For catching giant crappie, nothing compares to the states bordering either side of the lower Mississippi River.
In a 2017 survey by MonsterCrappie.com, Mississippi placed nine lakes on the list of the Top 50 crappie waters in the nation, including the top three positions. All of the "Big Four" U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control reservoirs in northern Mississippi made the list.
Not surprisingly, Grenada Lake took the top spot. Near the town of Grenada, the lake routinely produces 3-pound crappies, with an occasional 4-pounder, and at least one fish weighing 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Many come in just shy of 4 pounds. In tournaments, the largest crappie usually exceeds 3.5 pounds.
"The four flood control reservoirs are consistently among the best crappie lakes in the entire nation," remarked Keith Meals, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks biologist in Oxford. "All four of those lakes can produce a lot of 2-pound fish and some 3-pounders. In the spring of 2017, we saw many 3-pounders come out of Sardis."
Sardis Lake came in third on the list, followed by Arkabutla Lake in eighth place and Enid Lake in 17th. Sardis Lake covers 32,500 acres at summer pool. Near Batesville, Enid Lake holds the state and world records for white crappie with a 5-pound, 3-ounce fish caught in 1957. Arkabutla Lake in Tate and DeSoto counties set the state record for black crappie at 4.25 pounds.
"All four reservoirs had good to excellent crappie spawns since 2013," Meals explained. "In 2014, we had a really big spawn. Those fish are now about 12 inches long, maybe a little smaller on Sardis and bigger on Arkabutla and Grenada. Unless something bad happens, we should have good crappie fishing in this part of Mississippi for the next several years."
In the winter, the Corps draws down the Big Four reservoirs. In a normal year, the lakes reach winter pool by Dec. 1. As the Corps begins refilling the lakes in January, they usually reach summer pool by early May. However, that didn't happen last spring.
North Mississippi was extremely dry in March and April last year. The good news was low water allowed vegetation to grow on dry lake bottoms. When the water came up, newly inundated vegetation created excellent fish habitat.
In northwest Mississippi, anglers might also fish Tunica Cutoff, or Tunica Lake, an active oxbow off the Mississippi River in Tunica County. More known for numbers than size, Tunica Lake crappie bite best when the river gauge at Memphis reads 10 to 15 feet and is slowly falling. With cold snowmelt coming down the river each spring, crappie typically spawn later in active oxbows than in landlocked lakes.
"Tunica has had some down years since the 2011 flood, followed by a drought in 2012," Meals said. "It now has Asian carp. We've also had a proliferation of garfish since the flood, and that has kept the fish production down. Anglers are catching mostly young crappie, so the lake looks like it's starting to recover."
Lake Washington, another Mississippi River oxbow south of Greenville, took second on the best crappie lakes list. Good for numbers and size, the lake produces many crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range with some 3-pounders. At least one 4-pounder came out of Lake Washington in 2015.
"We normally see several 3-pounders caught each spring, but the average is just over a pound," said Nathan Aycock, MDWFP biologist in Cleveland.
Aycock also cited Moon Lake, an oxbow in Coahoma County north of Clarksdale, as improving for crappie because of better water quality. Eagle Lake, another excellent crappie lake north of Vicksburg, produces many 1- to 2-pound crappie and some 3-pounders.
"For the biggest crappie in this part of Mississippi, I would recommend Eagle Lake," stated Ryan Jones, MDWFP biologist in Canton. "The crappie in our spring creel surveys average about 1.25 pounds. All of our oxbow lakes are improving, but they are still on the rebound from the 2011 flood and the 2012 drought, which were detrimental to the sport fish population in all Mississippi River oxbows."
Another perennial numbers favorite, Ross Barnett Reservoir came in at No. 20 on the list. Much of the shallow lake near Jackson resembles a swamp, but some old oxbows off the original Pearl River channel drop to more than 40 feet deep. The spawn on Ross Barnett typically peaks in mid-April.
Jones also recommends Okatibbee Reservoir on Okatibbee Creek at the headwaters of the Pascagoula River, northwest of Meridian. Fairly shallow, Okatibbee warms quicker than many other waters so crappie spawn earlier.
"Okatibbee has some good numbers," Jones said. "In the spring, people can catch a limit easy, but they are usually smaller fish. Neshoba County Lake is mostly known for trophy bass, but it's a tremendous crappie fishery as well."
Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River in extreme northeastern Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama made the list at No. 19. Bay Springs Lake, a 6,700-acre system in Tishomingo and Prentiss counties, also produces big crappie.
"Pickwick has been improving for crappie recently," said Trevor Knight, MDWFP biologist in Tupelo. "It's a good numbers lake. For size, I'd recommend Bay Springs. Crappie usually start spawning in late February and continue through early May."
On the west side of the Mississippi River, only one Louisiana lake made the Top 50 list. Hitting the list at No. 5 in the nation, Lake D'Arbonne spreads across 15,250 acres near Farmerville. The lake holds abundant crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range, but also produces many exceeding 2 pounds. The lake benefitted from a very good spawn in 2015.
"Lake D'Arbonne has always one of the best crappie lakes in Louisiana," stated Ryan Daniel, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist in Monroe. "It's an above average crappie lake with incredible habitat and good variety."
To the east, the hottest new crappie lake in Louisiana sits where one of the oldest cultures in the state once lived. Poverty Point Reservoir covers about 2,700 acres north of Delhi. Since 2010, the small lake produced the state record black crappie at 3.84 pounds and six of the Top 10 white crappie caught in Louisiana. Just in the spring of 2016, anglers landed the second, third and fourth largest white crappie ever caught in Louisiana with the biggest weighing 3.52 pounds.
Farther north, Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish continues to improve. The Mississippi River oxbow enjoyed good recent spawns.
"The Lake Providence crappie population is currently much higher than average for this lake," Daniel said. "The current population includes two really strong year-classes."
To the west, anglers might fish Caney Creek Lake or Lake Bistineau. Although more known for its giant bass, Caney near Chatham contributed five fish to the Louisiana Top 10 black crappie list including the No. 2 fish, a 3.55-pounder. Fishing at Caney should continue to improve as more submerged vegetation grows in the lake. In February 2015, Lake Bistineau near Minden added a 3.44-pound white crappie to the Louisiana Top 10 list.
"Annual water level fluctuations for vegetation control at Lake Bistineau are aiding the crappie population by improving spawning habitat and forage conditions," explained Jeff Sibley, LDWF biologist in Minden. "Ivan Lake southeast of Plain Dealing also has a thriving crappie population. We did a major renovation project in 2012 and constructed five fishing piers with feeders."
On the Louisiana-Texas line, Toledo Bend Reservoir runs 65 miles along the old Sabine River channel. Typically considered a bass lake, the sprawling system produces many big crappie, including a 3.55-pound black, which currently ranks third in Louisiana record book. Some anglers caught bigger fish, but weighed them in Texas.
"Toledo Bend continues to produce quality crappie along with good numbers," commented Villis Dowden, LDWF biologist in Natchitoches.
Dowden also recommends John K. Kelly Grand Bayou Reservoir near Coushatta and Sibley Lake in Natchitoches Parish. Grand Bayou placed a 3.38-pound white on the Top 10 list. Many people fish an artificial reef placed in the lake.
"Grand Bayou Reservoir produces quality crappie and good numbers," Dowden said. "In February, look for crappie in the deeper areas of the lake. When the water has warmed to about 58 degrees, crappie move up along the banks into water 2 to 5 feet deep."
In central Louisiana, the Larto-Saline complex traditionally produces many crappie exceeding 2 pounds. Anchored by two lakes, the entire complex covers about 8,000 acres. Saline Lake is about 1,971 acres near Deville. Deeper and more open than Saline, the horseshoe-shaped Lake Larto spreads across 2,325 acres about 25 miles south of Jonesville.
"The Larto-Saline complex is a good area for numbers, but also has some decent-size crappie," said Shelby Richard, LDWF biologist in Pineville. "Lake Louis is another good crappie lake. St. John and Lake Concordia show signs of improvement. We deployed artificial reefs in Lake St. John and that seems to be having a great response."
Near Ville Platte, Chicot Lake covers 1,642 acres entirely within Chicot State Park. The heavily wooded lake averages about 7 feet, but some holes drop to more than 15 feet. Spring Bayou near Marksville in Avoyelles Parish can also produce good catches.
"Chicot Lake and Spring Bayou are good for numbers throughout the year and the size has improved," explained Jody David, LDWF biologist in Opelousas.
Old River, sometimes called Lake Raccourci, near Simmesport continues to improve. The active oxbow produces many crappie in the 8- to 12-inch range.
"Old River Raccourci is on the upswing," explained Brian J. Heimann, LDWF biologist in Baton Rouge. "There were a few poor spawn and recruitment years recently, but in the past two years, catches have been increasing in both number and in distribution of size."
Down the Atchafalaya River, southern Louisiana bayou country traditionally produces excellent fish numbers, but not many big ones. However, Lake Verret set the Louisiana state record for white crappie with a 3.80-pounder caught in 2010. The swampy 14,000-acre natural lake connects to several other lakes through a myriad canals and bayous. In southern Louisiana, crappie usually start spawning in February and continue through March.
In southeastern Louisiana, try the Tchefuncte River or the canals flowing into Lac Des Allemands near Thibodaux. Louisiana anglers might also want to fish Bundick Lake near Deridder or Vernon Lake near Leesville.
This list barely scratches the surface in either state of where folks can find excellent crappie action this spring, but it might help plan that next trip.
New Spin On Old Baits
In many places throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, anglers fish woody cover, such as brush piles, fallen trees, cypress knees, stumps and other objects. Jigs can snag easily. Minnows run for cover to escape predators and wrap lines around branches. For fishing entangling cover, take a tip from bass anglers and put a new spin on old lures.
Among the oldest baits on the market, spinnerbaits still catch fish. Light jighead spinners resemble miniature versions of conventional safety-pin spinnerbaits bass anglers prefer, but with plastic trailers rather than skirts. They come with wires that help deflect branches and other objects. Anglers can reconfigure jighead spinners to change heads, trailers or blades.
Many crappie anglers also use inline spinnerbaits, which employ one or more blades revolving around a straight wire shaft. Inline spinnerbaits date back more than a century. Easy to work, inlines were often the first artificial baits that young anglers used.