Late Spring'™s Crappie
October 05, 2010
May is a month of transition for Sooner slabs. Here's where the fishing should be hot until our weather shifts from spring to summer. (May 2008)
At the invitation of Gary Dollahon, I was invited to fish a northeast impoundment for crappie. As a public relations expert, Dollahon represents several outdoor companies like Zebco/Quantum, Optronics, and Gene Larew Baits, to name just a few. That day however, we were testing a new soft plastic in the Larew line that was billed as deadly for crappie.
Unable to attend, Dollahon sent his lovely daughter and business partner Crystal to accompany me. We teamed with local fishing expert and guide Red Miller, who works as an inspector for the engineering department in Bartlesville but spends his free time fishing for crappie.
The morning dawned cooler than I was dressed for, and I felt the chill as we motored up a creek channel to one of Miller's honeyholes. Little did I know that this creek held an ice-chest-load of crappie beneath its stained, timbered surface. Miller's proficiency was exacting, and we began to catch crappie instantly on our lines rigged with the new 1/16-ounce jigs.
We were testing a new color in the Bobby Garland soft-plastics line, electric chicken. The small, streamlined grub had a lime-green sparkled body with a pink underbelly that proved irresistible to the scrappy slabs.
In a few hours, we caught nearly 100 crappie, while releasing any fish less than 12 inches in length. I brought back an ice chest with 37 crappie weighing from 1 pound to 1 3/4 pounds. All in all, a memorable day of fishing, and one indicative of the phenomenal crappie fishing awaiting Sooner anglers this month.
Here, I'll feature some of my favorite waters -- selected from years of crappie fishing around the state -- highlighting the top spots on each, and throw in some expert advice, all designed to make your May crappie-fishing trips more successful.
Lying in the heart of Oklahoma's Green Country, Lake Tenkiller covers 12,650 acres near Tahlequah. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Gary Peterson is sold on the lake's slab production.
"Tenkiller's crappie are doing well due to a solid population and a bountiful forage base in the lake," he said. "We have added a number of brushpiles for habitat enhancement to provide shelters for fish. The lake elevation is normal after last year's spring rains, and anglers should find crappie abundant."
A 10-inch minimum-length limit is in force there, and, according to statistics, two of three fish fall short of the legal size. Anglers are allowed to keep 15 crappie in total, and may combine both black and white species. Still, the crappie are relatively easy to catch, and occasionally some real slabs -- fish in the 2- to 3-pound range -- are caught.
Another prospect on the lake involves fishing off one of the lake's many fishing 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 enclosed dock that can be fished during inclement weather."
Bunch reported that, for a small fee, anglers can enjoy a relaxing day of fishing off his docks and usually catch themselves some fish. Caney Ridge Marina is on the north end of the lake in the Dry Creek Cove area
GRAND LAKE O' THE CHEROKEES
A bountiful fishery, Grand Lake is rated by several professional bass anglers as tops for largemouths. But if you've experienced the lake's crappie angling, you know that it too is as good as it gets.
"Historically, Fort Gibson and Grand Lake have the reputation of being the two best crappie lakes in northeast Oklahoma," said the ODWC's Cliff 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, 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 with the addition of brushpiles and aquatic habitat enhancements.
Fishing guide Ivan Martin -- (918) 257-4265 -- can attest to the quality of the lake's crappie. Fishing the lake more than 200 days each year, Martin has found that crappie spawn first in the northern areas of the lake and then move south as the water warms. He catches some nice crappie almost daily, with his biggest slabs weighing close to 2 pounds.
Fishing entirely with jigs, Martin sometimes targets crappie in deep water. He mentioned Duck Creek and Honey Creek as two hotspots. "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."
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 slabs is not uncommon, with some as long as 16 inches. Lake limit is 15 daily.
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 Grandfishingreport. com , which has up-to-the-minute fishing and weather reports for Grand Lake and the surround area.
This 19,900-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydropower lake resembles Grand in being rocky, but has fewer steep vertical banks. The water in the upper part of the lake is stained or murky, while that in the lower end is clear.
The lake is home to a prolific black crappie population, many of which have attained super-sized proportions. Todd Huckabee, a professional crappie angler and guide, regularly catches black crappie there approaching 3 pounds.
According to Sager, anglers should target the middle to 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 long-recognized spawning areas. Sager also recommended that crappie anglers try Flat Rock Creek, found in the middle to upper area of the lake.
"Historically, Fort Gibson and Grand Lake have the reputation of being the two best crappie lakes in northeast Oklahoma. In fact, Bernice State Park, on the northwest side of Grand Lake, bills itself as 'the Crappie Fishing Capital of Oklahoma.'"--Cliff Sager, ODWC
Huckabee's favorite areas are the Toppers Area, 14-Mile Creek, Ranger Creek, Clear Creek, Jane Dennis, and Spring Creek. "If the water is warm, there will be crappie spawning in the shallows," offered Huckabee. "My favorite soft-plastic jig colors for clear water are pumpkin/chartreuse and black/chartreuse, and for stained or muddy water I use black/pink and pearl/chartreuse colors."
Lake regulations mandate a 10-inch minimum-size limit on crappie, with 15 allowed daily.
Another lake deserving mention by reason of its reputation for huge crappie is Kaw Lake. Kaw is a 17,040-acre Corps impoundment near Ponca City. The ODWC's Jeff Boxrucker calls Kaw "the cream of the crop."
Crappie there exhibit excellent growth trends, which are due mostly to the fertile Arkansas River, which flows into the south end of Kaw. The turbid, salty water resulting from the mixture is rich in nutrients, and the spawn there sometimes can run from April into May.
Kaw is a favorite haunt of Miller's as well, and he touts May as a great month to catch crappie there. His favorite spot on the lake is Beaver Creek where great habitat abounds. "I have really good luck with a 1/16-ounce Bobby Garland jig in the electric chicken pattern," he said. "Other good color patterns are black/chartreuse, black/yellow, and black/red."
Anglers using conventional crappie baits will fill stringers, with 1-pound or larger crappie being common.
The limit is the statewide maximum of 37 daily.
Lake Hefner is a small 2,500-acre water supply lake tucked away in the heart of Oklahoma City. Used heavily during the spring and summer months by sailboaters, Hefner receives very little fishing pressure.
Carl Jones rates the lake as a solid fishery. "The crappie fishing at Hefner now is better than ever," he said.
Jones has a particular tactic for its 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. (His hand-tied Lightning Strike Jigs attracted so much admiring notice that he now retails them on his Web page, Carljonesfamousjigs.com .)
Preferring to cast his jigs parallel to the rocky area near the dam and then slowly retrieve them, Jones feels 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.
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, according to Jones. The jetty on the southwest side of the lake is a good spot also. Minnow fishermen will do well virtually anywhere on the lake.
Anglers can expect to take crappie in the 3/4- to 1-pound range when conditions are right.
Fishing Hefner Lake requires a $2 daily permit. The limit is 37 fish.
ARCADIA LAKEThis 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 near Edmond.
According to ODWC fisheries biologist Kurt Kuklinski, anglers should find above-average numbers of crappie in Arcadia, with the average speck 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."
Bank-fishermen can do equally well 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 few before dark.
Carl Jones touts the lake's crappie as getting much larger and catches slabs near 3 pounds each season. Leon Mixer, who works at the lake, says another 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 it considering the outstanding fishing found there.
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." Although Thunderbird has a healthy population of crappie, the average 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."
Boxrucker suggested that anglers key on Thunderbird in May, 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.
One of my favorite methods at Lake Texoma is night-fishing with minnows beneath any of the lake's bridges. Employing a bright light attracts baitfish, which in turn lure in crappie, all congregating beneath the illumination.
T-Bird regular Russ Horton is partial to the south dam area and Calypso Cove; he further noted that the action around boat docks is very worthwhile, adding a warning that many of the private boat docks may well allow no fishing within 100 feet. Anglers can fish the numerous brushpiles, which are marked by buoys.
The two experts agreed that working small jigs and plastic baits in yellow, chartreuse, white, and shad colors is the way to go; small minnows are the bait of choice for bait-anglers.
Eufaula sits two hours' drive east of Oklahoma City on I-40. It's hard to talk about crappie fishing in Oklahoma without mentioning this impoundment that's often called "the Gentle Giant." Featuring water both turbid or murky and exceptionally clear, its 10,200 surface-acres give it the largest area of any lake in the state.
Most of the boat docks at the lake have weighted cedar trees tied to them, the object being to attract fish. The fishing around those docks can be outstanding; recommended are small minnows, marabou jigs, and Road Runners.
When water temperatures warm, spawning crappie head to the brushy shallows that surround much of the lake. Minnows and artificials will fool even the most discriminating slabs.
Todd Huckabee -- (405) 520-8980 -- makes his living guiding on the lake. In his view, May anglers will find success fishing brushpiles in the Duchess Creek, and Belle Starr areas.
Last -- certainly not least -- is big Lake Texoma. Nestled on the Oklahoma/Texas border, it's celebrated as the "Striped Bass Capital" and known for its annual Sand Bass Festival. But the lake also boasts some pretty darned good crappie fishing. Let me rephrase that: some great crappie fishing!
Throughout the lake, brushy areas whose depths range between 3 and 14 feet are known to harbor crappie. Classic crappie offerings like small minnows, brightly colored jigs and soft plastics are favored by Texoma's angling community.
Some of my favorite spots on the lake are Little Glasses, Buncombe Creek, Alberta Creek, Soldier Creek, and Catfish Bay. One of my favorite methods there is night-fishing with minnows beneath any of the lake's bridges. Employing a bright light attracts baitfish, which in turn lure in crappie, all congregating beneath the illumination.The results can be fast and furious. Anglers are required to adhere to a limit of 15 daily, with a minimum length limit of 10 inches.
Well, there you have it -- a run-down of some of the top lakes statewide. There are a number of great lakes that space prohibited mentioning like Waurika, Oologah, Chickasha, Foss, Canton, Guthrie, Liberty, Carl Blackwell, R.C. Longmire, Bell Cow, and Broken Bow -- just to name a few. Actually, the lakes in the state that don't hold good numbers of crappie are few.
So remember: May's great for filling your ice chest with a limit of crappie.