October 04, 2010
Why suffer frostbite while trying to take crappie at open reservoirs around the Metroplex? Instead, you could be catching slabs in climate-controlled comfort at these prime fishing spots! (February 2006)
Photo by Mike Lambeth
About this time every winter, crappie stack up in big numbers around heavy brush that Dallas/Fort Worth-area anglers plant specifically to attract those fish. A good many of those brushpiles are in, under and around fishing barges offering anglers the option of fishing indoors in relative comfort.
Just like the tasty fish that they target, winter crappie fishermen flock to these sheltered and frequently heated fishing houses. It's a very sociable form of fishing, often a bit crowded, but always lots of fun.
At peak times, catching crappie is as simple as dropping a downsized tube jig or minnow into the heavy brush. Fishing at these sheltered barges during the winter is a good way to fight cabin fever when braving the chill on open waters can get more than a bit uncomfortable.
Most of the D/FW-area barges sell bait and tackle, including live minnows and a wide range of downsized crappie jigs. Some of the larger barges even offer hot meals served under the same roof as the fishing.
Barge managers typically spend a great deal of time placing fish-attracting cover such as Christmas trees and willows under their barges. Some even go to the trouble of using PVC pipe to create "crappie condos" that sit vertically on the lake bottom under the barge, usually in water ranging from 14 to 20 feet.
Water temperatures in the dead of winter being pretty low, you can expect a very subtle bite from the papermouths. Veteran winter crappie fishermen are devout line-watchers, because the only indication of a crappie sucking in a jig or minnow -- even if the panfish is a barn-door specimen -- may be a slight twitch or sideways movement of the line. So the instant you even think that your line has moved, a quick snap of the wrist is in order. That hookset sometimes results in your catching a big pre-spawn crappie measuring 13 to 15 inches!
If you've never fished at one of these sheltered barges before, take a little time to watch some of the veterans. All the barges are frequented by a hard core of seasoned crappie anglers; keep an eye on them, and you'll see that the experienced ones use spinning reels attached to light or ultralight rods, usually about 6-pound-test line and jigs that run the gamut of colors. Most jigs share some combination of chartreuse, black, red, white or pink.
Technique is always important, and not just for catching fish -- to avoid hanging up in the heavy brush, too. Rather than cast your jigs or minnows, it's best to move to a spot and then lower your bait vertically into the water. This method greatly lessens the loss of jigs and minnows incurred when baits are cast and dragged back through the brush.
Even when concentrated in big schools in near-perfect habitat, winter crappie can be very picky as to the time of day at which they decide to feed. A call ahead to the fishing barge of your choice is good insurance. Plan your trip to coincide with a peak feeding period. I've fished at crappie barges when the bite was fast and furious during the first few hours of daylight in the morning; at other times, the fish bit best during midday. Sometimes they bite better in the shaded area back under the docks. Just watch the veterans that are sure to be on hand this month, and you'll soon get the hang of catching fish.
So where can you wet a hook in comfort this month? Let's take a look at some of the hottest crappie houses that are relatively near the D/FW Metroplex.
About 45 minutes south of Dallas on Highway 34 and a couple of miles west of Ennis, Highview Marina Barge -- (972) 646-5330 -- annually provides some red-hot winter crappie fishing. Its hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. A well-stocked bait and tackle shop is on site. Owner John Anthony says top baits include Bass Assassins on a 1/32-ounce jighead in "electric chicken" pattern, a combination of chartreuse body with silver glitter and pink belly. Southern Pro tube jigs on a light jighead also work great there.
Winter crappie fishermen have been flocking to the Lewisville Fishing Barge -- 956 Sandy Beach Road; (972) 436-9341 -- for years. I remember many productive trips there a couple of decades ago, back when the late Joe Jagoe owned the place. John Kuhn reports that fishermen are still doing very well there, especially during the winter months. The barge sits in water 15 to 30 feet deep on the southwest side of the lake. Bait, tackle and sandwiches are available on site. The barge, heated during the winter, is open 24-7.
Carl Ponton expects the fishing at Lynn Creek Marina Fishing Barge -- 5700 Lakeridge Parkway; (817) 640-4200 -- to be good, as crappie stack up on the many Christmas trees submerged under the barge in water 15 to 18 feet deep. "We're open 24-7 and have everything the fisherman needs, including an on-site restaurant at Lynn Creek Marina" he said.
This barge hosts an ongoing crappie tournament with prizes paid for big crappie of the day, week and month. On Wednesdays, seniors over 65 fish free.
Lying on the west side of the lake, Benbrook Marina -- 302 Lakeview Drive; (817) 249-2696 -- has an excellent indoor heated fishing barge that offers a good assortment of bait and tackle, as well as sandwiches and snacks. According to Jimmy Whelchel, the barge is open 24 hours per day. The lake was low early last fall, but, Whelchel says, late-fall and winter rains often put the lake back at normal pool long before spring. If that holds true, winter crappie fishing can be very rewarding. Just make sure to call ahead to check water conditions before planning your trip.
A call ahead to the fishing barge of your choice is good insurance. Plan your trip to coincide with a peak feeding period.
Duck Cove Fishing Barge -- (903) 356-3240 -- has long been one of my favorite spots for catching winter crappie; it's at the north end of the lake, a little over an hour's drive from Dallas.
Owner Randy Gay feels that we're in prime time for catching big baskets of barn-door crappie. "We're open seven days a week during the winter and have a nice little cafe beside the fishing barge where we serve breakfast and lunch," he stated. "We usually have a couple of briskets on the smoker."
One of the largest indoor fishing spots in the region, the 99-foot barge annually attracts fishermen who pull their RVs to the marina to enjoy a combination of camping and fishing for a few days. Make reservations for RV spots early, because this place gets really busy in winter.
LAKE RAY HUBBARD
Hubbard has two full-service indoor fishing barges. Lakeside Fishing Barge -- Dalrock Road and I-30; (972) 475-3824 -- is open seven days a week, 6:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until midnight on the weekends.
Terry McGhghy anticipates that the excellent crappie fishing that annually begins in late December will be going strong this month. "We sit in 12 to 18 feet of water and keep crappie baited in with plenty of heavy brush," he said. "We have a well-stocked bait shop and welcome calls from fishermen inquiring about the fishing."
Harbor Bay Marina -- (972) 771-0071 -- lies just north of the far-eastern I-30 bridge at the Ridge Road exit. The fishing there is almost a carbon copy of what you'll find at Lakeside Fishing Barge. The old Rockwall Marina Barge used to sit in that exact spot, which many devout crappie anglers have been working for years.
So gather up your crappie-catching equipment and give one or more of these indoor fishing hotspots a try this month. You might find a renewed interest in February fishing!