February 04, 2015
The lowly crappie is Missouri's "meat and potatoes" fish. More anglers fish for crappie than any other fish. To say crappie are important for Missouri anglers is an absolute understatement. And management efforts by Missouri Department of Conservation biologists, make crappie fishing one of the best fishing opportunities in 2015.
Missouri has been a crappie management leader since the early 1970s when MDC research biologists discovered many of their old crappie management approaches were wrong. What they discovered changed crappie management in Missouri and throughout the Southern United States. Before 1970 most fisheries biologists and anglers believed that many of our lakes' crappie populations were "stunted," resulting in large populations of small crappie. Early management encouraged anglers to harvest as many crappie as possible.
So what changed?
"Stunting" is a misnomer, suggesting crappie were slow in growing because they were overpopulating their environment. MDC researchers found crappie were not stunted, but rather anglers were the problem, removing most large, quality-sized individuals annually, leaving only small, young crappie. Annual reproduction replenished individuals. However, before crappie had a chance to grow large, anglers harvested them. That revelation was 180 degrees different from previous management beliefs.
Over the next 20 years MDC established length and creel limits on most large Missouri lakes and many small community lakes, restricting overharvest of large crappie. This change resulted in larger crappie populations, with multi-aged and larger fish, and some of the best crappie fishing in the nation.
What can we expect in 2015? Where can Missouri anglers find good or even excellent crappie fishing? When I questioned biologists and guides, all of them said anglers would experience good to excellent crappie fishing this year. They also told me it was too early to know what last fall's sampling would show. Fisheries biologists sample most major lakes in the fall to determine population dynamics — estimate reproduction, year-class strength, size of individual age groups, and so forth — and compare results with previous years to assess what anglers can expect the next year. However, without 2014 sampling data available, we have to look at the 2013 sampling information to make predictions. The improvement in crappie management in all of Missouri's large lakes has allowed crappie populations to stabilize.
After reviewing the sampling information, let me predict the best Missouri crappie lakes for 2015, and along the journey provide fishing tips to improve your fishing success.
This one, arguably, may be Missouri's best crappie lake, according to management biologists and local anglers. And I agree. It's one of Missouri's newer lakes, constructed on the Osage River to "control" flooding. When fully flooded, Truman Lake covers a huge number of relatively shallow acres, with trees and shrubs that provide great spawning habitat in spring and escape cover in late fall and winter. Biologists recommend crappie anglers start their search for spawning crappie up in the headwaters of the lake, and then follow the spawn downstream as waters warm. (Contact information: http://www.bucksaw.com/fishingreport.htm; MDC: 660-885-6981)
After the spring spawn and the water warms, Truman crappie move to timbered flats and steep banks, holding tight to standing timber at 10 to 15 feet of depth. In fall and winter, they reverse and move to shallow water habitat. Management biologists also recommend anglers seek out established cedar tree brushpiles.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
Lake of the Ozarks is Missouri's second oldest lake (Lake Taneycomo is the oldest) and arguably the most productive fish producer in the state. Year in and year out, it produces great crappie populations and great crappie fishing. With that said, biologists report crappie fishing will only be fair to good in 2015. The most recent sampling (2013) suggests crappie in the Glaze and Niangua arms were equal to or larger than the 9-inch length limit. Anglers need to check out the MDC's installed brushpiles for crappie concentrations.
I suspect crappie fishing will be better, than fair or good. This lake differs from any other large Missouri lake. It was built in the 1930s and lands along the edge are heavily developed with homes, resorts, and docks. Almost without exception, dock owners have installed crappie attractors, sinking cedar trees and other woody debris near docks. During a recent fishing trip with Big Ed Jranko, fishing guide and owner of Bass & Baskets (573-964-5028) on the lake's main arm, he pointed out numerous dock brushpiles, all holding crappie. He explained the best crappie brushpiles were those with relatively open space for small baitfish and crappie. Cedar trees, he said, rapidly accumulate gunk making it difficult for crappie and other small fish to seek shelter.
During the spring spawn, check out backs of coves. In summer as the water warms, crappie move out to brushpiles and other woody debris in 15 to 20 feet of water, holding near the thermocline. That water depth and fish concentrations became very apparent during my fishing trip with Big Ed. Although mid-summer, the lake was relatively clear with visibly down to 9 or 10 feet. Ed said this was a consequence of building Truman Dam in headwaters. The dam reduces silt mud flowing into the lake.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
Table Rock is one of my favorite crappie lakes. It's the source of early crappie research that changed crappie management, here in Missouri and throughout the South. Biologists report crappie fishing in 2015 will be fair to good in most arms of the lake with some individual fish exceeding 14 inches as medium-sized crappie grow. The best lake arms will be the James and Kings River.
Those two arms are the most productive. However, with that said, I enjoy fishing the Long Creek arm in spring when crappie are spawning on the banks.
Fishing Tip: In spring male crappie move to the banks and establish nests. Female crappie school in open water, and then make spawning runs to the banks seeking males on nests. One aspect of the early crappie research showed crappie nest depths depended on water clarity. The clearer the water, the deeper the nests.
Females out in open water hold at the same depth. To determine spawning depth, lower a white jig over the side and watch until it disappears from view. That is the depth where most males construct nests and where females hold in the open water. Once you locate spawning depth, turn and cast your offering to open water, allowing your lure to reach the same depth. You'll catch large female crappie waiting to make a spawning run.
Mark Twain Lake is located in northeast Missouri in Ralls and Monroe counties in a transition zone between river hills along the Mississippi River and the prairie lands of north Missouri. This has resulted in a rich, productive lake that provides good to excellent crappie fishing annually.
What makes Mark Twain different is water clarity. During wet years, the lake can be dingy (muddy) and difficult to fish. However, as the lake clears in summer, it transitions into one of Missouri best crappie lakes.
Based on 2013 sampling, biologists expect crappie fishing to be good to excellent in 2015, with good numbers of crappie larger than 9 inches. In 2014 more than 45 percent of the population was larger than 9 inches. This will translate into good numbers of large spawning crappie in 2015, with numerous smaller crappie growing to 9 inches and larger later in the year.
Fishing Tip: In summer crappie move to holding areas near hard cover at depths that correlate to the thermocline. In most lakes that is at approximately 10 to 20 feet of water. Favorite locations include brushpiles, standing timber, bridge pilings, rockpiles, and docks. Jack Uxa, a Lake of the Ozarks fishing guide (573-434-2570), uses small jigs with or without a minnow and tipped with Berkley's Powerbait Sprinkle Nibbles crappie eggs. The scent and Sparkle flex coming off the eggs attract crappie. In summer, Jack Uxa fishes under shaded docks and standing timber. He guides on Mark Twain Lake.
The lake is located in southwest Missouri about 50 miles from Springfield in Cedar, Dale, and Poke counties. This 24,000-acre lake is a clear Ozark lake, typical of many Southern lakes. Sampling in 2013 and angling success in 2014 suggest crappie fishing in 2015 will be good to excellent. Biologists report a large crappie year-class produced in 2011, the largest since the early 1990s, dominates the crappie population and fishing. In 2014 they reached 10 to 11 inches, and in 2015 are expected to dominate early crappie fishing during the spawn and early summer.
Stockton Lake doesn't have as much standing timber as many of Missouri's other large lakes. As water warms in summer, crappie move to structures in approximately 20 feet of water. Anglers need to target brushpiles, established by MDC management biologists, and bridge pilings. Brushpile maps are available here.
NONE OF THE ABOVE
Missouri has some 56,000 small ponds and lakes scattered throughout the state, producing large crappie every year and most are seldom if ever fished. The state record crappie came from one small private housing lake, and I've witnessed an 18- and 19-inch crappie caught from a private pond and a watershed lake respectively. They now hang on my fishing partner's office wall.
There's no way I could identify the many ponds that hold crappie. However, that said, let me suggest a starting point in your search for great 2015 crappie fishing in small lakes and ponds.
The MDC manages community lakes throughout the state. I dare say most small communities in central and northern Missouri have one or more old water supply lakes, now managed by MDC. The Department provides location, maps, and management details at http://mdc.mo.gov/fishing.
The National Resource Conservation Service has constructed watershed lakes on private farms throughout north Missouri. To locate watershed lakes, visit local NRCS offices in your county.
My experience with watershed lakes has been outstanding. My favorites are in north-central and northeast Missouri. Once the lake is constructed and filled, district managers stock crappie, bass, bluegills, and channel catfish. For the most part, these larger watershed lakes are not fished or lightly fished. Once you locate candidate lakes, visit the landowners and ask permission to fish. I've found that leaving a mess of crappie filets after your trip will seal your welcome for future trips.
Don't be afraid of fishing outside of the box. Check out local ponds and small lakes in spring, then move to larger lakes in summer, fishing near standing timber.
Remember, crappie school and love woody habitat. Standing timber, as I fished in Mark Twain Lake, make for prime crappie headquarters.And, last but not least, check out the MDC's Web site for crappie predictions, regulations in individual lakes and ponds managed by MDC, and maps of established brushpiles.
And so, bon appétit! Enjoy Missouri's favorite fish in 2015.