Missouri and its abundance of reservoirs is a perfect combination for great crappie fishing. Anglers statewide can find ample opportunities to boat limits of crappies. And the early spring, as temperatures warm, provides some truly excellent crappie fishing.
As usual, LOZ will offer good crappie action in 2019. With water temperatures averaging 40 to 50 degrees, crappies are preparing for the spawn by feeding hard. Jack Uxa runs Jack’s Guide Service on Lake of the Ozarks, and he’s anticipating another healthy population of crappies this year, particularly for some larger (14- to 15-inch) black crappies.
A number of techniques can prove productive. Uxa prefers shooting docks, as well as vertical jigging in 35 feet of water in the early spring. However, on particularly warm days in those early spring months, big fish can also sometimes be caught shallow on bobber rigs, too.
Uxa is a big proponent of side imaging sonar, which he uses to scour docks on lake points. A lone dock near a creek channel is his favorite to shoot. After locating a school under a dock or deep, he tosses a 1/16-ounce Johnson tube jig with a crappie niblet. He likes white and blue for brighter days and chartreuse and black for overcast skies. He recommends the Gravois arm and PV-2 area in early spring. While the Niangua and upper Osage arms can be good, there can also be significantly more fishing pressure.
Crappie fishing on Truman will once again be great. Jeff Faulkenberry of Faulkenberry’s Endless Season Guide Service, targets actively feeding crappies in February and March. He says fish are perfectly willing to take a jig or a minnow, particularly if thrown near some of the lake’s black stumps. He’s taken some slabs fishing shallow in February, including a few topping 3 pounds. He recommends fishing the Tebo Arm or any creek channel out of a cold north wind.
While fishing shallow can be a great option, Faulkenberry also finds them deeper, with crappies suspending around giant shad balls around 15 to 18 feet deep in channels. Vertical jigging a 1/16-ounce jig is a productive tactic in these situations, and Faulkenberry particularly likes a bone white-colored jig, which is his favorite year-round color choice.
“Good to excellent!” is what Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) fisheries biologist Ben Parnell said when I asked about Stockton Lake’s early crappie prospects. Good spawning conditions have produced higher overall densities of crappies, and decent size structure should result in excellent fishing in 2019. Parnell explains recent crappie surveys from 2016 and 2017 revealed large classes of white crappies.
Although water temps stay in the mid 40s, Stockton’s crappie are almost always actively feeding. They usually hang around large schools of gizzard shad in deeper water and can be found in deeper brushpiles later in the year.
Parnell advises to look for structure or the schools of shad in deeper water close to mouths of coves, creek channels or cuts on the main lake. A 1/4-ounce jig and up can be used to target fish on the big shad balls in deep water, while standard sizes work for brushpile fishing. Try trolling small crankbaits in deeper water in or near coves for larger fish.
Retired MDC biologist Rick Flint uses 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jigs with chartreuse/brown or black bodies. He also likes Bobby Garland glo-colored jigs. He always sweetens the pot with a crappie niblet on his jigs.
Brandon Jennings Crappie Tip
Often overlooked, the crappie population at Pomme de Terre Lake is outstanding. During the MDC sampling efforts by biologist Craig Fuller over the last 14 years, the average catch rate is 25 crappies per net a day. “Our most recent sample, conducted in October of 2017, yielded a catch rate of 75 crappie per net day,” he says.
Focusing on brushpiles in 18 to 20 feet of water is a good bet in February. In March, shifting fishing focus to brushpiles or against standing timber in 5 to 12 feet of water is the ticket. Steep banks with brush and bluffs with standing timber can be great, too. While the entire lake offers good fishing, the upper ends of Pomme de Terre warm quicker than the lower part of the lake.
Slow vertical jigging with traditional crappie jigs — color appropriate for water conditions — will help you target the plethora of 10- to 10 1/2-inch black crappies thriving in Pomme de Terre.
Lake Wappapello in the southeast portion of the state tends to get a bad rap, but according to MDC fisheries biologist Dave Knuth, the crappie population should be good in 2019. The condition of the crappie population is largely driven by the stability of the lake and quality of the shad production in the late spring.
A large flood event occurred in May of 2017, producing an abundance of shad. Prior to 2017, there had been several years of poor growth and the lake was producing very few fish over 9 inches. Growth increased significantly after the 2017 flood. The proportion of white crappie over 9 inches increased from a three-year-average of 14 percent to 25 percent in 2017. White crappies continue to have the best potential since the black crappies rarely reach 9 inches before they die of natural causes.
Knuth confirms anglers are very successful in early spring. Lake stability and weather heavily influence fish activity, but they are actively feeding. Consistent weather and lake levels can really turn on the bite.
“Fish tend to hang close to the old St. Francis River channel early in the year as water temps rise,” Knuth explains. They continue to move shallow as water warms.
Anglers have good success in the mid-section of the lake, concentrating around the Lost Creek Arm and Chaonia Landing Recreation Area according to Knuth. Any existing structure near the old St. Francis River channel and stump fields in adjacent flats is where you need to fish in February and March. Targeting brushpiles spider rigging, drifting jigs or vertical jigging jigs tipped with minnows will help you get a limit.
Mozingo Lake will have high numbers of small- to mid-sized crappie, as well as large fish in early 2019. A decrease in the number of 3-year-old fish from poor recruitment and overfishing puts Mozingo’s crappies in a rebuilding — but healthy — status. “There is a large year class of white crappie moving through the system, and those fish will hopefully grow into harvestable size in the next 2 years,” says MDC biologist Tory Mason. He goes on to say fish over 16 inches are not unheard of.
Mason says feeding activity will be highly determined by weather on Mozingo. Crappies are actively feeding but can be moody. Sometimes it’s a low-light (early morning or evening) bite, even in late winter/early spring. When the sun shines bright and warms water in the backs of coves, baitfish move into the shallow water. The crappies will surely soon follow. Pay attention to weather and pick a day after sustained sunshine.
Crappies will be found over deep brush or in water as shallow as three feet in the early spring. Wherever the food is, the crappies will follow. Targeting the backs of coves, or rock or riprap banks should be your first spots hit. Use small jigs tipped with a crappie niblet or small minnows in these places. Crappies can be caught anywhere in the lake, but deeper brushpiles scattered throughout the lake are good, too, for jigs and minnows.
Table Rock Lake has a low-density, high-quality crappie population according to MDC biologist Shane Bush. In spring 2018 surveys, 89 percent of the black crappies collected were greater than 10 inches and 40 percent were greater than 12 inches. Of the white crappies collected, 95 percent were greater than 10 inches and 42 percent were greater than 12 inches.
“Late February and all the way through March are my favorite times to fish for crappie on Table Rock. They are actively feeding and really start to congregate on the brushpiles,” Bush says.Crappies can also be caught in good numbers congregated under docks on the main lake and in schools chasing shad on gravel flats up the river arms. The James River, Kings River and Long Creek Arms will be your best bets.
Targeting brushpiles in 8 to 12 feet of water is a good tactic, as well as gravel flats up the river arms in the same depth. Using a 1/16-ounce white and chartreuse slab buster on a weedless head around the brushpiles is Bush’s favorite lure.
“Once I find fish and they stop hitting the heavier jig, I use a 1/64-ounce marabou jig under a float on a fly rod,” he explains.
Due to high fishing pressure in March, if you find a brushpile that isn’t marked on the MDC fishing app, you can catch a limit of quality-sized crappies.
“Table Rock isn’t like other lakes with higher densities of crappie, and the keeper crappie aren’t in unlimited supply” Bush cautions. Still, big slabs exist and are catchable on southwest Missouri’s staple reservoir.
North of Kansas City, Smithville Lake is shaping up to be good for white crappies in early 2019.
“Smithville is a tale of two worlds, with white crappie doing very well and black crappie struggling,” says MDC fisheries biologist Eric Dennis. Their recent sampling shows that 53 percent of white crappies are over the 9-inch minimum and 30 percent are over 10 inches. According to Dennis, only 4 percent of the black crappies sampled were over the 9-inch minimum and only 1 percent were over 10 inches.
In February and March, crappies will be found schooled up in deeper water around structure and creek channels. Hotspots this time of year are vertical jigging around the marinas and docks, as well as deep brushpiles found throughout the lake. Vertical jigging small spoons or jigs tipped with a minnow is key.
Crappie fishing should continue to be good on Smithville Lake in 2019. The MDC will be implementing a new crappie regulation on the lake in 2019 that is yet to be finalized. Look for size restriction and limit numbers to change to protect the white crappie and increase the size of the black crappie.
FISHING CLOSE TO HOME
One of the best things that anglers can do is fish close to home. In the Kansas City region, Lee’s Summit has plenty of great lakes for crappie fishing. Jake Allman, MDC fisheries biologist, encourages anglers to fish for, and keep crappies in James A. Reed, Longview, Jacomo, Blue Springs and Prairie Lee lakes.
“We encourage people to take a limit of 30 crappie anywhere they legally can,” he says. Targeting crappies in the KC and Lee’s Summit area is no different than others. Usually in late February and early March, water temps get up into the mid 40s. When the ice melts and warm days stick around, a crappie jig 18 inches under a float is your go-to option. Once the ice melts, crappies begin moving up in the water column around brush in two feet of water.
“Find the warmest water you can find in the upper ends of lakes and backs of coves,” Allman suggests. Catching 30 a day is not uncommon at James A. Reed, Longview Lake, Lake Jacomo or Blue Springs Lake. And do not forget to keep any crappie 8 inches or greater where allowed! It helps improve these smaller fisheries greatly. Be sure to follow the Facebook group “Lee’s Summit Area Fishing” for constant updates on the early crappie fishing.