Crappie are fan favorites because they are abundant and widespread…and you can find magnum specimens in waters north and south. Just consider: Lake of the Woods slabs at the Canadian border; top Minnesota crappie fisheries like Bowstring, Leech and Winnibigoshish; the fabled Santee Cooper crappie fishery; the superb speck fishing along Florida’s St. John’sRiver…and on and on.
But where is the absolute best fishing for these tasty, sporty and, yes, often challenging species?
Both the catch records and the experts place the top crappie waters in two almost parallel regions1) the reservoirs along the I-55 Crappie Corridor stretching from Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake down deep into the state of Mississippi, and 2) the many outstanding waters of Alabama along the Alabama, Tennessee, Coosa and Chattooga rivers. In fact, both states feature waters that could have replaced several of our leaders with a coin toss!
Yes, singular waters in other regions have earned their “world class” reputations, and, in peak years, might even get the edge against one or more of the waters on our Top 10 list. But, more years than not, our Top 10 would be among the betting man’s choices.
Crappie experts from across the country and the Fishhound staff contributed to the creation of our Top 50 and Top 10 Crappie lists. But a special thanks goes to pro anglers and fishing educators Ronnie Capps, Russ Bailey, Kyle Schoenherr and Brian Brosdahl as well as to T.J. Stallings and Crappie Now magazine for tapping their experience and taking the time to share some of their vast knowledge of these great crappie fishing waters – and pass their judgment on a topic that will surely be hotly debated!
If size is the measure of greatness, Grenada weighs in at the top of the leader board. The local tourism bureau touts Grenada as “The Home of the 3-Pound Crappie.” Natural lake fertility and good lake management certainly account for much of the lake’s consistent slab production, but Grenada also has the “X” factor that defies all analysis. “Records are broken here on a regular basis,” says crappie fishing legend Ronnie Capps, who caught seven Grenada “specks” topping the 3-pound mark over a five-day period – including a 3.66-pound monster. David Cox and Steve Hockett caught a mind-boggling 38.92-pound 14-fish Crappie Masters tournament record on Grenada at this year’s Mississippi State Championship. Perhaps even more impressive, the 25th-place sack weighed in at 34.73 pounds! And, oh yes, a new Crappie Masters “Big Fish” record – 3.87 pounds – weighed in on the same stage.
As a shallow, flood control impoundment, water levels dictate fish location. It helps to have a good local source on top of the fish movement. Best bet is to hire a knowledgeable guide such as John Harrison (email@example.com). Brush piles and stumps located in or along creek channels are productive for much of the season. The daily creel limit for crappie is 20 per person or 50 per boat, with a 12-inch minimum length. Anglers may use up to three poles each, two hooks per pole.
Man and Nature teamed to fashion crappie paradise at 160,300-acre Kentucky Lake. Season after season, it produces crappie by the boatful to pro and vacationing angler alike, which is why it has been one of the most popular fisheries on the planet for decades. "This lake is a consistent producer of great stringers of crappie, " says Ohio-based pro angler and crappie educator Russ Bailey. "From its renowned ledge fishing to the thousands of stake beds, planted cover and laydowns along the shoreline, this lake offers an incredible variety of patterns.” That means your favorite style of crappie fishing probably will work quite fine here! What accounts for its consistently big catches and big fish? Ronnie Capps credits the lake's stable water clarity and conditions for its consistent crappie production.
Family and fisherman-friendly accommodations with close access to Kentucky Lake and neighboring Lake Barkley abound. The 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a peninsula between the impounded Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, maintains diverse plant and animal communities. New habitat projects and other management efforts are ongoing.
Check out the Land Between the Lakes website (www.landbetweenthelakes.com) for lodging, dining and activity options. Guide Matt Morgan can help a newcomer shrink the lake; contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For consistently good numbers and quality fish year round, Reelfoot Lake is as good as it gets! Reelfoot is the home base of Ronnie Capps, who, with teammate Steve Coleman, has built a record-setting angling career and amassed seven national crappie championships. Their Reelfoot “research” lab has helped them amass $1.5 million in crappie tournament winnings. Capps credits Reelfoot’s consistency to water stability. “The water level doesn’t fluctuate more than three feet year round!” says Capps.
Of the waters on our list, Reelfoot may also have the most interesting history. A series of earthquakes created the lake in 1811 and 1812. Backdrop adds dimension to the superb angling! The quake-born oxbow lake remains a nature lover’s paradise, known for its haunting cypress trees and diverse wildlife, particularly its bald eagles and wide array of avian life.
The 15,000 acres of Reelfoot Lake State Park offers plenty of lake access, hiking trails and camping facilities. Expansion plans are currently in the works. The daily creel limit on crappie is 30, but if you’re still itching to angle after you’ve filled the legal limit, venture out after one of the many other species roaming Reelfoot’s waters. Largemouth bass up to seven pounds show up regularly…and there’s no limit on bluegill.
This 30,200-acre impoundment may have been the first to stake an honest claim to being the “Crappie Capital of the World” before tourism barkers bought the rubber stamp.
“Weiss may not produce as many giant fish as it did 20 years ago, but the numbers keep this lake high on the list,” notes T.J. Stallings, director of marketing for TTI-Blakemore and co-founder of Crappie NOW magazine. “Weiss has an excellent population of both black and white crappie, and plenty of giants still come in each year.”
Long-line trolling often triggers the most strikes, but spider rigging with minnows over deep brush piles takes plenty of fish as well. And don’t hesitate to dust off that bow-and-arrow cast that you practiced as a kid. “Weiss also offers some of the best dock-shooting opportunities in the country,” claims Stallings.
Weiss, which takes its water from the Coosa, Chatooga and Little rivers offers structural variety, from shallow flats to deep river channels, with numerous coves contributing to its 447 shoreline miles. The size limit is 10 inches; daily bag limit is 30 per person. Veteran guide Darrell Baker can help put you on fish; email@example.com .; cell 256-557-0129; main 256-927-2232.
For more lake information, check out: www.LakeWeiss.info
Water levels are again low at Sardis at this writing and reports say a winter die-off of threadfin shad has left fish a bit thinner than usual. But that isn’t likely to change the opinions of top crappie anglers about this blue ribbon water located on Mississippi’s I-55 crappie corridor. T.J. Stallings compares Sardis to Grenada, and many pros laud Sardis for its consistent limits and abundant slabs. “Sardis has an excellent population of big fish and great numbers,” says Russ Bailey. “It is one of my favorite summer lakes. Trolling crankbaits is my pattern of choice!” Ronnie Capps also credits Sardis for its consistent output of numbers and big fish -- “unless there is exceptional rainfall.” Kyle Schoenherr, former winner of the Alabama State Championship, believes the size of crappie has climbed steadily over the past five years. “The numbers of big fish there may even top Grenada,” he suggests.
Stake beds and wood cover are prime holding areas for Sardis crappie. Anglers are jigging or slow trolling with both jig and plastic combinations and live minnows. John W. Kyle State Park offers cabins and camping. Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) is only 25 miles away.
Does Alabama or Mississippi have the better crappie waters? Both states stake strong claims to the Number One spot, but Ross Barnett Reservoir adds one more loud vote in Mississippi’s favor! You can catch ‘em shallow or you can catch ‘em deep on this habitat-rich water. You will find segments of the RB crappie population relating to timber, stumps, aquatic vegetation and even lily pads and rip rap at one time or other during the season, and key combinations of cover and structure – especially along deep channels and other “ledges” -- may be crappie magnets for much of the season. Electronics can be critical at times. Standing timber predominates in the upper reservoir, where locating fish suspended in the water column can be a challenge. The lower reservoir offers classic structure- fishing opportunity.
The wide mix of habitat opens opportunity for a variety of presentations, too. Crappie love chartreuse here, especially in the spring. Pulling minnows or jigs along deep channels is popular, but don’t be afraid to open your arsenal and show ‘em something different. The nearby city of Jackson has most of what you will need.
Find lodging options at: rossbarnett.uslakes.info/Hotels.as
Crappie Now’s T.J. Stallings swears that he lives to fish this crappie factory. That’s not just local pride for the Wetumpka, Alabama resident! The moody, scenic river – one of two local waters used in the filming of the movie “Big Fish” – produces BIG FISH, indeed! Crappie pro Kyle Schoenherr, who shared Alabama State Championship honors with teammate Rodney Neuhaus several years ago, credits an abundance of natural hybrids – crosses between black and white crappie – in part for the numbers of oversized specks that come to boat. “This lake has really taken hold, especially over the last three years,” adds Russ Bailey. “It is a great body of water, whether you like fishing shallow or deep water.”
Prime crappie habitat is spread out over long river miles, but much of the river feels like ”lake” fishing. Stallings calls the Jones Bluff Reservoir area stretching from Selma to Montgomery one of his favorites. Surveys indicate rapid growth rate on the river with fish reaching 12 to 13 inches in their first three years. According to some reports, two-pound crappie may be only four years old!
Great crappie waters often have wonderful neighbors, and such is the case for Neely Henry, the 11,000-plus-acre impoundment located between Logan Martin and Weiss lakes in northeast Alabama. Neely Henry ranks an easy Top 5 rating from Ronnie Capps who credits relatively stable lake/river conditions, a balance of big black and white crappie populations for its outstanding productivity year after year. “The lake also gets plenty of natural cross fish during the spawn,” adds Capps, who claims hybrids are more aggressive and achieve faster growth rates. “I have taken a couple of three pounders here and actually saw a 4 pound, 12-ounce live hybrid crappie come from the lake.” Spider-riggers fare extremely well on Neely Henry, particularly when working the creek channels. Much of the reservoir fishes run-of-the-river style, so factor “current” into the game plan. The lake opens up near the dam. Outdoor Alabama magazine lists Neely Henry as “one of the best-kept fishing secrets in Alabama!” The cities of Gadsden and Ohatchee bookend the 77-mile lake. Good boat ramps and marinas are spread across the lake. They include three public access sites.
You will find only three of our Top 10 crappie lakes outside the state lines of Mississippi and Alabama. Missouri’s 55,600-acre Truman Lake edges into this elite list as much for its “classic crappie lake” looks and “everyman” appeal as for its fast action and consistent output of magnum crappie. “This lake has to be a top pick with its fence rows, hedge trees, stumps, tree tops and more,” says Kyle Schoenherr, “It’s a lake for guys who love to fish classic cover. Even guys who don’t understand electronics can rely on their eyes and still do well.” Ronnie Capps, too, loves Truman’s “fishable visible structure along with its strong population.”
While heavy cover is key to fishing much of the lake, you can fish deep structure as well. Fishing vertically with jigging spoons may enter the mix. It can produce fast action when crappie feast on suspended baitfish or gang up over deep structure near the dam.
For accommodations, boat rentals and local information, contact the Warsaw Area Chamber of Commerce (http://www.warsawmo.org) or Visit Benton County (http://www.visitbentoncomo.com) or Tebo Creek Lodge firstname.lastname@example.org; 660-477-7777.
Luck, they say, is where you find it. And crappie lovers find lots o’ luck along the nearly 50 mile length of this superb Coosa River impoundment! “This lake has so much cover variety that it is easy to have good luck here!” says crappie pro and TV host Russ Bailey. “I’ve made many trips to this lake and I have always caught great numbers and very healthy and big fish here.” Logan Martin tends to get more attention from recreational boaters than from crappie anglers, but it ain’t bad being on the crappie instead of the water skis!
Small 1- and 1.5-inch curlytail grubs on 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jigs are popular with the local crappie cognoscenti, but the 15,000-acre impoundment invites you to test all your talents and techniques. Be sure to put your electronics to work on the channels. Located about 30 miles east of Birmingham and straddling St. Clair and Talladega counties, crowds grow thick around Talladega race week. Vacation homes are plentiful for those with time to settle in and learn the lake, but you campsites and motel rooms should not be hard to find for short visits.
13. Enid Lake, MS
15. Lake Fork, TX
18. Harris Chain, FL
20. Kinkaid Lake, IL
26. Lake Conway, AR
28. Lake Erie, OH
35. Lake Barkley, KY
36. Leech Lake, MN
37. Patoka Lake, IN
39. Sam Rayburn, TX
40. Lake Norfork, AR
43. Rend Lake, IL
50. Lake Greeson, AR