February 04, 2015
Great Plains crappie fortunes depend on water and how much. Fortunately for Nebraska and Kansas anglers, water levels have rebounded from the drought experienced a few years ago, and crappie fortunes look bright for the upcoming spring.
"Water levels are better," said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Fisheries Supervisor Chuck Bever, "except in the West where you have the irrigation impoundments. For the most part, we've got water, which bodes well for spring."
Some of the reservoirs in western Kansas are down as much as 21 feet. Unless there are some timely fall rains, spring crappie anglers there will be greeted with extremely low water levels.
Bever explained that reservoirs in central and eastern Kansas offer more consistent water levels and, consequently, more consistent spring crappie fishing. "Hillsdale, Perry, Clinton have all rebounded some from the drought we had a few years ago," offered Bever. "Hillsdale Reservoir has a 10-inch minimum size limit that ensures that there's some good-sized crappies in it, and anglers do well there." Located near Paola, Kan., 4,580-acre Hillsdale Reservoir has an abundance of ideal habitat that spring crappies gravitate to. Shorelines exposed during low-water years become overgrown with vegetation that floods when the waters rise again, providing great cover for baitfish and spawning specks.
11,630-acre Perry Reservoir is another crappie hotspot that Bever recommended for 2015. Perry Reservoir, near Perry, Kan. has always had a good population of crappies, but they tended to run on the small side. A 10-inch size limit and 20-fish possession limit has helped crappies achieve a larger average size in recent years. White crappies topping one pound are commonly found over brush piles and fish hides and along the old creek channel. Try the shallows north of Ozawkie right after ice out.
12,500-acre Tuttle Creek Reservoir near Manhattan, Kan. reached record-low levels a few years ago that adversely affect the crappie fishing. But, true to the boom or bust nature of Kansas' reservoirs, water levels in Tuttle Creek Reservoir are on the rise along with the crappie population. With several strong year classes in the wings, look for Tuttle Creek to produce hot spring crappie fishing for several years to come. Look for crappies to school in the spring in creek arms and coves such as Carnahan Creek, off Stockdale Park, Baldwin Creek, and near the Fancy Creek Recreation Area.
For information on lodging, amenities and camping in the area contact the Manhattan Convention & Visitors Bureau at 785-776-8829 or online at www.manhattancvb.org.
"Milford Reservoir is not known as a crappie reservoir," said Chuck Bever, "but there are some good crappies in it." On a trip to Milford a few springs ago, the weather wasn't conducive to fishing the main lake so we vertically jigged off of some docks in a marina. The crappies though were seeking out calm, shallower water near the structure afforded by the docks, and we managed to catch a healthy stringer in a morning's fishing. 16,000-acre Milford Reservoir is a big body that is slow to warm in the spring, and crappie fishing there may be weeks behind other smaller impoundments in the area.
As the weather warms, look for schools of specks to invade the coves and creek arms found northeast of Wakefield that are south-facing and warm first. Look for spawning crappies from Farnum Creek all the way to Curtis Creek well into June. A great base of operations is Acorns Resort near Farnum Creek. The resort has boat docks, boat rentals, a general store and cabins for rent near some of Milford's best crappie hotspots. Contact them at 785-463-4000, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information on guides, amenities and tackle shops in the area contact the Geary County Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.junctioncity.org.
"Water levels on Clinton Reservoir have rebounded some," advised Chuck Bever. "Clinton Reservoir has always had good numbers of crappies. They just tend to run on the small side." The 7,000-acre reservoir is located five miles west of Lawrence, Kan. It is hoped that a 10-inch size limit will allow crappies another year to grow and reach a more acceptable size. Look for good spring crappie action in the Clinton Wildlife Area, off Rockhaven Park and near the Clinton Dam.
Located 35 miles south of Topeka on US 75, 7,00-acre Melvern Reservoir is considered one of Kansas' most consistent crappie waters. "Melvern is average to good for crappie and fairly consistent," said Bever. "Melvern has good habitat. The water has been down, but now that it's back up the vegetation that grew up is flooded, creating outstanding cover." There is a 10-inch size limit and 20-fish limit on crappies on Melvern.
Fishing typically heats up in mid-April on Melvern on the west end in the shallows near the Melvern Wildlife Area, in Eisenhower State Park and the Turkey Creek Arm. Like crappies everywhere, Melvern specks are suckers for a minnow suspended under a bobber.
Because of their more northern latitude, reservoirs along the northern tier of counties in Kansas tend to lag behind other Kansas reservoirs when it comes to spring crappies. Spring crappie action doesn't really peak until May and continues through June on these northern reservoirs. One thing that 12,586-acre Glen Elder Reservoir has going for it is that it's not used as an irrigation reservoir and doesn't experience the extreme changes in water levels that many other Kansas reservoirs do. As of late 2014, the reservoir was only two feet below conservation pool.
"Glen Elder is full of one-year-old crappies right now," shared KDWPT Region One Fisheries Biologist Scott Waters. Although fall sampling had just begun when he was being interviewed, Waters said he was encouraged by their initial findings. "I would expect fishing to be fair next spring," offered Waters. "The number of 12-to 15-inch crappies is down somewhat, but the abundance of 7- to 8-inch fish should bode well for coming years." Waters said that white crappies make up 90 percent of the catch on Glen Elder, preferring the muddy, turbid conditions that the reservoir provides.
Schools of pre-spawn crappies can be found in deeper water off the state park and the rocky bluffs on the south side of the lake. Electronics are needed to locate the isolated schools, but once found anglers can easily fill their 20-fish limit. Target the 25- to 30-foot depths during your search. Later, as the crappies move toward the shallows to spawn, the Mill Creek and Cawker Causeway are hotspots.
For information on lodging, guides and amenities in the area contact the Glen Elder Chamber of Commerce at www.glenelder.com or by calling 785-545-3474.
If 5,000-acre Kirwin Reservoir gets some water in the next few months it could be the best crappie reservoir in Kansas for the next few years. "Although low numbers of fish were caught in the trap nets due to cold fronts passing through this past spring, crappie fishing should be good for black crappie and white crappie," suggested KDWPT Fisheries Biologist Mark Shaw. "We had a really good crappie spawn for both species in 2013, with 61 percent for the fish captured being 2 to 5 inches and 4 percent being 5 to 10 inches. 10- to 12-inch fish accounted for 16 percent, and 12- to 16-inch fish accounted for 16 percent. The density rating for black crappie in Kirwin is No. 1 in the state for fish 8 inches and above and No. 17 for white crappie." Shaw said that initial surveys in the fall of 2014 show that those fish are still around, with good numbers of specks 12 inches and above.
One problem though is that Kirwin Reservoir is 14 1/2 feet below conservation pool, and if the reservoir doesn't rebound to close to normal levels the reservoir may not open to boating. The reservoir is typically closed to boating until April 1. There's plenty for the crappies to eat. Gizzard shad pulled off a huge spawn last year, according the Mark Shaw, and there are an abundance of shiners in the reservoir as well.
"Water levels have been on the rise in the reservoirs in southern Nebraska," shared guide Steve Lytle (308-737-1009; www.stevelytle.com). "That helps all species, but especially crappies. Most reservoirs are still low, but they're in much better shape than they were three years ago." Nebraska's southern tier of counties has an abundance of prime crappie waters that includes Swanson, Red Willow, Medicine Creek, Harlan, Enders, Johnson, and Elwood. The Republican River, or one of its tributaries, and an elaborate canal system feeds the reservoirs.
Lytle said that crappie fishing on Nebraska reservoirs follows a pattern that is fairly consistent from one reservoir to another. Look for pre-spawn crappies to be tightly clustered right where you left them on last ice. The specks can be found suspended relating to brush piles, old river channels and structure where baitfish schools can be found. The crappies can be suspended anywhere from three to 15 feet down in the middle of nowhere, so finding them can sometimes be difficult. Drifting with multiple rods set at varied depths can be the best way to locate the mother lode. You can use minnows, but Lytle said that tiny jigs with Gulp! and Impluse minnows and other plastics work just as well.
As lake temperatures warm into the 50s, crappies begin a migration to the shallows using the old river channel as a highway to shallow coves and bays and flooded structure. The migration can begin as early as mid-March, but usually takes place sometime in April, with the actual spawn taking place in May. The process reverses in June as crappies leave the warming shallows headed for main lake points, structure and fish hides. Bobbers and minnows, tubes, twister-tailed jigs and mini-crankbaits excel at fooling slabs then.
Lytle said some of his biggest crappies, which routinely stretch from 16 to 19 inches, are caught on live bait or bass-sized lures intended for largemouths. Crappies capitalize on a smorgasbord of insects, minnows and adult shad in the spring, but once the shad spawn, jumbo specks key in on the young-of-the-year shad. "In June and July, live bait works especially well for the bigger crappies," suggested Lytle. "It's not uncommon to use 2- to 4-inch gizzard shad then. You can use cast nets beginning in July, so that's a good way of securing a fresh supply of bait."
In Frontier County, 1,630-acre Red Willow Reservoir, or Hugh Butler Lake as it is also called, is home to some gigantic crappies. The majority of the specks caught there are going to be 10- to 12-inch eaters, but there are dinner platter-sized crappies there. Lytle said that the majority of the truly giant crappies he's caught from the lake have been caught while fishing for bass on bass-sized lures like 7-inch rubber worms, jig-n-pigs and out-sized stickbaits.
Guide Steve Trybus (308-440-2430: email@example.com) said that Elwood Reservoir is filled to the brim with water and game fish, including crappies, but catching them is another story. "The reservoir is loaded with alewives," explained Trybus. "The alewives pulled off a helluva spawn this year (2014). The fish went deep, and there are so many alewives that you just couldn't get the walleyes and crappies interested."
Trybus said the crappies on Elwood Reservoir typically begin staging right after ice out in 20 to 25 feet of water until the water approaches 60 degrees. Then the specks will migrate into 5 to 7 feet of water into the brush, trees, sticks and flooded timber. "They can be tough to find then," said Trybus. "There is just so much cover and they're here-today-gone-tomorrow." Trybus said the channels, like Midway, Gallagher and Phillips Canyon, are hotspots in the spring, too.
A great base of operations for fishing Elwood and other reservoirs in the area is Elwood Resort and Campground at 308-785-8105 or elwoodcampground.com. Talk to smilin' Brian Rae.
Harlan Reservoir, located near Alma, Neb., and extending across Kansas border, is poised for a crappie explosion. The reservoir suffered though several years of extremely low water levels. The drought gave vegetation plenty of time to grow on the exposed shorelines. Once flooded again, the vegetation provided ideal habitat for spawning crappies. Several strong year classes of specks have now matured, and Harlan Reservoir is now considered among the best reservoirs for crappies.
"It's been very good since the water has come up," said Wilbur Holloway of Fisherman's Corner (308-928-2158) in Alma. "The water is three foot above last year, there's lots of cover and several good year classes of crappies. There's a lot of fish in that 10- to 13-inch range, and you'll see some up to 14 inches."
Holloway said hotspots in the spring are around the boat docks, in the back of coves and along the face of the dam. Jigs are a favorite of Harlan crappies fanatics, with the classic pink/white, watermelon and salt/pepper being favorite colors. Winter snows and heavy rains could set the stage for a prolific spring crappie season on the Great Plains.