While bass get most of the springtime attention across Oklahoma, that doesn’t mean that trying to catch a big largemouth is the only angling game in town.
Hardly since the spring months also represent the best time of the year to target one of the Sooner State’s most plentiful and tasty fish species, the crappie.
Just ask Michael Lawson, a local angler from Kingston, who caught a couple of monster crappie at nearby Lake Durant on March 29, 2016.
The photo of those two big crappie, one of which was certified as the new Lake Durant record at 4.22-pounds and the other a hefty slab weighing in at 3.08-pounds, almost literally set the state and regional Internet fishing forums ablaze with comments.
That includes the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s own Facebook page, which posted the photo of Lawson’s twin Bryan County slabs with the pronouncement: “These are crazy big crappie!”
Indeed, which might explain the fact that the ODWC Facebook photo of Lawson’s big crappie went completely viral, garnering more than 1.5 million views (according to Daily Oklahoman outdoor writer Ed Godfrey), the most in the ODWC’s Facebook page history.
That’s understandable since Lawson’s four-pound plus white crappie missed the Oklahoma state record by mere ounces.
(Editor’s Note: For the record, the Oklahoma white crappie record is a May 4, 1991 catch in a Kingfisher County pond by angler Frank Robinson, who landed the 4-pound, 15-ounce slab. The Oklahoma black crappie record is 4-pounds, 10-ounces, a huge slab caught in an Ottawa County pond on June 16, 1974 by Rollie Williams)
While the 315-acre Lake Durant is certainly a good spot to catch a few crappie, along with the nearby 89,000-acre Lake Texoma, the truth is that four-pound crappie are few and far between.
But that hardly matters since the fish – known as slabs, sac au laits and papermouths to some anglers – are plentiful throughout the state.
Finding their homes in many larger ponds, small lakes, reservoirs and river systems, the crappie was originally a stream fish in the state according to an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation news release I once received.
On impounded water bodies like Durant and Texoma, the annual shallow water spawning season for both the white and black crappie subspecies is now at hand, a season that typically takes place after water temperatures warm from the upper 50s and on towards the mid 60s.
At last report, the water temperatures at Lake Durant were in the lower 60s while at Texoma, they were in the middle 60s.
That means that it’s prime time to go target a mess of crappie, either a trophy fish that might cause an Internet upheaval, or a limit destined for a fish fryer full of hot peanut oil ready to turn the slabs into one of the best tasting meals that God’s grand outdoors creation can provide.
Interested in catching a mess of crappie?
Well, the first key is to find the right habitat since springtime slabs are often found in the shallower ends of coves that feature either stumps and standing timber or some sort of brushy cover that can even include a submerged and recycled Christmas tree.
According to ODWC fisheries chief Barry Bolton in the news release I mentioned above, most crappie spawning will generally take place in water that is only 18 to 36 inches in depth.
“The best place to catch crappie prior to and during the spawn is around structure in shallow water,” said Bolton. “Anglers might try a little deeper water to find fish that are preparing to move into shallow water soon.”
But just finding the right depth isn’t enough according to Steve Pennaz, a Sportsman Channel television personality with the program Lake Commandos, who once filmed a crappie fishing show on Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula.
Why is that? Because you’ll need to position your bait in the right spot in the water column.
“A crappie’s eyes are more on the top of their head so they have a better view of what’s above them than what’s below them,” said Pennaz. “Because of that, you’ll usually want to fish with your bait shallower (in the spring) rather than deeper.”
What kind of bait should you be fishing?
“Minnows are one of the most effective baits around, but it’s hard to beat a small, light-colored jig,” said Bolton.
Pennaz agrees and notes that he prefers using small jigs.
“Typically, we’re talking about 1/32-ounce down to 1/16-ounce jigs,” he said. “Because they are so very small, I like to tip them with soft plastics. Especially if the bite is going good because plastic is more convenient to use, it comes in a lot of different colors and most of the time, in my opinion, plastic will out fish live bait.”
With that in mind, Pennaz indicated that (at the time of our interview) his favorite colors were white, yellow and pumpkin/chartreuse in soft plastics that end in either a flat tail, a paddle tail or a Mr. Twister style curly tail.
What about live bait?
“(For that), you want to use a small wire hook with a small float (above it),” said Pennaz. “At times, you’ll want to fish a minnow just six inches below the water’s surface, at other times, you’ll want to fish it two to three feet below the surface.”
Once again, the key is to figure out what depth the fish are holding at, where the bait needs to be positioned and what the particular nuances and depth requirements of that particular day happen to be.
When you figure that out, adjust the depth of your float and add any necessary split shot to acquire the proper depth for your bait.
Whether you use a jig or a live minnow on your springtime crappie fishing trips, the tackle to throw such baits with is going to be light.
“You don’t need real heavy tackle for crappie,” said Pennaz. “All you need is four to six-pound monofilament line and spinning gear is nice for casting it.”
The key here is to go for light spinning gear and not ultra-light spinning tackle.
“The problem with ultra-light tackle for crappie in my mind is that it is very difficult to cast (a bait) very long,” said Pennaz. “I like to use light rods, but they are still in the 6 1/2 to 7 foot range.
“They will have a soft tip at the end since crappie have very soft lips and you want to fight the fish back without ripping the hook out.”
Besides Lake Durant and Lake Texoma, other good regional crappie waters to consider include Broken Bow Lake near Broken Bow; Lake Eufaula near McAlester; Hugo Lake near Hugo; McGee Creek Reservoir near Atoka; Lake Murray nestled between Durant and Ardmore; and Sardis Lake northeast of Antlers.
Keep in mind that while the statewide limit for white and/or black crappie is 37 (combined) with no minimum length limit in place, there are exceptions, so you’ll want to check the 2016-17 ODWC Fishing Regulations booklet before heading out.
While not an exhaustive list below, crappie regulations that differ from the statewide numbers listed above include special regulations at Lake of the Arbuckles, the Blue River and Lake Texoma.
At Texoma, on the Oklahoma side of the two-state reservoir that is, the limit is 37 crappie (combined) per day with a 10-inch minimum length limit.
The bottom line here concerning southern Oklahoma’s springtime crappie fishing is two-fold. First, anglers have a chance to catch a bona fide slab trophy like Michael Lawson did a year ago at Lake Durant.
And second, they also have a great chance to catch a limit of tasty crappie destined for the dinner table.
“Crappie are great eating, are very plentiful (in many places), and at times, it can help a body of water to harvest a few,” said Pennaz. “I’m a believer in letting big crappie go, something in the two-pound range or more. But a lot of fish in that 3/4-pound to (1 1/2 -pound) range, they’re great eating.”
And there’s no better time than the present to go outdoors here in southern Oklahoma to try and catch a few.