October 04, 2010
By Will Leschper
It's slab season all across the state, but these waters will be turning out crappie action that you can set your watch by. (April 2009)
By Will Leschper
Spring is a magical season for anglers, a time that allows for anticipation and action for young and old.
By now, the lull of winter has been replaced by the glorious trappings associated with a warm-up across the state, and lakes have become ripe with fishing opportunities. Although there are a fabulous variety of scaly targets in every body of water in every corner of the state that have shaken off their cold-weather slumber, perhaps none is as available as the crappie.
From small stock ponds to massive impoundments, the crappie seems at home anywhere, making its living among an array of subsurface habitat. With a little know-how, a dash of effort and maybe even a little luck, most anglers who hit the water this time of year in hopes of filling their freezer with some tasty fillets will cash in on lakes across the state.
Here's a look at the top lakes for crappie fishing in Texas this year.
John Tibbs, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist in Central Texas, said his part of the state should be chock-full of crappie.
"It's looking good overall in this part of the state," he said. "The lakes have been down for the most part but that's to be expected with the drought conditions and everything that goes along with them."
Tibbs said two lakes stand out above the others in his district.
"One of the better crappie lakes in Central Texas is Limestone," he said. "It doesn't get as much pressure as the other lakes in the region and the state, and has always been a solid crappie spot. Waco looks to be doing pretty good and has seen benefits from a rise in pool level. There's plenty of good habitat there, like on Limestone, and anglers always expect to do well there when they're crappie fishing. If you had to rank them, Waco would be at the top followed by Limestone."
Tibbs said it's not always easy to predict ahead of time how a season will pan out, but that crappie numbers can change.
"The crappie populations tend to be kind of cyclical, so it's tough to predict with certainty how things are going to shake out, but the fishing should be good again on those two lakes," he said. "If you had a sleeper category, you could throw Whitney in there. The golden algae problem has been bad on some of the lakes fed by the Brazos River, but the past two years Whitney has been free of the algae. That lake has turned out to be good for crappie if you can find them and we've been getting some good reports from anglers catching them regularly -- and some with some size, too!
"Drought and loss of habitat has been the biggest concern for lakes in this region, but that's a relatively short-term thing, so it probably won't have too much of a negative impact in the spring."
Two other lakes anglers fishing Central Texas should include on the crappie "must-hit" list are Proctor and LBJ. Proctor, which is located between the towns of Comanche and Proctor in Comanche County, is rated excellent by TPWD for crappie. After having fished there several times, I can attest to the rating. Proctor is known primarily as a superb hybrid striper fishery, but the crappie population also is strong, and the lake features a variety of underwater structure that will hold schools of fish. One particular area that stands out on Proctor is the spillway, which often produces strong catches of crappie almost all year long.
Other hotspots in this part of the state are Granger and LBJ, both of which are near Austin.
Bruch Hysmith, a TPWD biologist in North Texas, said anglers from the Dallas/Fort Worth area don't have to go far to find crappie this month.
"When we trap-netted the lakes in our district back in the fall, Texoma, Amon Carter and Bonham City produced a crappie catch over what it has been on those bodies of water," he said. "In particular, it looks like Texoma should have a bumper crop this year and that's attributed to the high water levels. All the other lakes in this part of the world have been low, but Texoma for whatever reason has been high and is looking really good. It's usually based on the river levels, but the Red has been down, so it must be the Washita that's accounting for the influx of water. Thanks to the high water levels, there's more prime habitat that is available to anglers, and in the spring that could mean a better crappie catch as the fish shallow-up to spawn.
"Amon Carter continues to hang in there like it always has and the fishing should be good there, too. Amon Carter is divided into two sections, and it seems like the old side seems to be a little more productive for crappie than the new side. It's a little more turbid, which means you'll have more small bait."
Hysmith said Ray Roberts, located north of Denton and rated excellent for crappie by TPWD, is among the best in the state.
"The thing about Ray Roberts that's great for anglers is access," he said. "Its perimeter lands are part of wildlife management areas, so anglers have foot access to some of the small tributaries where you can't get into with a boat. It's not really a secret, but guys who get in those areas with float tubes always do well for a number of species including crappie. If anglers pick up a public hunting map, that could serve as a good guide to get to those little incoming tributaries, especially when the fish move in to spawn."
Hysmith said Lavon, located northeast of Wylie, also is an excellent crappie spot.
"Lavon is another lake to look at for anglers in North Texas," he said. "Its water levels have been down recently, but it has bounced back from where it was and still has a lot of good subsurface habitat. There's good history on that lake and with plenty of standing timber and other cover, that's one place to definitely put on your list."
Other lakes in the region to consider are Benbrook, Bridgeport, Lewisville and Ray Hubbard.
John Findeisen, a TPWD biologist in South Texas said his part of the state has great bass fishing, but many anglers overlook the potential for crappie.
"Lake Corpus Christi is looking real good for crappie," he said. "We did our electrofishing surveys in the fall and saw a lot of fish that way, so that's a good sign that they'll be around in the spring. The fishing out at Choke Canyon also is looking to be good this year. There were good numbers of fish in the fall in some of the surveys and that la
ke has always been steady for a number of species including bass and catfish."
Findeisen said there is a pair of other lakes that shouldn't be forgotten.
"The other two lakes to look at down here are Coleto and Texana," he said. "Both of those lakes kind of get overlooked by a lot of anglers, but they're looking to be really good for crappie this year. Texana in particular has some excellent habitat for them. The lake has been down, but the fish have moved back into the timber and underwater vegetation. All of these lakes in the region have great forage sources, which makes the difference in the fishing opportunities. They've got shad and sunfish and they're just good overall fisheries."
This region of the state offers the densest amount of water per acre in the state, and there are some whopper crappie opportunities in a number of them. Among the top crappie fisheries are Fork, Lake O' the Pines, Livingston, Conroe, Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. Fork, like Alan Henry and some other lakes, is known more as a trophy bass hotspot, but it also is an excellent crappie fishery. In the spring, the angling efforts of those seeking crappie center on the bridges that run over the lake in the form of highways and county roads. The same vegetation that holds stupendous largemouth fishing also will provide cover for crappie. Dropping minnows in and around any variety of timber and vegetation should prove fruitful.
Lake O' the Pines and Sam Rayburn also are rated excellent by TPWD for crappie, while Toledo Bend offers a twist on the limit. Anglers on T-Bend, which encompasses more than 180,000 acres, are allowed 50 crappie in combination, making for some work in the filleting process if anglers are so inclined to haul in such a generous limit.
The lake that stands out in the Rolling Plains for crappie is Alan Henry, a noted bass fishery. Alan Henry features great habitat in the form of standing timber and submerged vegetation. And after angling for bass there, I can honestly say it's some of the best habitat I've seen in the state. The lake features a large amount of shoreline that harbors laydowns and other hiding spots and the fish tend to congregate in the arms of the lake in the spring and fall. Targeting the shallows where vegetation is present may be the best bet at Alan Henry in the spring -- for both bass and crappie.
BIOLOGY AND FEEDING HABITS
The crappie is the most popular panfish in Texas and is our third-most preferred freshwater angling target behind bass and catfish, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Both black and white crappie are nest builders, building structures in the spring during breeding season, generally spawning when water temperatures reach about 65 degrees. Like bass and sunfish, crappie will move into shallow water in the spring to spawn, sometimes into 2 feet of water or less, preferring rocky areas and other structure in which to construct nests.
The overall biology of black and white crappie generally is the same and the fish share similar degrees of growth when it comes to weight, though white crappie can attain longer lengths at maturity.
Black and white crappie both feed on a variety of forage sources, including small fish, crustaceans and insects. Though biologists tend to think black crappie feed less on small fish than white crappie, they nonetheless will take minnows or other small live bait if it is presented to them. The best artificial crappie lures mirror the look and behavior of minnows, their favorite meal.
Crappie fishing should be easy, plain and simple, which is one of its biggest appeals -- besides the angler being able to come home with some excellent table fare. You don't need to drag along a bunch of expensive gear and often you don't even need to fish from a boat, which can take a lot of work and cleanup out of your fishing efforts. Ultralight spinning tackle is perfect for crappie fishing, especially considering that even a monster fish might not top 4 pounds. Even if you're fishing around structure such as submerged trees or boat docks, you can get away with using super-light line down to 4- or even 2-pound-test.
For crappie, you also can get away with using smaller hooks, such as No. 6 or 8 hardware, when you're rigging up live bait. To maximize live-bait success, some anglers use a tandem hook setup, hooking a minnow with the lead hook and letting the trailer hook swing free. If they encounter snags or other problems with the extra hook, they simply hook it into the minnow also. This "gang hook" double rig increases your chances of hooking up while also not spooking the fish too much, and if the fish are aggressive at all, they're not too spooky anyway.
To keep crappie fishing even easier without messing with live bait, anglers can use a number of jigs and lures that all have proved equally adept at catching fish. The Road Runner is my personal favorite simply because I can remember catching crappie and other fish on it from stock ponds when I was a kid. Other successful crappie baits include curly-tail grubs, spinners, such as Roostertails and Beetle Spins, and the ubiquitous crappie tube jig. All of those lures come in a rainbow of colors, usually in plenty of bright shades, but they all work equally effective in almost any situation.
Though a hungry or aggressive crappie will take a larger bait than anglers might think, most people don't go larger than a 1/4-ounce jig or spinner, opting for 1/8- or 1/16-ounce sizes in many settings. Since you normally won't be casting far if you've located a school of fish, you don't necessarily need the added girth to aid your presentation.
Since they frequent structure such as docks, crappie can afford anglers a chance to fish at night now and into the summer, especially if the anglers can fish around lights. Even if anglers don't have access to structure with lights, there are a variety of glow jigs and other baits that will attract fish if anyone feels like maximizing their fishing opportunities.
When it comes to structure, crappie frequent a variety of underwater haunts available to anglers in boats and from the bank on almost every body of water in the state. Submerged logs and standing timber should be the first place to dip a bait since they hold fish almost all year long. Rocky areas, such as riprap or gravel bars, also tend to harbor crappie, especially when the fish go shallower.
With a superb overall crappie fishery, Texas anglers can reap the rewards from a day spent on the water this time of year in a big way on most lakes. Each angler is allowed a 25-fish limit each day with a 10-inch minimum. The overall bag limit includes white and black crappie in any combination and is the same for white bass, which also frequent many of the same locales as crappie. If you happen to limit out quickly after finding a good school of crappie, the hearty limit on white bass may be too tempting to pass up, especially if they also are running.
The outlook for crappie this year is good no matter where you call home, and plenty of fishing awaits anglers who don't mind a modest drive. Though bass fishing is king in the spring, you might take along an ultra-light setup just in case you
can't find the big boys and want to bring home a main course for supper. It's tough to beat the fishing options at this time of year, making Texas a one-of-a-kind locale.