The spawn over, crappie undergo a shift in priorities that sends them off to new locations. Here's how you can take advantage of that shift at some of Oklahoma's top crappie waters this month.
Photo by Scott Maloch
On an overcast May afternoon a few years ago, Stuart Crow and I were fishing a rocky point on the east side of Arcadia Lake -- a water-supply lake lying east of Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City -- where we'd been targeting late-spawning largemouth bass without success.
The tedium was suddenly broken: Crow's white spinnerbait was struck violently, he set the hook, and the battle was on. I set my rod down and became a spectator while Crow masterfully played the fish to the side of our bass boat. But when it rolled on its side, I was amazed to learn that it wasn't a keeper-sized bass, but a slab white crappie.
Soon, we'd both taken additional crappie. Changing our tackle and tactics, we began to catch even more of the feisty specks. We'd always assumed that fishing for crappie in May would be tough. Were we surprised!
If you were lucky enough to find and catch spawning crappie this spring, you more than likely experienced some considerable fishing. Spawning crappie can be predictable, and savvy anglers can catch an ice chest full in no time.
If, however, you were one of the unfortunate anglers who, because of work or spousal obligations, didn't get to dunk a minnow or bounce a jig into a mess of slabs last month, I've got great news for you: The good crappie fishing is only beginning, and big numbers of hard-fighting papermouths can be found at a venue near you.
TULSA-AREA CRAPPIE HOLES
Grand Lake is a 46,500-acre deep-water lake that's near Grove in northeast Oklahoma, an hour's drive from Tulsa. Featuring a diverse array of habitat, Grand is home to a variety of hard-fighting fish. I've fished it several times and caught nice fish each time.
Fishing Grand in the summer months can be a trying proposition, as the wakes of the numerous oversized pleasure craft -- many verging on yacht status -- that transverse this aquatic showcase for affluent lifestyles can make for some rough water during that period. But fortunately, this huge lake is devoid of most of the large boats on weekdays, and actually feels little fishing pressure then. Except for a few diehard guides, like Ivan Martin, who fish the lake year 'round, Grand is wide open on weekdays and produces some great creels.
An expert on the lake, Martin has been guiding for crappie, white bass, and largemouth bass for 20 years. Headquartered at Martin's Landing on Monkey Island, he operates a sport shop and motel, and books fishing trips the year around.
"Some people think the only crappie fishing on Grand is done off of one of the lake's fishing docks," he said. "The fishing docks are good, but actually there is some great crappie fishing on the open water."
According to Martin, the crappie will move out of shallow water after spawning and congregate near ledges in 6 to 30 feet of water. He fishes with artificial baits only, and is partial to 1/8- and 1/4-ounce jigs in chartreuse, white, and red, white, and blue Though the white crappie is the main species at Grand, Martin reports that people are catching more black crappie than ever before.
Martin recommends targeting Honey Creek, Elk River, Duck Creek and Drowning Creek. He advises anglers that access to these areas is for the most part limited to boats. However, there is public bank access at the Horse Creek Bridge.
Grand anglers may take a combined creel of 15 crappie daily, with a 10-inch minimum length.
Nestled beneath Lake Hudson (a fine lake in its own right) and connected to it by a river channel is 19,100-acre Fort Gibson, home to fantastic numbers of crappie. East of Tulsa near Wagoner, it has been the site of a national crappie tournament.
Gibson's most promising springtime spots are near long points in the midlake area. Look to your sonar equipment for structure resembling submerged trees and deep dropoffs. The best fishing depth ranges between 12 and 30 feet.
Lake experts recommend using Road Runner jigs in yellow, white, and chartreuse in sizes ranging from 1/8 to 1/64 ounce. Fishing with minnows near any of the brushpiles marked by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation should prove productive.
Fort Gibson has a 10-inch minimum-length limit on crappie, and a 15-fish daily creel limit.
Lying less than an hour southeast of Tulsa is Lake Tenkiller, a clear-water lake that spans 13,000 acres. Tenkiller is a favorite lake of mine, as its rocky structure serves as welcoming habitat for many species of fish. In the past, this lake was hit hard with largemouth bass virus, but it's rebounding vigorously, and the crappie seem unaffected.
The good crappie fishing is only beginning, and big numbers of hard-fighting papermouths can be found at a venue near you.
The fishing areas with the likeliest prospects are found in the midlake area; there, post-spawn crappie will school in depths ranging from 6 to 20 feet. Working brushpiles and deep dropoffs near the dam can get some happy results. Another smart tactic: Figure out the whereabouts of shad schools off many of the lake's rocky points, and then use Road Runner jigs or small tube baits in bright colors.
As at Grand and Gibson, Tenkiller anglers are allowed 15 crappie with a minimum length of 10 inches.
OKC-AREA CRAPPIE HOLES
Lake Hefner, according to lake expert Carl Jones, is an awesome crappie hole overlooked by many. "Hefner's crappie fishing is better than it ever has been," he asserted.
This 2,500-acre water-supply lake in the heart of Oklahoma City offers tremendous fishing opportunities for a variety of species.
Jones, a fixture on the lake, catches slabs there year 'round. Choosing to fish almost exclusively from the bank, he's able to enjoy taking a limit of crappie on almost every outing. The subject of several crappie articles, and as knowledgeable about catching crappie as anyone I've ever met, he freely shares his knowledge at his local tackle shop, where he makes some of the finest crappie jigs I've ever used.
' main tactic for catching spring specks involves the use of a slip-cork. In this unconventional but fun method, Carl fishes a pair of jigs that he casts with one of his 14-foot custom rods; the long, narrow slip-cork keeps his jigs positioned at the proper depth. The setup's deadly for taking slabs.
The spots on the lake that you'll want to fish are the rocky riprap occupying a third of the lake's shore, and the area near the west-side fishing jetty. The majority of crappie caught in Hefner will be white crappie running between 8 ounces and 1 pound.
On previous visits to Hefner, I've fished from a boat and used a crappie rig with tandem hooks baited with the smallest minnows I could buy. This live-bait setup will catch crappie almost every time.
Two fishing docks are available at the lake, which in general offers uncomplicated access for crappie angling. Hefner anglers are allowed a generous daily limit of 37 crappie with no length restrictions.
ODWC biologist and avid crappie angler Russ Horton is of the opinion that it's hard to talk about spring crappie fishing without mentioning Lake Thunderbird, which is 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City near Norman.
Thunderbird -- "T-Bird," the locals call it -- harbors vast numbers of small crappie beneath the surface of its 6,000-acre area. Turbid or murky most of the time, it continues to yield heavy stringers each year.
Jeff Boxrucker, the ODWC's crappie expert, notes that the lake is lacking the aquatic vegetation necessary to sustain various size-classes of crappie, the result being that most of T-Bird's crappie are on average less robust than biologists had hoped for. But though the average-sized T-Bird crappie tends to run on the small side, serious slabs are occasionally caught there.
Russ Horton points out that certain coves on the south side of the lake, such as Calypso Cove and Little Ax, hold quite a few crappie. Other worthwhile spots to try are the brushpiles near Clear Bay, Snake Pit Cove, Calypso Cove, and Duck Blind Cove.
Small jigs ranging in weight from 1/32 ounce to 1/8 ounce are the optimal bait choice here. I've met with the most success using white, yellow, chartreuse, red, and brown jigs. Small minnows always work when suspended by a cork.
The daily limit is 37 crappie, any size.
Keep a variety of small crappie baits handy, and don't be too proud to dunk a minnow when fishing with artificials gets tough.
Arcadia Lake garnered fame just after it opened by giving up some bragging-sized stringers of both crappie and largemouth bass.
While this turbid central Oklahoma lake contains above-average numbers of crappie, the typical size will be about 7 inches -- smaller than those found in most lakes.
Two boat dock areas act as a focus for considerable quantities of crappie. You can take them by bouncing jigs near the metal dock structure. I've caught crappie both by using this tactic and by trolling small shad-colored crankbaits near the boat ramp's rocky jetty area. The riprap area near the two boat ramps is another spot attractive to crappie. When cast parallel to the rocks, small jigs and bright-colored spinners in the 1/4-ounce size work well.
Heavily timbered areas near the southeast side of the lake seem to be a favorite getaway for boat-fishing minnow dunkers. The waters here hide a lot of subsurface stumps, so use caution when navigating around in them.
The ODWC has several brushpiles that are prominently marked with buoys; both baitfish and schools of crappie, as well as other fish species, cavort among these.
The lake's only drawback: a pricey access fee. Generally, fishing pressure is lightest on weekdays. The lake limit is 37 crappie daily.
"BONUS" CRAPPIE HOLES
If driving an hour to two from the Sooner State's two main cities isn't a problem for you, I'd suggest two great crappie lakes, the first being Lake Eufaula, which is in the southeast close to the town of the same name. The state's largest lake, it covers 102,000 acres.
Summer anglers regularly catch hefty limits of crappie at Eufaula, making it one of the most popular destinations for anglers statewide. It's undoubtedly one of the finest crappie venues in the nation.
Lake Eufaula, though turbid or dirty in some areas, possesses prime habitat within which schools of crappie lurk, waiting to ambush small minnows and shad. Though the entire lake produces respectable numbers of crappie, the better areas are the clearer parts of the lake -- sites like Porum Landing, Duchess Creek, Belle Starr, and Highway 9 Landing.
Robert Reece is a diehard crappie angler who regularly takes limits and near-limits at Eufaula. Reece, an ODWC aquatic habitat foreman, prefers to fish the lake's brushy areas, as they harbor a good many of the skillet-sized delicacies.
Reece catches some of his largest crappie in the south end of the lake near Crowder. In fact, when it comes to catching big crappie, the humble Reece seems to have a knack, having caught several weighing over 3 pounds. He enjoys catching big crappie, which is why he releases all crappie over 14 inches in length -- so they can grow to be what he calls "real slabs." He also fishes some of the lake's many ODWC-built brushpiles, which are prominently marked by buoys.
Three sizes of jigs do the trick for Reece: 1/32, 1/16 and 1/8 ounce. He prefers to use feathers instead of plastic tails. His favorite colors are pink, black/pink, and white/pink.
"I like to use 4-pound-test line," he offered, "and I believe that fishing with jigs can be very productive. Generally, I find 90 percent of my fish in 12 to 16 feet of water, and catching 12- to 16-inch crappie is common."
With the aid of a crappie light, I've done pretty well by fishing Eufaula at night under the Highway 9 bridge. The illumination thrown on the water by this floating light attracts small baitfish, which in turn attract schools of crappie. I like to use a crappie rig baited with minnows to fish at depths of 10 to 20 feet. This can be a very profitable way to spend a nice May night.
The daily limit is 37 crappie with no length requirements.
The last on our list of lakes -- and one well worth the drive -- lies right on the southern border of Oklahoma and boasts a king-sized complement of crappie. Texoma's 91,200 acres contain several ODWC-marked brushpiles; these have been strategically placed at varying depths, and harbor plenteous papermouths. These artificial structures are especially appropriate for vertically fishing jigs or minnows.
My good friends Chris and Jeremy Box catch some nice slabs from a private dock that's tailor-made for specks thanks to the addition of submerged Christmas trees.
The best spots will be found near the Roosevelt Bridge, Washita Point, Soldier Creek, Alberta Creek, and Buncombe Creek. At night, key in on the riprap areas near the lake's two main bridges, as crappie seem to be drawn to them.
Texoma's night-fishing can be amazing. Just remember: Two crappie lights work better than one! Don't do what I did one night, which was to stow insufficient stores of live bait. Besieged by a school of 2-pound crappie, we ran out of minnows. So take plenty!
I've caught crappie virtually everywhere on the big lake. When you find Texoma's fish, you're certain to catch a limit.
Anglers may take 37 crappie daily; a minimum-length limit of 10 inches is in force. Since the lake lies in both Oklahoma and Texas, purchasing the special Texoma fishing license would be a good idea.
The time's right to go catch a basketful of crappie. There's something special and sporting about tangling with a slab-sized crappie on ultralight tackle and light line. Bear in mind that post-spawn crappie can be found at varying depths ranging from shallow to 25 feet. Remember too that if you catch one crappie in a particular place, there'll generally be several more nearby.
Keep a variety of small crappie baits handy, and don't be too proud to dunk a minnow when fishing with artificials gets tough. When using minnows, always have an adequate supply; the action can always heat up.
Last but not least: Whether you're fishing with artificials or small minnows, a plateful of the silver-sided fish will taste the same regardless of how you catch 'em. And, boy, do they taste good!