With so many lakes coming into their crappie-fishing prime in April, how do you choose where to go? Here's a guide to three worthy fisheries. (April 2008)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
It's April, and what's a Tennessee angler to do? So much water and so many opportunities everywhere - from bass to bream, it's a good time to be on the water. And, oh yeah, in April there's another fish that draws thousands of Volunteer fishermen to waters within our borders along with many others from outside our state: the crappie. This month is as good as it gets when it comes to catching Tennessee papermouths.
Crappie by whatever name you know them are worth your time and trouble, and you won't give them anymore trouble yourself than right now when they're moving to shallow spawning areas. The only real problem is deciding where to go. We could argue all day about where the best Tennessee crappie fishing is found, but for this month, we've singled out three separate lakes across the state that are considered good, better and the best by many crappie anglers.
Whether one of them is your home lake or one you'll want to visit in April, Douglas Lake in East Tennessee, Dale Hollow in Middle Tennessee, and of course, Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee comprise our April breakdown. What's most interesting is the different ways that anglers fish them. Let's take what we can learn from each and apply them to your own fishing to make your April crappie fishing the best that it can be.
DALE HOLLOW — THE GOOD
Danny Stone is not only the TWRA creel officer at Dale Hollow Lake, he has also spent most of his life fishing its waters. Stone built a reputation a few years back as one of the lake's best smallmouth tournament anglers, but he knows a thing or two about this legendary water's crappie as well.
The veteran angler and creel specialist is the first to admit that he never believed restocking efforts would help put Dale Hollow's crappie on the fishing map. He now says it's the greatest thing he's ever seen. Thanks to stocking efforts like last year's placement of over 250,000 crappie fingerlings, Stone said the lake's crappie angling is much better than he or anyone could have anticipated or expected.
Stone said because of the stocking project, black-nose crappie are now the most abundant and most caught crappie species on the lake. Although, he said, Dale isn't the crappie fishery that nearby Center Hill Lake has, it has come a long way and has a bright future. Center Hill may produce more numbers, but Dale Hollow has always been about quality, and the crappie caught there are no exception.
Catching them in the springtime under willows will turn up some dandy crappie. Stone also credits the 10-inch size limit and 15-fish creel limit for helping to keep the lake's crappie population in good shape and growing at this time.
In early April, when he's not checking creels, Stone is chasing crappie in between smallmouth bass trips. He said the April crappie fishing is very good in the backs of major creeks and anywhere around willow bushes. Irons Creek, Ill Will Creek and Ashburn Creek are top destinations for papermouth anglers.
The crappie are moving shallow in search of spawning areas, and Stone said in low water conditions they'll be in and around the grass. With a high lake situation, you'll want to hit the willows. Many anglers will be finding success with slip-bobbers and minnows, while Stone prefers to tight-line them with a 1/16-ounce jig fitted with a 2-inch grub around the willow bushes.
The last two weeks of the month, Stone said to pull out with the crappie to ledges. A few will still be hanging back around the grass in a post-spawn pattern as well. He said like all of Dale Hollow's fish, catching crappie is more about quality than quantity. He said you could expect to boat anywhere from 15 to 18 crappie per trip.
There will be days of 15-fish limits, but April is a pretty good time to catch 2-pound-plus crappie at the smallmouth capitol of the world. The black-nose variety dominate the catch and 3-pounders are not uncommon. Last year, he saw a 4-pound, 2-ounce monster that was taken near East Port Dock.
Stone added again that the mid-lake section is a good starting point, from Eagle Creek on up the lake. He also said he's seen more crappie caught in the area of Star Point Marina than the rest of the lake put together.
DOUGLAS LAKE — THE BETTER
How good is the crappie fishing now on Douglas Lake after a few years of a great comeback? TWRA's Region IV fisheries biologist John Hammonds said in relation to other lakes around, Douglas is one of the top crappie lakes in the entire state.
Hammonds said that which species of crappie dominates on Douglas Lake might seem like a simple question, but it has an interesting answer. He said TWRA's trap net data catch is made up of about a 15:1 ratio of black versus white crappie. They see many more black crappie in trap nets than white crappie. However, just the opposite occurs in the creel surveys. There is about a 15:1 ratio of white versus black crappie in the angler's catch.
Fact is, there are many more white crappie caught by rod and reel than there are black crappie. Hammonds said this huge discrepancy can be attributed to differences in species' behavior. The theory is black crappie move more, which makes them more susceptible to the stationary traps, while white crappie are more stationary and don't get caught in the traps set about 100 feet from shore on the bottom with a lead extending nearly to the shore. He added the same thing might be true with fishing gear. The behavior of white crappie might make them more susceptible to being caught with rod and reel than black crappie.
Either way, Hammonds said he can tell you that black crappie prefer clearwater reservoirs and white crappie prefer "murky" reservoirs like Douglas. So, he feels very confident that there are more white crappie in Douglas than black, even though the trap net data does not reflect that.
Just how strong or stable is the crappie population at Douglas Lake? Hammonds said crappie are naturally known as a "boom-or-bust" species. In other words, by their own nature, some years they do really well and in some years very poorly. He said add to that the attribute of artificial water levels in a reservoir, and you now have a situation that does not always produce stable crappie populations.
However, some years, crappie do really, really well in Douglas and have a fantastic spawn, after which anglers see better fishing on the lake for years. On the other hand, the lake can also go through a period of two or three years wit
hout a strong spawn, after which the fishing is "down" until the cycle repeats itself. Hammonds added that, fortunately, with stocking and the great productivity of Douglas, the crappie population remains stable. He said they can measure that by the number of fish they see under the size limit of their trap nets and by angler catches.Over the last several years, the agency has managed to see enough 7-to 9-inch crappie each year to sustain the population. At this point, Hammonds said, there are no crappie regulation changes expected any time soon for Douglas and the other upper East Tennessee reservoirs.
Longtime Douglas Lake angler Timmy Mitchell said the springtime crappie fishing there is about as good as it gets. For him, the action starts up around the third week of March and his personal favorite time to be on the water is the last week of March, but it all depends on the weather and how fast spring weather arrives.
Mitchell said those anglers who wait on the dogwoods to bloom are getting a late start. He counts more on when the redbuds bloom because that often better signals the arrival of the first crappie moving to shallow water. Mitchell said the biggest crappie come in first. That first arrival during the third week of March will consist mostly of black crappie, followed by the bigger white crappie the last week of March. Mitchell said a few smaller black crappie come in late in April as well.
The veteran papermouth angler said it's possible to catch as many as 60 to 70 crappie in the 12- to 13-inch class the last week of March — right up against the bank. Mitchell said years ago, you could pull 50 crappie off a single point. Those were the old days, but Douglas has made a drastic comeback over the last four or five years. Today, he said, if a single fisherman boats 50 to 60 crappie in a trip — that's a good day.
When it comes to big Douglas crappie, Mitchell added you might boat 25 to 30 crappie of the 13-inch or better variety. However, odds are that you can boat a limit of 15 crappie in the 13-inch category and have what Mitchell calls a "real good day" of catching quality crappie. He said that by late April, you'll see more of the 10- to 11-inch fish being caught.
Mitchell is a bank-fisherman to the extreme. He loves to pull his boat up on a point, get out and fish from the bank. He prefers to use a double jig rig to jigs tipped with minnows. From the bank, he casts out and works the rig back to the point with the bobber often set 2 to 3 feet above the jigs. Mitchell said with the double rig at least one fly is always off the bottom in shallow water.
He also likes a round float versus the more popular oval ones. When he jigs the float to put action in the flies, the round bottom has more resistance and pops up faster than the pear-shaped float. Mitchell said not to overlook stumps near the bank that create a current break with slack water that can hold a pile of crappie.
The Muddy Creek area has always been good to Mitchell, and it's also where he cut his teeth crappie fishing, saying he grew up there. The waters of Indian Creek and up around Walters Bridge are also very good. The ramp at Walters Bridge will also put you in the heart of Douglas Lake's springtime crappie fishing.
REELFOOT LAKE — THE BEST
White crappie are still the dominant papermouths at Reelfoot. Tim Broadbent, a TWRA fisheries biologist in Region I, said there are still some black crappie there, but white crappie are what anglers catch more often. He noted that while Reelfoot tends not to produce as many big crappie as Kentucky Lake, the Reelfoot fishery's capacity to produce high numbers of fish makes it one of the best crappie lakes anywhere.
Broadbent said most of the crappie caught come from the lower end of the lake. He said back in the 1980s, crappie, on average, were weighing about 1/4 pound. Later in that decade, the lake saw a boom in the pin minnow population, and the crappie forage just plain multiplied and as the baitfish multiplied, the average size of the crappie that fed on them increased. The average crappie these days will weigh 1/2 pound. With increased size came increased pressure and the average catch did correspondingly drop, but it never really hurt the fishing itself. Even the commercial fishing that ended a few years back never really hurt the catch rate on this very productive lake.
From both an angler's and a fisheries biologist's points of view, Reelfoot is just a unique place in terms of the variety of enticing structure. Broadbent said there are so many different stumps and trees to choose from that Reelfoot is just a different kind of crappie lake.
And the best news is the lake is just as good as it's ever been. Broadbent said to find a period when crappie fishing was any better at Reelfoot than it is now, you would have to go back prior to 1955 — before all the angling pressure and high-tech electronics.
Broadbent said Reelfoot is just a crappie factory — one that's simply amazing. Broadbent doesn't expect to see a change in the lake's creel limit of 30 per angler nor the fact that there's no size limit. He added that most of the crappie caught are in the 9- to 11-inch range.
Billy Blakely at Blue Bank Resort said April is a real good time to crappie fish at Reelfoot Lake. It's the time of year that the fish start to move out around bedding logs. He said by mid-April, you'll find them anywhere in depths from 30 feet to 19 feet. It's also a time that you can enjoy a variety of crappie fishing.
The veteran guide said you can drag minnows in deeper water with eight- or 10-pole rigs, or you can move shallow with them and jig around trees with a single pole. Regardless of which method he's using, Blakely will be employing the famous Reelfoot double-minnow rig.
During the first part of April, the fish will be out in deeper water; then, after the middle of the month, they'll be around trees in 3 to 5 feet of water in a pre-spawn mode.
Blakely said once the water temperature starts to warm above 62 to 63 degrees, the action will pick up with the rise in the temperatures. Areas like Walnut Gap and Forked Pond in the mid-lake section will hold good crappie, as will stumps on the shorelines. If there isn't much wind on the day you are fishing, Blakely suggested that you concentrate your efforts in the open water around bedding logs.
If the wind runs you off the open water, you can head to the shoreline and do equally as well.
A good April day average will see anglers boat 50 to 60 crappie. Two people can easily catch a limit. The daily limit at Reelfoot is still 30 crappie per angler. A big crappie on Reelfoot will go over 2 pounds in size, and the biggest Blakely has seen was a 3-pound, 11-ounce whopper.
Anglers can expect to catch both black and white crappie at Reelfoot. Blakely said anglers will usually find black crappie around stumps and bedding logs on windy days and white crappie on the calm days in open-water areas.
If he had to pick a single area to fish in April, Blake
ly said the best crappie fishing is found in the Lower Blue Basin. It has both shallow and deep crappie habitat. Blakely said anglers can put in at the ramp at Blue Bank or any of the state ramps for good springtime crappie action. To fish with this veteran guide, call (877) 258-3226.