When it's crappie-catching time in central Oklahoma, these lakes are real standouts!(April 2010)
April can be a strange month for fishing in the Sooner State; temperatures begin to warm, and the chance of a tornado always looms on the horizon. Though some days can be cool, even with an occasional snowflake, most days feature mild weather that rewards outdoor enthusiasts in their pursuits.
Crystal Dollahon and the author show off a few slabs they caught at Arcadia Lake.
Photo by Mike Lambeth.
If you are a hunter you'll likely take advantage of this month to match wits with a gobbler. However, if fishing is your vice, then now is a stellar time to catch a mess of crappie!
Now is definitely an opportune time to grab your crappie poles and head to one of your favorite fishing holes near home. But before you go, read up on these lakes, some of the best near Oklahoma City.
This 1,820-acre lake -- built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a water-supply lake -- can be accessed by taking I-35 north from Oklahoma City and exiting east at either the 15th Street exit, or the Edmond Road exit. It's 15 miles north of Oklahoma City.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's, Central Region biologist Keith Thomas, it's a great pick for crappie fishing. Anglers should find above-average numbers of crappie in Arcadia, with the average speck measuring 7 inches.
"The lake is producing some real nice slabs," Thomas said. "Recently, during a brief netting survey, we sampled crappie averaging 8 to 10 inches. They are definitely getting bigger on average."
Thomas suggested anglers should focus on the long brushpiles, which are clearly marked by orange-and-white buoys. Those are good areas to find spawning crappie, which sometimes congregate there for weeks at a time. According to Thomas, most of the lake's crappie spawn in 10 feet of water.
Bank-fishermen can do some damage casting small jigs in the 1/64- to 1/8-ounce size 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 times generally are the first few hours of daylight and the last before dark.
Leon Mixer, a maintenance supervisor at the lake, agrees with Thomas' assessment; the lake's crappie are getting larger. "It is fairly common to see anglers taking slabs weighing 2 to 3 pounds apiece," Mixer said. Mixer says a likely spot is the southeast side. Heavily wooded, it's teeming with crappie.
"Care should be exercised when navigating through the thick vegetation," advised Mixer.
The lake is a fee-use area with prices posted at the entrances. The access fees are pricey, but usually well worth the cost, considering the outstanding fishing found there.
Just 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City near Norman is another excellent choice for April. That's Thunderbird Lake, a 6,070-acre impoundment that locals have nicknamed "T-Bird" and -- because its water is normally muddy year 'round -- "Dirty Bird." Though celebrated in the 1970s as a lunker bass factory, Thunderbird also is well known for its healthy population of crappie. The average crappie at T-Bird is getting larger now, averaging 8 inches.
Thomas rated T-Bird as a great crappie spot and is expecting good things there this spring. "Recent gillnetting surveys showed good numbers of nice-sized crappie," he said. "The lake has really cleared up a lot, thanks to the growth of aquatic vegetation. We are really seeing a turnaround here in the crappie."
According to the biologist, most crappie spawn in 10 feet of water, and then tend to move into shallow water and be more active at night. Male crappie are smaller, and can usually be caught near the bank, while females, being larger on average, prefer slightly deeper water.
Crappie anglers should key on Thunderbird in mid to late April, when spawning activity normally peaks, and give the area west of the C boat ramp near the water tower a try, as it's a longstanding spawning area.
This site can be reached by taking Alameda Street east of I-35 until it dead-ends at the lake. Traditional hotspots are Snake Pit Cove, Clear Bay, Duck Blind Cove, and Old River Range Cove, located in the Hog Creek arm of the lake.
Longtime T-Bird angler Russ Horton is partial to the south dam area and Calypso Cove; he notes that the action around boat docks is very worthwhile, but adds a warning that the many private boat docks may well allow no fishing within 100 feet. Anglers can fish numerous brushpiles marked by buoys.
Crappie experts suggest using small jigs and plastic baits in yellow, chartreuse, white and shad colors; small minnows are the offering of choice for bait-anglers.
One of my favorite tactics for T-Bird crappie is dooodlesocking. 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. Using a long rod, simply swim a bucktail jig around each stickup.
The results can be phenomenal. I've watched ardent crappie anglers catch several 2 1/2-pound crappie while I splashed about in the muddy water trying to imitate their techniques. Brown jigs seem to work best.
Next on Thomas' list is Wes Watkins Reservoir, just east of Oklahoma City near Harrah. This 1,142-acre lake received unwanted attention when, a decade ago after its opening, it was hit hard with largemouth bass virus. The lake rebounded, and though the bass suffered, the crappie were unaffected. The slab fishing gets 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 to catch springtime slabs on both minnows and jigs.
The ODWC's biologist Danny Bowen, who oversees Wes Watkins, believes the lake is fair for crappie fishing. "The average-sized crappie sampled will range from 8 to 10 inches," he said. "We did sample some larger crappie in the 15-inch range, as well."
Crappie fishing in April can be very good if the lake level is up. In the past, the water level has fluctuated because of heavy usage coupled with drought conditions. The water level currently is normal, due in part to some
The lake holds both black and white crappie, and for the most part, the average speck is larger than those in most lakes. In fact, Mary Fowler, who has worked at the lake office for years, once witnessed a man bringing in a near-5-pound crappie. "It wasn't a state record, but it sure was a nice crappie," she said.
Most of the nicer crappie are caught off of the main roadbed, or off the timbered area west of the roadbed. Most anglers fish by boat, baiting up with minnows and small jigs. The lake's shoreline is extremely shallow, and so most angling is done from boats.
Wes Watkins anglers and boaters are required to pay an access fee. That may seem outrageous to some anglers, but some of the fish caught at Wes Watkins are outrageous as well!
Anglers are allowed a combination of 37 crappie daily, with no length restrictions. Any tackle will work, but ultralight rods and reels add to the excitement!
Crappie are fun to catch, and a delicacy to eat. Just deep-fry a mess of their tender fillets and you'll soon be returning to the lake for another basketful.