February 04, 2015
Winter will soon be over, and Oklahoma's crappie anglers can hardly wait to box up the year's first limit of slabs.
One of many great things about the Sooner State is that we have good crappie fishing within easy driving distance of most communities. Of course, it helps to have a factual basis to help you pick your spots, so here we've included some of the most recent information compiled from our favorite lakes by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Even in lakes that don't "test well," so to speak, there are always places that produce big numbers of keeper-sized and better crappie. These could be transitional structures on a deep point, or maybe a string of brushpiles you planted while nobody was watching. Regardless, the only way to catch the slabs is to be out there.
The ODWC periodically conducts net surveys at selected waters to evaluate crappie populations. Anglers prefer to catch white and black crappie at least 10 inches long, so the ODWC factors that knowledge into its overall lake ratings. The 2011 gill net survey is the most recent that's available, but since it takes a crappie about three years to reach 10 to 12 inches, 2011 data is relevant today. We'll look at our best lakes and examine some sleepers, as well.
LAKE BROKEN BOW
It's hard to believe that this deep, clear, Ouachita Mountain reservoir was considered a third-rate fishery 15 years ago. That's because now it is one of our best for multi-species fishing. It is especially good for crappie, ranking above average for black crappie in 2011 surveys.
Only four fish showed up in the sample, but all were larger than 10 inches, and the biggest crappie weighed 1.26 pounds. It is not a high-volume crappie fishery, but it is a good place to go for the preferred size of fish.
Like many lakes of this type, it doesn't have much natural cover, and so anglers have sunk a lot of brushpiles. The upper part of the lake, in the Mountain Fork River near the McCurtain County Wilderness Area, holds a lot of pockets near the main channel where people have sunk brush. There's also a fair amount of shoreline cover. You can find plenty of brush along the flats and points in other tributaries, such as Bee Creek.
This lake in northwestern Oklahoma is a multi-faceted fishery that's most famous for walleyes, but it's also a good lake to catch white and black crappie
In 2011, it rated average for both species. As at Broken Bow, the sample sizes were small. Only 10 white crappie and five black crappie were sampled. Four of the white crappie were 10 inches or more, and the biggest weighed 1.79 pounds. Only one black crappie was 10 inches or better (20 percent), and it weighed 1.26 pounds.
Unfortunately, Canton has been wracked by drought, and it's lost a couple of year-classes due to extreme drawdowns. Because of low water, the lake also is experiencing serious water quality deprivations. Consequently, crappie fishing will likely suffer for at least the next three years.
CARL BLACKWELL LAKE
Carl Blackwell Lake — the pride of Stillwater — tested well in 2011, but it has been subject to the same drought maladies as other waters.
In 2011, ODWC personnel sampled 40 white crappie. The catch rate was 9.6 per hour. Twenty percent were 10 inches or larger, and the biggest crappie weighed 1.89 pounds.
However, Carl Blackwell also experienced major drawdowns during the drought, which lingered from 2011-13. Those were not productive years for crappie. It takes a crappie about three years to reach 10 to 12 inches, and so anglers will probably notice fewer fish of all sizes for the next two years, and a dearth of preferred size fish until 2017.
How about some good news for a change? It's all good for crappie at this sprawling reservoir near McAlister, said Danny Bowen, the ODWC's regional fisheries supervisor at Holdenville.
Eufaula is very productive for white crappie, but it also has limited numbers of black crappie in the clear, lower part of the lake. In 2011, white crappie rated above average, and black crappie rated average.
The catch rate for white crappie was 33.75, and a total of 850 fish were sampled. Of those, 7 percent were 10 inches or more, and the heaviest was 1.38 pounds.
Only 28 black crappie were sampled, and the catch rate (1.31) was low. Again, only 7 percent were 10 inches or longer, and the biggest black crappie was 1.05 pounds.
Those numbers suggest that this lake's crappie fishery is healthy, with a balanced distribution of large year-classes. Because Eufaula escaped the same degree of water fluctuation that has plagued smaller lakes, drought hasn't much affected its crappie.
"It's pretty much self maintained," Bowen said. "It's always pretty good."
Anglers have put a lot of brushpiles in Lake Eufaula, but Bowen said crappie benefit most from its abundant food supply of silversides, gizzard shad and threadfin shad.
Anglers take a lot of crappie out of Eufaula, but there's always a new batch behind them.
"A 3-year-old crappie is about as old as you'll find there," Bowen said. "There's hardly anything beyond that. A lot of people over there kind of self impose a 10-inch limit on themselves. We don't think they need it, but it might help some. It's just a crappie factory unless we get really screwy water levels during the spawn."
There are some smaller lakes in Southeastern Oklahoma that are good for crappie, Bowen said. Meeker Lake has a lot of big crappie, he elaborated, but they can be hard to find. People don't fish it much because it's really muddy.
"There are a few humps in the upper end of the lake that hold crappie pretty good, and there's a lot of water willow around the lake, but it's really muddy. That's why crappie get big there, because they're not being harvested."
If you want to catch a lot of crappie without regard to size, Bowen recommended lakes Holdenville, Okmulgee and Wewoka.
"We have problems with stunted crappie in some of those lakes," Bowen said. "They have some decent crappie, but for the most part you're going to catch 8-inch crappie that are going to weigh less than half a pound."
Lake Dripping Springs also has some big crappie, but the density is low, Bowen added.
This was one of only three lakes statewide that rated excellent for crappie in 2011. That was for white crappie, of which 140 were sampled. Of those, 51 percent were 10 inches or longer. The biggest white crappie in the sample weighed 2.33 pounds.
Black crappie rated above average. Only 10 were sampled, but five were 10 inches or longer.
This lake also rated excellent for white crappie. With a catch rate of 21.1, it contributed 202 fish to the sample, and 45 percent were 10 inches or longer.
Black crappie were not nearly as plentiful, but they still rated average. Only seven black crappie were sampled, and 14 percent were 10 inches or longer. The biggest black crappie was a meager half-pound.
Like Eufaula, Lake Tenkiller's great size has largely insulated it from intense water fluctuations, and crappie have profited.
The ODWC sampled Tenkiller in November 2014 for the first time in years. Those results weren't available when we put this report together, but it doesn't matter. John West, the ODWC's regional fisheries supervisor at Porter, said it always has a lot of crappie. With a 10-inch minimum length limit, crappie are afforded the opportunity to reach the preferred size.
"Historically Tenkiller is a good crappie fishery," West said. "I don't know much about the year-classes coming up. It takes them roughly their second or third year when get to the 'catching' class."
Knowing where to find brushpiles is important to fishing success at Tenkiller.
FORT GIBSON LAKE
While they are structurally different, Fort Gibson Lake and Tenkiller are similar crappie fisheries, but West said Fort Gibson is probably better.
In 2011, Fort Gibson rated above average for white crappie and average for black crappie. The catch rate for white crappie was 6.73, with 112 fish in the sample. The biggest white crappie sampled was 1.07 pounds, and 17 percent were 10 inches or longer.
The catch rate for black crappie was .71. Only 12 fish made up the sample, of which 42 percent were 10 inches or longer. The biggest black crappie sampled was 1.26 pounds.
Unlike Tenkiller, Fort Gibson takes in a vast amount of nutrients from the neighboring countryside. It is very fertile, with a lot of aquatic vegetation. It's essentially a crappie hothouse.
"Fort Gibson is highly eutrophic, and that creates a large forage base," West said. "With high water fluctuations it can lose year-classes, but growth has never been a problem. As far as habitat goes, Fort Gibson might be a little more varied."
For sleeper hotspots, West said that anglers might consider Greenleaf Lake, near Muskogee. It's small, but it has good numbers of crappie. It is not known for big crappie, West cautioned.
Good crappie fishing can be elusive in central Oklahoma, but it has a dandy of a hotspot at Guthrie Lake.
In 2011, Guthrie's catch rate for white crappie was a whopping 102.7. Of the 1,142 crappie in the sample, 5 percent were 10 inches or longer, and the biggest crappie weighed 1.26 pounds.
Its huge crappie population probably will help mitigate diminished crappie reproduction from 2011-2013, when the lake's level dropped very low. However, anglers might notice fewer of the preferred size fish from 2015-17.
Larry Cofer, the ODWC's regional fisheries supervisor in Lawton, said drought has seriously hurt all fishing in southwestern Oklahoma. All of the great traditional crappie hotspots have all but dried up. The rest of the state got rain in 2014, but not this region, so it won't get better for at least another year.
"Tom Steed, Waurika, Fort Cobb — all of those lakes are at record lows of my career, and Steed and Waurika are at all-time lows," Cofer said. "The bigger lakes are not going to look good for a while except for Lawtonka."
Though better known for its excellent smallmouth bass fishing, Lawtonka is a solid crappie fishery, Cofer said. It has the added benefit of having remained stable during the drought.
"It's not a large crappie fishery, but the numbers are always there, and we expect that to continue," Cofer said.
The upside to the drought is that the bottoms of all these lakes have grown into prairies and thickets. They are covered with willows, cottonwoods, cedar and smartweed.
"That stuff is head high if it germinated this year, but there are trees in the lake bottoms that are 20 feet high," Cofer said.
When the water returns, all that green vegetation will revitalize the lakes for years to come.
"When that floods, we expect our brood stock crappie to go nuts spawning in it," Cofer said, "and the new fish that spawned will grow like crazy because of the new-lake conditions. We have high hopes, but it's going to take high water."
Droughts are cyclical, and while anglers and fisheries managers would prefer they not be so severe as what we've had, they do serve a purpose. Most of the state's fisheries are recovering, and crappie anglers will reap the benefits.