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Scouting Out Spring Slabs

Scouting Out Spring Slabs

Crappie may or may not be biting at your favorite fishing hole now, so here's a checklist of top spots you should be fishing for best results. (May 2006)

Spring is a fantastic time for heading to your favorite crappie hole to sack up a mess of the speckled fish that all of us Okie anglers fancy catching. Specks, speckled perch, papermouths, calico bass, or just plain slabs: Whatever you call them, now's the time to go catch a mess of crappie at a watery venue near you.

Whether you live near the two biggest metropolitan areas in the state or nowhere near, a crappie hole supporting schools of scrappy, silvery fish just waiting to ambush your jigs or minnows will lie close to your home base. So read up on the top spots, grab your fishing gear and go catch a limit.


Lake Tenkiller

Lying in the heart of Oklahoma's Green Country is Lake Tenkiller, which covers 12,650 acres near Tahlequah. According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation lake expert Gary Peterson, recent habitat improvements mean that the crappie fishing can be tremendous.

"We have added a number of brushpiles to provide shelters for fish," he said. "The lake elevation is down slightly due to a long-term drought, but anglers should find crappie abundant."

A 10-inch minimum-length limit is in force, and according to statistics, two out of three fish will fall short of the legal size. Still, the crappie are relatively easy to catch, and occasionally some real slabs, fish in the 2- to 3-pound range, are caught.


Another good prospect on the lake involves fishing off one of the lake's many docks. James Bunch, who manages the Caney Ridge Marina, says that the crappie fishing is worthwhile year 'round.

"We sunk a bunch of trees around the dock and they provide good crappie habitat," he reported. "We also have an enclosed dock that can be fished during inclement weather."

Bunch says that, for a small fee, anglers can enjoy a relaxing day of fishing off his docks and, usually, can catch themselves some fish. Caney Ridge Marina is on the north end of the lake in the Dry Creek Cove area. For more information, contact Bunch at (918) 457-4417.

The daily limit is 15 crappie.

Grand Lake

Cliff Sager of the ODWC oversees the fisheries at several of the state's northeast lakes, and rates Grand and Gibson as two dandy holes for crappie.

"Historically, Fort Gibson and Grand lakes have the reputation of being the two best crappie lakes in northeast Oklahoma," opined Sager. In fact, Bernice State Park, on the northwest side of Grand Lake, bills itself as the "Crappie Fishing Capital of Oklahoma."

Grand, which covers 46,500 surface-acres near Grove, is the head of a chain of lakes including Hudson and Fort Gibson. The banks of this deep, rocky lake are quite steep. The ODWC has improved the lake's fishing quality with the addition of brushpiles and aquatic habitat enhancements.

Tony Coatney -- (918) 257-4204 -- is a Grand Lake guide who works out of the Shangri-La Resort and specializes in crappie as well as largemouth bass and white bass. In the spring Coatney and his clients generally target the pea-gravel banks on the northern coves of the lake. Coatney also fishes around boat docks because of the crappie-attracting habitat they provide. Boat docks also attract minnows, a staple in the crappie's diet.

"I like to cast 1/32-ounce jigs into shallow water and then retrieve them slow," Coatney said. His favorite jigs are locally-made models called Grandpa's Jigs. He uses several color combinations including blue/pink, gray/pink, and chartreuse/pink.

Coatney's favorite spots on the lake are the Big Hollow area, the Johnson Hollow area and the area around Shangri-La Resort.

The ODWC's Sager named the Horse Creek and Elk River arms and the midlake area as his favorite spots for crappie. "The riprap area near the Bernice Bridge is also a good springtime crappie spot," he offered.

Grand has a 10-inch length limit on crappie. Catching 12- to 13-inch crappie is not uncommon, according to Coatney, who reports having caught some approaching 16 inches last year.

Fishing guide Ivan Martin -- (918) 257-4265 -- fishes Grand more than 200 days a year. He's found that crappie spawn first in the north areas of the lake and then move south as the water warms. Martin catches his largest crappie early in the year, his biggest slabs weighing close to 2 pounds.

Martin, who fishes entirely with jigs, sometimes targets crappie in deep water. He mentioned Duck Creek and Honey Creek as two potentially good areas.

"Much of Grand Lake is private, so access to many of the boat docks is limited," he advised. "Most people do better by fishing from a boat."

According to Sager, the ODWC has a free resource that marks the locations of all of the brushpiles on Grand, thus helping anglers fishing there. For more information, contact the ODWC's northeast office at (918) 683-1031.

"Another resource for anglers is the Web site, which has up-to-the-minute fishing and weather reports for Grand Lake and the surrounding area.

The daily limit, like Fort Gibson's and Tenkiller's, is 15 crappie.

Fort Gibson

Sited near the town of the same name, Fort Gibson is a 19,900-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydropower lake. The lake resembles Grand in being rocky, but does not have as many steep, vertical banks. The water in the upper part of the lake is stained or murky, while that in the lower end is clear.

According to Todd Huckabee a crappie expert and guide, anglers should target the middle to the back of necks and coves while paying close attention to riprap areas or gravel banks. Crappie should be found in 2 to 10 feet of water in these longstanding spawning areas. Huckabee also recommends that crappie anglers try Flat Rock Creek, which will be found in the middle to upper area of the lake, as well as Clear Creek, Jane Dennis, and the Topper area.

Baits of choice for most anglers are small minnows and jigs. The best colors for artificials are white, yellow, chartreuse, and blue. Huckabee prefers to use 2-inch Yum tube jigs and Yum beavertail jigs. He says that anglers wanting to catch a black crappie of serious trophy dimensions should head up the river toward Lake Hudson.

Lake regulations mandate a 10-inch minimum-size limit on crappie with a daily limit of 15.

Lake Oologah

Huckabee claims that Oologah Lake, north of Tulsa, is one of the only lakes he's ever fished that has great crappie habitat throughout the entire lake. In fact, Huckabee once participated in a national crappie tournament there and rates this northeast lake as one of his favorites.

May anglers should consider targeting Spencer Creek, Talala Creek, and Blue Creek, Huckabee suggests. The best baits will be conventional crappie offerings like small minnows, jigs, and curlytail plastic baits with small spinners. The average fish caught will measure 10 to 17 inches. There's a possibility that some of the lake's crappie may still be spawning, so check the shallow areas.


Lake Hefner

Lake Hefner is probably one of the most neglected fishing lakes in central Oklahoma. Covering 2,500 acres, this small water-supply lake tucked away in the heart of Oklahoma City is used heavily by sailboaters during the spring and summer months, and so feels very little fishing pressure.

Carl Jones is the owner of nearby Hefner Bait & Tackle. He gladly offers free advice to area anglers -- at least, when you can find him in the store. Because when the crappie are biting, Carl is more likely to be found fishing the riprap area just a stone's throw away from his shop.

Jones, who rates the lake as a solid fishery -- "The crappie fishing at Hefner now is better than ever," he maintains -- has a particular tactic for its crappie: slip-corking. He accomplishes the feat by using his handmade 14-foot rod to hurt a Styrofoam slip-cork and a pair of handmade jigs, one weighing 1/16 ounce and the other 1/64. His hand-tied Lightning Strike Jigs attracted so much admiring notice that he now retails them on his Web page,

He prefers casting his jigs parallel to the rocky area near the dam and then slowly retrieving them. His feeling is that 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.

Jones' advice to newcomers to Hefner: Try casting jigs from the rocky areas near the dam and from the east side of the lake near the lighthouse. The jetty on the southwest side of the lake is a good spot as well. And minnow fishermen will do well virtually anywhere on the lake.

The open shoreline and prevailing south wind can make the lake choppy at most 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 when conditions are right.

Hefner Lake requires a $2 daily fishing permit.

Arcadia Lake

This 1,820-acre lake -- built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a water-supply lake -- can be accessed by taking Interstate 35 north from Oklahoma City and exiting east on either the 15th Street exit, or the Edmond Road exit. It's 15 miles north of Oklahoma City near Edmond.

ODWC fisheries biologist Kurt Kuklinski says that while anglers should find above-average numbers of crappie at Arcadia, their catch would probably be below average sizewise, measuring 6 to 7 inches.

Kuklinski advises anglers to focus on the long brushpiles, which are clearly marked by orange-and-white buoys. "These are good staging areas for spawning crappie, which sometimes congregate there for weeks at a time," he observed.

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 times are generally the first few hours of daylight and the last few hours before dark.

Crappie expert and guide Todd Huckabee says that anglers wanting to catch a black crappie of serious trophy dimensions at Fort Gibson should head up the river toward Lake Hudson.

I've achieved success here by fishing from boat docks in the springtime. I've caught crappie by casting white Roadrunner jigs near the dam. Another likely spot is the southeast side of the lake; heavily wooded, it teems 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 it, given the outstanding fishing found there.

Lake Thunderbird

Lying 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." Though celebrated in the 1970s as a lunker bass factory, Thunderbird also is well known for its healthy population of crappie. However, the average crappie at T-Bird runs between 6 and 7 inches.

"Most of the fish in the lake are stunted, and as a result many never reach trophy potential," said Jeff Boxrucker, the ODWC'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 in Thunderbird spawn in 2 to 3 feet of water," he noted, "due to the prevalent muddy or turbid water. And most crappie 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."

Boxrucker suggests that anglers 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 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 within 100 feet. Anglers can also fish numerous brushpiles, which are marked by buoys.

The two experts agree that small jigs and plastic baits in yellow, chartreuse, white, and shad colors are the way to go; small minnows are the offering of choice for bait-anglers.

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, using a long rod, 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.

Fort Cobb Lake

This 4,100-acre lake near the town of Fort Cobb, 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, attracted a lot of attention in the 1960s and '70s thanks to huge numbers of crows setting up roosts in what some came to dub "the crow capital of the world." So many were the squatting black birds that their gatherings were reminiscent of those in the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds.

Hunters finally ran some of the pesky crows out of the county, and the lake attained celebrity for a more logical reason: its fantastic fishing opportunities. And the fishery has since been improved by the addition of habitat to the lake.

When water temperatures approach 60 degrees, crappie congregate in the shallow, brushy areas to be found in several of the coves at Fort Cobb. As at the previously mentioned lakes, minnows, jigs and small plastic baits will lure the hard-fighting crappie.

The top fishing spots on the lake are brushy points and the rocky area near the dam.


As my good friend Gary Dollahon says, "Take a youngster fishing and introduce them to a lifetime hobby." My favorite saying is: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime! Two things are certain in Oklahoma: The weather changes constantly -- and May is a fabulous month for fishing for crappie!

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