it is are indisputable.

The state Route 88 causeway is popular with crappie anglers - perhaps because, as Burt notes, it's not uncommon to see 14-inch crappies caught along its length. A lot of habitat will be found in this section, including Christmas trees, fiberglass tubes and pallets.

Shore-anglers will find plenty of parking available along the causeway. Boaters can launch from a site in the northwestern corner of the lake on Blackstab Road. Or try one of the two other ramps on either side of state Route 88 along the eastern shore. No size limit is in force for Mosquito Lake crappies.

Massive Pymatuning Lake edges out Atwood Lake for second-best in District Three; its billing is based on the size of the crappies produced there. Like Mosquito Lake, 14,650-acre Pymatuning features big crappies, many of which can reach the 14-inch mark. Burt notes that the average Pymatuning crappie measures just less than 10 inches.

A mix of black and white crappies swims the lake, but blacks are predominant. If you do find a school of whites, you can expect to catch more 12-inch fish.

Look for shallow, brushy areas near dropoffs. A standard slip-bobber rig with a minnow or jig tipped with a minnow can be deadly at Pymatuning (and, for that matter, at any of the above-mentioned lakes).

Anglers can camp at and/or launch from area abutting Pymatuning State Park off Leon Road via U. S. Route 6.

For maps or more information on Pymatuning and Mosquito lakes, contact the District Three office of the ODOW, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319, or call (330) 644-2293.

Lying in the heart of Ohio deer country, Piedmont Lake spans Belmont, Guernsey, and Harrison counties. Built in 1942 by impounding Stillwater Creek, 2,310-acre Piedmont is a flood-control reservoir. At this steep-sided lake, anglers should target brushy points with brush or wood cover.

A few years ago, Piedmont Lake lost the majority of its crappies, but since then, they've mysteriously come back strong. Aquatic biologist Scott Schell says that the ODOW is currently unable to explain the revitalized crappie populations. What is known, however, is that a couple of strong year-classes are now maturing, and that competition within the lake from other species is light. Piedmont's crappies growing fast are as a result.

Most of the crappie will be of the black variety. Anglers can expect to catch quite a number of 10-, 11-, and 12-inchers this spring, with a few 13-inch fish showing up occasionally.

A launch site is at the northern end of the lake off state Route 800. There is no size limit for crappies at Piedmont Lake.

Schell named Seneca Lake as District Four's No. 2 crappie destination. Anglers at this 3,550-acre lake can expect to catch plenty of 7- to 9-inch white crappies this spring; some fish will measure 13 inches. A 9-inch size limit is the order of the day here.

According to Schell, the entire lake is a shallow basin, so its crappies are spread out throughout its volume. Anglers should in general target depths ranging from 4 to 10 feet, bearing in mind that at dusk or dawn, the crappies could be in even shallower water. Schell recommends that anglers after bigger crappies might look at fishing at a depth of 10 feet, since trophy crappies often hold near wood cover in 10 feet of water, especially when there is a deeper dropoff nearby.

Anglers here can launch from two different sites near the dam off state Route 313. Seneca Lake limits motors used there to a maximum of 165 hp.

For maps or more information regarding Seneca or Piedmont lakes, contact the ODOW's District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701, or call (740) 589-9930.

District Five teems with great crappie lakes. At the top of the list is Paint Creek Lake. Covering 1,190 acres, it was impounded in 1974 by damming Paint Creek. That makes this a hit-or-miss proposition for crappie anglers, because Paint Creek is susceptible to heavy rains and flooding.

"Paint Creek was a hot crappie lake in 2003," said Doug Maloney, fish management supervisor. "But if spring is marked by heavy rain, the lake can rise 30 feet, which can hurt the fishing."

If the lake is "on" this spring, District Five anglers can expect big numbers of 9- to 11-inch black and white crappies; additionally, 12- to 13-inch crappies will hardly be uncommon. There is currently no size limit at Paint Creek Lake.

Here, as at most Buckeye State crappie destinations, the key to finding springtime crappies is finding shallow woody cover. Anglers looking to explore the upper half of the lake can use a launch site south of state Route 753, which crosses the lake. The lower portion of the lake can be accessed by a launch on the southern shore at the dam.

The district's myriad of high-grade crappie destinations made Maloney's second choice a difficult pick. But 625-acre Acton Lake edged out every other lake because it was one of last year's hotspots. According to Maloney, there should be an ample supply of 9- and 10-inch white and black crappies. There is no size limit; motors may not exceed 10 hp.

The upper end of the lake is too shallow for decent fishing, so Maloney recommends exploring the lower end of the lake in the spring. Much of the eastern shore in the lower end drops off sharply into 20 and 30 feet of water, so the western shore is more suited to crappie angling. A marina along the western shore near the park office offers ready access.

To get there, follow state Route 27 from Oxford to T-46 and then T-202, which leads to the park and marina entrance. If you don't have your own boat, you can rent one from the marina livery.

If this spring brings excessive rains, Acton Lake, which is less prone to flooding, moves up to the top pick in Dist

rict Five. After significant rainfall, however, anglers may want to give the lake a few days to return to normal.

For maps or more information regarding Acton and Paint Creek lakes, contact the ODOW's District Five office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385, or call (937) 372-9261.

Because wildlife managers are constantly updating regulations to insure strong crappie populations, it's a good idea to check the 2004-05 edition of the Ohio Fishing Regulations pamphlet before venturing out. The pamphlets are available from any retailer that sells licenses, or can be obtained by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE.

Anglers may also want to check ODOW fishing updates and reports at www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife/Fishing/freport/freport.html for week-to-week information. This is a great way to take advantage of the spring crappie bite.

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