You might find the fishing at these well-liked Oklahoma City-area lakes a bit crowded this spring, but there'll be room enough -- and more than enough crappie for all to catch! (April 2006)
Springtime in Oklahoma is special. For hunters, April signals that it's time for spring turkey hunting, but for diehard anglers the month shouts that now is the time to sack up a mess of spawning crappie at a waterhole near you.
Truly, nothing's more fun than finding a school of hungry crappie eagerly attacking whatever bait is presented them. The action usually comes fast and furious, and the fish fry later is a gourmet reminder that for Oklahoma City anglers, right now is crappie time!
Below are some of the top crappie spots in our mid-state area, with a bonus spot lying less than two hours away.
Just 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City near Norman is Thunderbird Lake, a 6,070-acre impoundment that locals have nicknamed "T-Bird" and -- because its water is normally muddy year 'round -- "Dirty Bird." Celebrated in the 1970s as a lunker bass factory, Thunderbird is also well known for its healthy population of crappie. However, the average crappie at T-Bird at one time typically ran between 6 and 7 inches -- at least, until steps were taken to better that situation.
"Most of the fish in the lake are stunted, and as a result many never reach trophy potential," said Jeff Boxrucker, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's senior biologist at the lake. "To remedy the problem, we introduced saugeyes into the lake to eat the smallest crappie, and as a result, the average-sized crappie is now getting bigger."
An expert on Lake Thunderbird, Boxrucker offered some savvy advice based on his biological findings. "Most crappie tend to move into shallow water and be more active at night," he said. "Male crappie are smaller and can usually be caught near the bank, while females, being larger on average, prefer slightly deeper water."
Boxrucker suggests that anglers key on Thunderbird in mid to late April, when spawning activity normally peaks. Give the area west of the boat ramp near the water tower a try, he says, as it's a longstanding spawning area. This site can be reached by taking Alameda Street east from I-35 until it dead-ends at the lake. He also speaks highly of Snake Pit Cove, Clear Bay, Duck Blind Cove, and Old River Range Cove, located in the Hog Creek arm of the lake.
T-Bird regular Russ Horton is partial to the south dam area and Calypso Cove; he notes that the action around boat docks is also very worthwhile, but adds a warning that the many private boat docks may well allow no fishing. Anglers can also fish numerous brushpiles, which are marked by buoys.
Another expert angler is Todd Huckabee, a local guide who lives near the lake and fishes the turbid impoundment often. "April is a great month for T-Bird crappie" he opined. "The area near the dam is a good spot to find crappie, with access for both boat and bank anglers. Other good spots are the riprap area around Twin Bridges and near any of the marinas. Your chances are good to catch a 16-inch slab."
Horton and Boxrucker agree that small jigs and plastic baits in yellow, chartreuse, white, and shad colors are the way to go; small minnows are the bait of choice for bait anglers. However, Huckabee prefers to use a 2-inch Beavertail in black and chartreuse colors, or black and pink colors. He targets larger fish and believes they prefer larger baits.
One of my favorite tactics for T-Bird crappie is one I learned from Rick Chancellor. The method involves using a float tube to access the stickup areas in the south end of the lake. The water there is shallow, usually ranging from 2 to 3 feet, so use a long rod and simply swim a bucktail jig around each stickup; the results can be phenomenal. I watched Chancellor catch several 2 1/2-pound crappie while I splashed about in the muddy water trying to imitate his technique. Brown jigs seem to work best.
Chickasha Lake lies between Chickasha and Anadarko, within an hour's drive of Oklahoma City. The lake is small, only 820 acres, but it is relatively clear. Fed by two creeks and featuring a fair-sized complement of stickups, it typically produces good numbers of slab-sized crappie.
According to Larry Cofer with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the lake's shoreline vegetation is less luxuriant than it used to be. That's due to the lake being drawn down to prevent flooding.
"Most of the crappie we have sampled have been black crappie, and the average weight will be a half-pound," said Cofer. "When the lake first opened there were some really nice crappie caught, but lately the size is not what it once was, though there are still some nice-sized crappie in the lake."
Cofer suggests that April crappie anglers concentrate their efforts near the small pods of cattails on the northwest side of the lake. He also believes the dam is a good spot for catching crappie. The lake features an enclosed fishing dock that's open to the public, and some underwater brush rows added to supplement fish habitat. Those areas are clearly marked with buoys.
Chickasha Lake doesn't offer much cover, but there are a few brushy areas beneath the surface that can be found with sonar equipment. These areas also make good spots to probe for post-spawn crappie.
Cofer believes the crappie growth rates have slowed down from what the lake once produced, but still believes the lake can be dandy at times.
Huckabee recommended anglers try the dam area and says that certain times of the day are better.
"I have had my best success on Chickasha Lake in the evenings," he said, "and for some reason fishing the east end of the dam is best."
Anglers fishing Chickasha Lake are allowed a limit of 37 crappie; an access fee is charged.
Next on our list is West Watkins Reservoir. One of the state's newest lakes, it's just east of Oklahoma City near Harrah. This 1,142-acre lake received unwanted attention when, a few years after its opening in 1999, it was hit hard with largemouth bass virus. The lake is now showing signs of rebounding. Though the bass suffered, the crappie were unaffected, and the slab fishing seems to get better every year.
When the lake filled, it incorporated some established ponds that had solid populations of mature crappie and bass. The partially timbered lake is a great one for catch springtime slabs on both minnows and jigs.
The ODWC's G
arland Wright, who oversees Wes Watkins, believes the lake is a great place for anglers. He says that when the lake first opened, it was intended to be a catch-and-release-only lake, but that reasoning has since changed. Now, anglers can keep fish other than largemouth bass.
"Crappie fishing in April can be very good if the lake level is up," said Wright. "The water level has fluctuated in the past due to heavy usage coupled with drought conditions."
Huckabee echoed Wright's sentiments, adding, "The lake holds both black and white crappie, and for the most part, the average speck is larger than those in most lakes."
Mary Fowler has worked long enough at the lake office at Wes Watkins to know the type of crappie limits the lake produces. In fact, part of Fowler's job is to sample anglers to find out what they catch and where they fish.
Fowler once witnessed a man bringing in a 4-pound crappie, and attests to having seen several other crappie that weighed 3 pounds or better. "We have some huge crappie," she stated, "but some days they can be tough to find."
Albert Baldwin lives nearby, and takes full advantage of that proximity by fishing the lake three or four times a week almost year 'round. Known as "Paw-Paw" by lake regulars, the retiree normally fishes the lake with minnows.
Baldwin shared part of his lake knowledge by suggesting some good spots for crappie anglers to try.
"Most of the nice crappie are caught off of the main roadbed or off of the timbered area west of the roadbed. Most anglers fish by boat, and most of them bait up with minnows and small jigs. The lake's shoreline is very shallow, so most angling is done from boats. I have caught crappie there that weighed nearly 3 pounds."
Wes Watkins anglers and boaters are required to pay an access fee of $6 a boat and $6 to fish. This may seem outrageous to some anglers -- but some of the fish caught at Wes Watkins are outrageous as well!
I rate this lake an excellent choice for springtime crappie fishing. A little advice: Fishing is a less crowded proposition on weekdays.
Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a water-supply lake, this 1,820-acre lake lies near Edmond, 15 miles north of Oklahoma City. It can be accessed by taking I-35 north from Oklahoma City and exiting east on either the 15th Street exit or the Edmond Road exit.
ODWC fisheries biologist Kurt Kuklinski says that while anglers should find above-average numbers of crappie in Arcadia, their catch would probably be below average in length, measuring 6 to 7 inches.
Kuklinski advises anglers to focus on the long brushpiles, which are clearly marked by orange-and-white buoys. "These areas," he said, "are good staging areas for spawning crappie, which sometimes congregate there for weeks at a time."
Edmond resident Norman Miller, a regular on Arcadia Lake, chooses to fish the rocky riprap near the 15th Street boat ramp and regularly takes slabs there during April and May. Miller's favorite tactic involves trolling jigs and small crankbaits parallel to the rocks near the boat ramp and off the long, rocky points nearby.
Bank-fishermen can do equally well casting small jigs in the 1/64- to 1/8-ounce size range in bright fluorescent colors. The addition of a slip-cork can help anglers cast the lightweight jigs more efficiently and control the depth of lure presentation. Though the fishing can be good all day, the best fishing times are generally the first few hours of daylight and the last few hours before dark.
I've achieved success by fishing from the boat docks in the springtime. A few springs back, my friend Stuart Crow and I caught crappie by casting white Roadrunner jigs near the dam.
Another likely spot is the southeast side of the lake; heavily wooded, it's teeming with crappie. Care should be exercised when navigating through the thick vegetation.
The lake is a fee-use area with prices posted at the entrances. The access fees are pricey, but usually well worth the outstanding fishing found there.
Lake Hefner is one of the most neglected lakes in central Oklahoma. The small 2,500-acre water supply lake is tucked away in the heart of Oklahoma City. Used heavily during the spring and summer months by sail boaters, Hefner receives very little fishing pressure at that time.
The lake is between Wilshire and Hefner Road, and between Hefner Parkway and MacArthur. The lake is situated next to a 36-hole golf course bearing the same name.
Carl Jones is the owner of Hefner Bait & Tackle, a nearby store that stocks fishing baits. He gladly offers free advice to area anglers -- if you can find him in the store, that is. When the crappie are biting, Carl can be found fishing the riprap area just a stone's throw from his shop.
Jones rates the lake as a solid fishery. "The crappie fishing at Hefner now is better than ever," he said.
He has a particular tactic for taking the lake's crappie: slip-corking. This he accomplishes by using his handmade 14-foot rod to hurl a Styrofoam slip-cork and a pair of handmade jigs, one weighing 1/16 ounce, the other 1/64. He prefers casting his jigs parallel to the rocky area near the dam and then retrieving them slowly. His long rod enables him to make a longer cast, which allows him to keep his jigs in areas where the crappie like to spawn.
With the aid of lanterns and several dozen minnows, we caught a boatload of crappie as fast as we could lower our lines into the waters of Lake Eufaula. The slabs, which averaged 12 to 14 inches, provided my friends and me with several hours of fishing entertainment.
Newcomers to Hefner should try casting jigs from the rocky areas near the dam and from the east side of the lake near the lighthouse, Jones recommends. The jetty on the southwest side of the lake is a good spot to explore as well. Minnow fishermen will catch slabs virtually anywhere on the lake.
An open shoreline and the prevailing south wind can make the lake choppy at times. Nevertheless, the fishing can be superb; I've never fished Hefner without catching something. Anglers can expect to take crappie in the 3/4- to 1-pound range.
Hefner Lake requires anglers to purchase a $2 daily fishing permit.
LAKE EUFAULA: WORTH THE DRIVE
It's hard to mention crappie fishing in Oklahoma without mentioning Lake Eufaula. "Lake Eufaula is definitely worth the drive," said Huckabee. "There are literally hundreds of areas teeming with crappie."
Though not exactly centrally located, this impoundment is affectionately known as "Oklahoma's Gentle Giant." The lake features the most surface-acres of any lake in Oklahoma: 102,200.
I cut my teeth on some real slab crappie action on Eufaula years ago, and it remains my personal favorite to this day. Lake Eufaula is located two hours east of Oklahoma City on I-40. The lake features both murky water and areas that are exceptionally clear. Crappie fishing is generally good in Eufaula year 'round.
One spring night we anchored our boat under the Highway 9 Bridge. With the aid of lanterns and several dozen minnows, we caught a boatload of crappie as fast as we could lower our lies into the water. The slabs, which averaged 12 to 14 inches, provided my friends and me with several hours of fishing entertainment. Once our limits were reached, we threw back keeper papermouths until we ran out of bait and called it quits.
All of the boat docks have numerous Christmas trees weighted and tied nearby to provide fish attractants.
When waters warm, spawning crappie head to the brushy, shallow areas that surround much of the lake. Minnows and artificials in the jig-and-grub variety will fool even the most discriminating slabs.
According to Huckabee (who guides on the lake), the best bets for crappie are Gentry Creek, Rock Creek, Coal Creek, Gaines Creek, as well as all of the bridges on Highway 69 and Interstate 40.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For up-to-the-minute crappie reports, or for a guided crappie trip, contact Todd Huckabee at (405) 520-8980.
Carl Jones' hand-tied Lightning Strikes Jigs attracted so much notice that he now retails them on his Web page: www.carljonesfamousjigs.com.