September 30, 2010
April is prime time to get some crappie in your cooler, and these five lakes are prime places to do it. (April 2010)
April is the prime month to load up on crappie. Across the Mid-Atlantic, any pond, most lakes and even some rivers are likely to be at least decent destinations for getting a stringer full of these tasty panfish. However, some waters stand out better than others for loading up on specks. We highlight five waters in three states that show great potential to be the better crappie destinations this month.
Virginia has so many crappie waters that are good that it is tough to figure out which ones to go fish. However, April tends to be the best month for the three waters we feature here. Fisheries biologists and discussions with local anglers tipped us off as to where to head this month.
First we have to start with Buggs Island Lake (or Kerr Reservoir, as some know it). At this massive impoundment, measuring nearly 50,000 acres, one could argue that crappie are king, and most of the thousands of anglers who fish there each year would agree. If fact, it has been said in many circles that Buggs is in the top five impoundments for crappie fishing in the nation. Fisheries biologist Vic DiCenzo with the VDGIF agrees.
"We see anglers from all over the country that fish Buggs for crappie. The fishing in Buggs is consistently good from year to year."
April is the prime month to be at Buggs for crappie, although anglers actually begin catching them in good numbers in late February. No matter if you prefer to fish shallow, deep, with jigs or with minnows for crappie, you can find your favorite type of fishing in April at Buggs.
DiCenzo said, "April is the transition month at Buggs. The first week of the month the crappie will be very close to the bank. Sometimes they are in water so shallow they can be easily seen. By midmonth you have to back off a little bit and fish in a few feet of water. Then the end of the month often puts the best crappie fishing back on deeper structure just beyond the shallows."
Fishing an impoundment such as Buggs Island can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least, simply because of the vastness of the lake. The best bet when searching for April crappie is to ignore the big water and head for the tributaries. On the upper end of the lake this means fishing the upper reaches of Buffalo or Bluestone creeks, which in themselves are quite large. If you launch in the middle portion of the reservoir, head for Grassy or Butcher Creek and begin hitting structure in the upper ends of those tributaries. On the lower end of the impoundment, Eastland is always a good bet too. If you are up for a boat ride into North Carolina waters, you should definitely be able to rustle up a mess of specks in Nutbush Creek.
There are dozens of ramps all over the reservoir and each of the named creeks above have ramps on them to put the boat closer to the fishing.
The anglers who really want to put some fish in the boat will use a light or even an ultralight rod and reel setup with minnows. There is a 100-fish limit on Buggs per angler per day. The average fish is 10 to 12 inches long, and during April there are some 3-pound fish regularly caught in any of the named creeks.
Lake Chesdin is 3,100 acres in size and has been overlooked for some time when it comes to crappie fishing. This impoundment of the Appomattox River is on the Dinwiddee/Chesterfield County Line. Anglers know that the lake is a very productive habitat for all game fish and that black and white crappie are thriving there.
Johnathan Harris gave us the scoop on the crappie angling here and told us why it was so good. "Chesdin has lots of gizzard shad that the crappie use for forage," he said. "Anglers will find that the average fish is probably in the 7 1/2- to 8-inch range, but we have sampled fish up to 15 1/2 inches long. There is no doubt that there are some very good quality size fish in the lake. However, we do have a bunch of fish that are smaller as well."
Harris relayed that he really would like to see anglers come in and keep a limit of fish. Catching a limit of 25 fish at Chesdin should not be hard, either. The mid-lake coves and the flats near the mid-lake areas are very good spots to hit during April. Creeks in the mid-lake, such as Whippernock, are also very good.
Harris also noted a few other places to be sure to try.
"Cattle Creek, Basses Creek and Stoney Creek on the north shore had very good catch rates of crappie, and Cattle Creek had some big fish when we sampled there."
Most of the crappie in Chesdin are black crappie, but the white crappie that are caught are very beautiful and large fish. With light fishing pressure, plenty of fish, a request from the biologist to keep a limit of fish to help balance things out, and plenty of water to enjoy, we knew this would be a great April destination for anglers. Chesdin has a public boat ramp, a handicap accessible fishing pier, and there are several private marinas with boat ramps, rentals and concession stands around the lake. The public ramp and pier are open 24 hours a day.
Chickahominy Lake is a fishery we haven't featured for awhile and is long overdue for some exposure. The lake serves as a 1,230-acre water supply reservoir that straddles the New Kent and Charles City County line. Scott Herrmann is the district fisheries biologist who samples and studies the fish in the lake. Herrmann spent an afternoon discussing several of the region's waters and the crappie fishing in them with me. Herrmann pointed out that although we featured Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir in our annual crappie roundup, Chickahominy is certainly no slouch in terms of producing numbers and quality-sized crappie.
"Chickahominy Lake consistently produces good numbers of black crappies in the 9- to 11-inch range with decent numbers of 12-inch fish seen each year."
Herrmann and I discussed sampling data that showed a consistent catch rate of fish even though the times that he was able to do his sampling varied from early March to early April. Truly the weather, water temperature and conditions affect the location and activity of crappie, thus affecting his sampling efforts and, of course, angler success.
Herrmann agreed, saying, "The water temperature needs to hover around the mid-50s for the fish to become active. The size structures of collected crappies were similar from year to year with a size distribution in the shape of a bell-shaped curve. Very few smaller crappies less than 9 inches and only a handful of crappies greater than 13 inches were collected each year. The bulk of the catch was centered around fish in the 9- to 12-inch range."
April seems to be when that magic number of 55 degrees is consistently found in the lake. At this time, the fish get stacked up in Johnson and Lacey creeks where the shallow waters tend to warm much faster and the fish look for spawning areas.
Herrmann pointed out that one fourth of his total crappie catch during his last survey was taken from one trap net located on the northern edge of Johnson Creek near a marsh bay. He found them just on the channel edge next to the flats where they could rapidly transition from deep water to the shallows. This is the type of water anglers want to key on, particularly during early April.
The tree structure at the mouth of both Lacey and Johnson creeks is definitely worth a stop and a few casts too. Fish the edge of the channel if it is still a bit chilly, and then work your way up to shallower water. Be sure to try various sides of the trees and structure to find the fish. Herrmann also noted that the eastern sides of these two creeks tended to be better than the western sides of the creeks. The bottom is firmer on the eastern side and not so muddy. The western side of the creek bank tends to be muddy, soft and not conducive to good crappie spawning areas.
The knees of the cypress trees are obviously great places to fish. Anglers should not be discouraged if they hit a few duck blinds, a cypress or two and don't come up with fish. The crappie are schooling fish and seem to really key on certain trees, treetops and duck blinds in the lake. Herrmann noted that this pattern shows itself in biologists' samplings as well. "When we sampled, we came across a few trees that had nothing and then all the sudden we hit a cypress that turned up dozens of crappie all around!"
When fishing the western part of the lake anglers should give Cedar Farm Creek a good, hard look. Herrmann reports that he finds decent schools of black crappie in that tributary. He does caution that after the water warms up, the hydrilla begins to take over and the fishing can be a bit more challenging.
Many anglers who fish Chickahominy Lake find it more expedient to locate the fish by slowly trolling minnows and jigs until they catch one fish. Then they start fishing the nearest structure or the edge of the channel.
Herrmann also added that although the average crappie at Chickahominy is 9 to 11 inches long, there is a good potential to find larger fish. As of press time, there were six citation crappie registered from Chickahominy Lake.
Ed Allen's Boat Ramp and Eagle's Landing Boat Ramp have boat rentals for anglers that do not own a boat. Be sure and take a camera when fishing on Chickahominy. This is truly the northernmost "southern" lake-fishing experience.
All of the Virginia lakes we featured here have boat rentals available for shore-bound anglers. And the boat rental locations are within striking distance of good crappie water that's fishable with rented troller motor-driven johnboats. Be sure you take plenty of minnows with you, some slip-bobbers, split shot and a bucket or cooler for a good catch of fish. Tell Mama she needs to get ready for a fish fry too!
While Maryland may not have quite the number of impoundments that Virginia does, anglers who fish the Free State do know that crappie fishing is high on the list of priorities for anglers. We spoke with Alan Klotz, Western Region Fisheries Manager for Maryland DNR, to find out where he would go to get in a great day of April crappie fishing.
His choice for April is Broadford Lake in Mountain Lake Park. This 230-acre lake is a beautiful, quiet impoundment that allows only electric motors, which reduces the numbers of anglers that fish its depths. Klotz pointed out that the lake has lots of 8-inch fish, but anglers regularly find 12-inch fish too. The lake's daily limit of crappie is 15 fish a day, and there is no size limit.
Klotz also pointed out that April is a great time to catch crappie by sight-fishing or casting into the shallows because the fish are very close to the shore. He recommends that anglers definitely fish the edges of cattails and over beaver caches, which are mounds of underwater brush. Use polarized glasses to either find the fish or the structure where you need to cast.
Anglers should also note that the Maryland DNR has placed Christmas tree fish structure habitat throughout the lake. These are great additional places to dunk a minnow or jig for the fish. Klotz shared that many anglers are successful with the jig/minnow combinations, but the Trout Magnet lures tipped with a mealworm also are reliable. Even flyfishermen who use streamers can go home with a limit of fish.
There is plenty of shoreline access for anglers without a boat. However, a canoe or johnboat is perfect for this impoundment.
There is a fee to get into Broadford Lake Park, which is owned by the town of Oakland in Garrett County (301-334-2691), but season passes can be purchased. The park hosts a boat launch, rest rooms and picnic areas. Rental boats are available.
Delaware does not have any lakes per se, but they do have millponds. Fisheries biologist Catherine Martin was willing to enlighten us to where the biologists see the best crappie numbers while sampling.
Martin pointed out that a very recent sampling effort at Concord Pond near Seaford turned up an excellent crappie fishery. The pond is fairly small at 77 acres, but has some brush treetops and spatterdock stems that the fish like to mingle in before spawning. The pond is also quite shallow, with the deepest portion of the water being 7 to 8 feet deep.
Crappie anglers reported to the biologists that the best bait to use at Concord Pond are small shiners, which can rapidly lead to a 15- to 20-fish stringer. The limit for crappie at Concord is 25. When Martin and her fellow biologists sampled the pond, they found the average size crappie was 10 inches, with some larger fish present.
The Tyndall Branch dumps into the eastern side of the pond and offers anglers a place to row, paddle or fish along its nearly mile of peaceful and quiet waterway.
Martin also reminded anglers 16 and older that they should be in possession of a FIN number available at www.delaware-fin.com/default.asp in addition to their license when fishing the pond. This is a relatively new regulation.
Don't overlook the other ponds in the state, either. Many are within easy driving distance of one another; so if one pond is not to your liking, then head for another. The following Web site has info on other ponds: http://www.fw.delaware.gov/Fisheries/Pages/DelawarePondBooklet.aspx.
Fishing the ponds requires no expensive equipment and a basic spin-cast or spinning setup in light action will do the trick. Four- to 6-pound-test is perfect for crappie fishing, and along with a bucket of minnows, a few jigs or wire hooks and a pair of polarized glasses will put you in fish country in no time.