A state full of slabs is a fair description of the Lone Star State once crappie-catchin' time arrives each spring. These lakes are prime for producing heavy stringers of slabs in the weeks ahead.
Photo by Michael Skinner
Crappie are consistent.
Texas anglers always worry about the quality of largemouth bass fishing changing on their favorite waterways, but they know for the most part that crappie fishing remains strong no matter what.
These highly adaptable fish fare extremely well in the structure-rich reservoirs of Texas, especially in the eastern third of our state where excellent crappie fishing destinations are too numerous to count.
However, that is not to say other parts of the state do not produce solid crappie fishing because lakes in the central and southern regions certainly give up their share of barn door-sized specimens.
Let's look at some of the best spots for you to catch a limit of slab-sized crappie in 2005.
Crappie fishing on Lake Conroe can be fantastic
Veteran Lake Conroe guide Tex Bonin says that the crappie fishing can get so good there that he won't take anglers out unless they're catching fish on the lake.
"Conroe is full of brushpiles and various structure that crappie like to inhabit. Once you get on a reliable pattern, it's fairly easy to produce limits of fish here."
Bonin probably has 50 brushpiles spread around the lake, ranging in depth from shallow to deep. Most of the year, though, the crappie hang out in the deeper brush in 18 to 22 feet of water.
He advises anglers wanting to intercept Conroe's brush-loving crappie to employ sonar of some sort, because most of its brushpiles are submerged around main-lake structure like creeks, humps, roadbeds and points. "It is very difficult to pinpoint good locations or to sink brush without a depthfinding device here," Bonin said. "There are so many brushpiles in fact that you'll never find the right ones for the big crappie unless you're able to look at the bottom with great detail. Finding the structure on top of structure is important."
Anglers unfamiliar with brushpile locations could cruise the lake with a good pair of polarized sunglasses and look for submerged marker buoys. The buoys that are submerged and covered with green slime are the ones you want to look for. These are the ones that some of the hardcore crappie anglers put out, and they usually hold plenty of fish.
When the crappie are spawning at Conroe, why not give trolling a try? Rig up a couple of rods with small Road Runners, cast them off the back of the boat and pull them slowly through the creeks. You'll be surprised at the number of crappie that you can catch this way. It's also a good way to cover water. If you get a bunch of bites in a particular spot, you can always anchor and fish there.
Lake Livingston is another major crappie producer in our state. The crappie are thick in the water there, and grow to impressive sizes.
If you want to catch big, high-quality crappie at Livingston, the best places to look are in the creek channels from April through about mid-June.
When looking for creeks at Livingston, don't fool with small, shallow ones. Look for creeks with 10 to 15 feet of water, because crappie will stay in these deeper creeks until the water temperature reaches the high 80s.
Crappie stage in the deep, cool thermocline of these creeks and then leave to go feeding on shad, their No. 1 prey item. Anglers should also be mindful that when temperatures are going into summer ranges, crappie will migrate out of the creeks and into the main lake. This calls for a change in tactics.
Main-lake points and deeper areas where creeks enter the main body of the lake are now the important areas to fish. During this time of year, crappie begin to relate more strongly to brushpiles, wood, bridges and other structure. They'll also key on variations in oxygen levels, to which crappie and other baitfish are very susceptible. In the summer, such fluctuations and, thus, crappie kills are commonplace at some Southern lakes.
Anglers looking for crappie in summer months might consider looking for spots where there is an increase in water flow near deep water. The north end of the reservoir can be a good spot, as can the dam when the lake is releasing water.
These spots, which generally have a higher ratio of dissolved oxygen, will hold crappie. Artesian wells like those found on many East Texas lakes are great places to find crappie as spring changes to summer.
Something else to keep an eye out for during summer: open flats. These areas often become staging grounds for shad, and crappie stack up in them to feed on the baitfish.
Something to keep in mind is that no matter where you fish, crappie techniques usually center on finding the proper depth at which to fish. Actually timing the drop by knowing how the bait falls is one method.
Another effective method is called "crocheting."
This involves allowing the bait to drop to the bottom and rest there. Then it is taken by hand using a pull method and reeling in slack until a crappie strikes.
The point of both methods is to get the bait or jig into the right zone. When a crappie strikes at a certain depth, concentrate your efforts there, as many more bites are likely to follow the first.
This lake is full of slab-sized crappie, and that's in no small part due to the prime habitat it contains. The spring fishing is good, but the best fishing is during winter.
During spring, a lot of the crappie will be along the shorelines in shallow water, usually ranging from 1 to 3 feet in depth. In early spring, they will be up in the buckbrush in the back of the creeks. In winter, months look for big schools of shad bunched up around the river channels.
The top bait for crappie in these parts is a live shiner rigged on a single, thin hook. Long-shanked hooks are best used because the fish are easier to unhook and release that way. Don't get the idea that Cooper's crappie won't accept plastic, because they will -- if you're careful.
It's all in boat positioning and stealth, though. If you get right over where yo
u find the crappie and drop your jig down vertically, you can absolutely hammer crappie. Small 1/32- and 1/16-ounce tube jigs can catch as many fish as shiners do any day of the week. You just have to pay attention to detail.
Lake Proctor is a top spot for anglers seeking crappie south of the Metroplex region. It probably holds one of the healthiest populations in the state, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department surveys. Shad are the key to crappie success, and this small reservoir is loaded with them.
Anglers should stick to live shiners to produce crappie, and target areas on the upper end of the lake along and above the bridge in the creek channel. The bridge itself has a good number of constructed brushpiles that hold huge numbers of crappie attracted by the cottonseed cake that anglers use to bait them.
Just as with the bass fishing in the region, another good area is the point at the north end of the dam. This heats up in the spring, as does the Sowell Creek channel around the bridge.
Using electronics to locate these fish is very important, as that can help put you on schools of fish that you might never find simply by fishing territory that looks good from the surface. Look for big schools of shad suspended over brush; find them, and you're likely to be on your way to locating solid crappie here.
Located northeast of Austin in Williamson County, this often-overlooked reservoir offers some excellent action for crappie.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, crappie fishing is at its best in the spring. The agency's profile of the water body says that anglers should concentrate their efforts near flooded trees and laydowns, which can be found in abundance in the creeks and upper end of the reservoir. During the summer, concentrate on main-lake humps, ridges, and dropoffs that have brush, most of which will have been placed there by anglers.
Good electronics will be necessary to find this structure. For fish that are actively biting, it is hard to beat a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce tube jig. Small or medium minnows are always a good bet, and can produce a stringer when little else works.
As on most other reservoirs, keep your eyes out for submerged brush by watching your electronics or simply looking for marker buoys slightly submerged under the lake's frequently turbid water. Target those buoys instead of ones you see floating, since most veteran crappie anglers never allow their marker buoys to reach all the way to the surface.
By the end of the day, we conservatively estimated our catch at more than 80 crappie, most of which were keeper-sized fish. Moreover, we'd caught several that weighed well over 2 pounds.
Rayburn Lake guide Roger Bacon put down the trolling motor on his bass boat, pointed at a marker buoy and told me to cast right to it; I should, he predicted, get a hit.
And he was right. No more than five seconds after the tiny jig hit the water, a big slab-sized crappie engulfed it. Soon, my father, who had accompanied me on the trip, had a fish on, and then Bacon did too. The way things looked, we were about to hit crappie pay dirt in a big way.
On that trip, I got a chance to fish with Bacon after weeks of threatening to go after crappie. He told me that he was on some crappie, but he left the good part for me to find out for myself: He was on some huge crappie, and lots of them.
By the end of the day, we conservatively estimated our catch at more than 80 crappie, most of which were keeper-sized fish. Moreover, we'd caught several that weighed well over 2 pounds. Those were legitimate trophy crappie in my book!
"That type of catch has been pretty commonplace for anglers who know where some of the main-lake brush is," said Bacon. "This time of year it's tempting to run shallow to find fish, and you probably can, but we're catching the biggest and the most in deeper water."
The first spot we fished was right in the middle of the lake, in an area that Bacon calls "the hard spot" --"because it's hard to find and hard to fish," he explained.
I'll agree on the hard to fish part. The wind was blowing like crazy, and the waves were churning, making flipping a tiny 1/32-ounce jig difficult. But the crappie were in there so thick that it didn't really matter. If we pitched the jig near the brush, it was hit.
Bacon said anglers not familiar with brushpile locations could cruise the lake with a good pair of polarized sunglasses, looking for the markers.
Bacon, a stickler for details, says that the best way to ensure a successful crappie trip is to pay strict attention to all aspects of the fishing process. "Pay special attention to your electronics," he stated. "When you run around some of these markers you may come across a smallish brushpile right off, but there are usually bigger ones around it, and they are the ones that hold most of the fish. Also, there are a lot of peripheral fish -- ones that hang on the outside of the big school. You can catch some of these peripheral fish, but you'll have much better luck working over the major concentration of fish.
"Rayburn is so well know for its big bass that many people overlook the great crappie fishing. That is a shame because the fishing here can be tremendous. It's just a matter of getting over here and trying it out."
The crappie fishing is world-class, especially in the famous "Chicken Coop" area -- a spot on the old river channel in which anglers fish shiners deep to catch tons of slabs each winter.
Anglers hoping to get in on some of the intense crappie fishing action should be aware of a special regulation for that body of water.
Between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, anglers fishing for crappie on the Texas side of Toledo Bend are required to keep the first 50 crappie they catch, regardless of the fish's size. Length limits are waived during this period.
"This regulation was put into place several years ago to help reduce the overall mortality of crappie in Toledo Bend," said Todd Driscoll, who's with the TPWD in Jasper. "Many times the crappie on Toledo Bend are caught in deep water, and they are damaged from being brought to the surface so quickly. Many of these fish will die even if released immediately. The regulation is in place to stop the culling of crappie." In other words, an angler catching crappie in 40 feet of water might catch as many as 100 crappie, keep out 25 or so, and leave most of the rest to die. The mandate is designed to put a stop to such needless waste.
Anglers should enjoy this regulation, since it's probably the only rule they'll ever be subject to that requires them to keep fish.
LAKE CORPUS CHRISTI
This lake has been on again, off again for largemouth bass but consistent for crappie during the last few years, and it should stay that way in 2005. Much of the crappie fishing done there is from lighted boat docks, where anglers tend to use live shiners. However, small jigs can outproduce live bait in the hands of a skilled crappie angler.
The lake typically runs off-color. During summer months, when anglers can find patches of clear water over brush, those are good places to seek crappie with small jigs in clear, pearl or chartreuse colors.
This is also a popular place for anglers to use green lights at night to lure in baitfish and, in turn, to lure in crappie. This is a great time to give small luminescent jigs a try, or simply to go with that old standard, live shiners. When the crappie are hitting around the lights, they're not too fussy.