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Catching Kaw Crappie

Catching Kaw Crappie

Don't overlook this north-central Oklahoma hotspot; it's a good place to fill the boat with crappie this month. (February 2010)

The author and his fishing partner put this catch together in just a few minutes' time. They each had their 37-fish limits in three hours!
Photo by Marc Murrell.

Serious crappie anglers know that winter fishing for slabs is tough to beat. Fishing on a variety of Oklahoma reservoirs from October to February often yields plenty of fish -- and some big ones! Kaw Reservoir in northern Oklahoma near the Kansas line is one place where quantity and quality fish regularly are one and the same. If you're looking to cash in on the finest fishing of the year, you shouldn't wait; it won't be long before those slabs are pulling up stakes and heading to their spring retreats.

"I love fishing Kaw most anytime, but February is a great time to catch crappie there," said avid slab angler Jim Bybee. "Those fish hang out in brushpiles or along the rocky riprap, and if you find them concentrated, the action is often hot and heavy."

Kaw Reservoir may not have as big a crappie-producing reputation as other Oklahoma waters, but it's definitely a lake you don't want to overlook. "I'd say it's in the top five for crappie among our reservoirs," said Bill Wentroth, north-central regional fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "It's pretty consistent, particularly in the winter."

The reservoir is at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to fishing conditions. Wentroth said it's the first major impoundment on the Arkansas River, and so it can get a lot of rainfall in some years, particularly in the spring.

Consistency is often key to successful crappie angling. With that in mind, Wentroth says February typically doesn't see the big inflows that disrupt fish patterns. Anglers have figured that out, and winter crappie fishing really has been catching on.

"It used to be you wouldn't see a lot of guys out in the winter, but now it's pretty popular," said Bybee. "If you get a nice day on some waters there will be a lot of boats out, but Kaw doesn't get just tons of pressure like some of the other ones do."


Kaw's crappie show excellent growth rates, possibly some of the best in the state. "And that's key when those fish only live to be an average of 4 years old," Wentroth said. "We're seeing 11 1/2- to 12-inch crappie when they're only 2 1/2 years old, and that's great because in Oklahoma we're trying to get them to reach 10 inches by that age."

Wentroth attributes the high growth rates to an excellent forage base. Gizzard shad abound in the lake and other baitfish are handy, making it a virtual drive-through for hungry sport fish. Plenty of food makes for both good numbers of fish and healthy, heavy ones to boot.

Anglers should begin their search for Kaw Reservoir crappie in brushpiles, says Wentroth. Many of them are located along the rocky riprap of the two causeways that dissect the reservoir. It's difficult for fisheries biologists to mark the piles due to the water level fluctuations, so they place them at standard locations straight out from the telephone poles along the causeway.

"Most of them are in 12 to 16 feet of water," said Wentroth. "They're on the Sarge Creek and Washunga Bay causeways, and it's just a landmark anglers can use."

In addition to the brushpiles, Wentroth mentioned the bridge pillars as being another area where February crappie can be caught. Another spot is unique to the lake.

"There are some water towers near the Kaw City bridge that people fish because they're right on the river channel and the fish will move up out of the river channel and stage there during their pre-spawn movements," Wentroth said.

And some of the timbered coves can be good, according to Wentroth. Beaver Creek he mentioned specifically, as well as others in mid-lake.

Crappie congregate along the rocky riprap lining the causeways. Schools often stay in the same place, allowing anglers to reap the rewards without moving far. But plan on having and using the right electronics onboard.

"Good electronics are critical to being able to find brushpiles and fish that are holding on some of the breaks," Bybee said. "You don't always see a lot of fish on the piles or the ones down in there, but you can locate the piles, and you can often see fish just above them or to one side."

Bybee starts his approach using his 8-foot Redington 5-weight fly rod and lowering his jig just above the brush. A few twitches is all it takes to see if the fish are holding just above it. If not, he'll start lowering it down into the brush until he gets a bite. If he catches a fish, he'll often just pull the line up so he can drop his jig right back down to the same depth. He doesn't spend much time on piles that don't produce and moves quickly. Such was the case on a nice February day last year when Bybee and I headed to Kaw for a day of crappie fishing.

We were on the water at 9 a.m., motoring to some favorite brushpiles. We managed to catch a few from several brushpiles, but the fish just didn't seem to be holding in them like they had been in the past. We started easing around the riprap keeping a close eye on our electronics while bouncing a 1/8-ounce jig with a YUM 2-inch Wooly Beavertails in both brown-and-chartreuse and black-and-pink off the rocks in 13 to 15 feet of water. We picked up a few slabs that weren't clearly evident on the screen, but the best was yet to come.

As we turned to make another pass and try a different depth, the screen on my Lowrance LCX27C showed a big cloud of fish that were hanging out just a bit deeper than we'd been fishing. They were suspended in about 16 to 21 feet of water. It didn't take long to figure out a pattern that produced. For the next 90 minutes, we flipped our jigs out toward the middle of the lake and let them fall back to the boat. We both had fish on successive flips a half-dozen times or more; it was rare when we'd flip more than a couple of times without a hit. Many of the fish were 8 to 10 inches, but all of those went back into the lake. We were catching enough fish that unless one was easily 12 inches or better, we wouldn't even bother opening the livewell. Even with those standards, it didn't take us long to reach our 37-fish limits; 74 fish got a ride home.

One thing Wentroth would like to remind Kaw Reservoir anglers about is that zebra mussels and white perch are in the reservoir. "Anytime your boat goes in that lake you need to take precautions before you go to another body of water," Wentroth stated. "We recommend drying out your boat for five

days, or going to a hot-water car wash and washing your boat's hull off, and your livewells and bilge."

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