Mississippi power troller Les Smith holds a summer crappie taken on a large Pro Series Crappie Magnet,
a spinner head jig. His choices for best lakes include Arkabutla, Grenada and Sardis (in that order),
all in our top 12 list. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
An Even Dozen Best Crappie Lakes for 2023
by Tim Huffman
Ask ten people their favorite candy bar and you are likely to get ten different answers. It is the same with best fishing waters. Waters are ranked based upon which experts are asked and other factors used to judge good fishing waters. Therefore, no top dozen crappie lake list is perfect, but all CrappieNow’s picks are great go-to destinations for a 2023 adventure.
#12 – Barkley Lake, KY/TN – A river lake with a lot of miles and water to look for fish. Numbers and size have been improving since a big slump a few years ago due to bad spawns, carp, and fishing pressure. Things change. Now, expect to have fun on Barkley, or its sister Kentucky Lake, because everything is right for a big year in 2023.
#11 – Eufaula, OK – This lake keeps climbing the list. It produces great numbers of crappie with some big fish often included in a limit. It’s a big lake (105,000 acres), so plan on spending time learning it. Consider hiring a guide for a day to learn areas and the best technique, then go out on your own.
#10 – Lake of the Pines, TX (19,780 acres) – This is the first time for Lake of the Pines to break into the top ten. Although most lakes in Texas are good crappie holes that could be on the list, this deep lake has exceptional crappie fishing. Experts say the spawn is good, but suggest going in the winter to hit the peak time for consistently good, deep-water fishing.
#9 – Alabama River, Alabama – The long, winding Alabama River provides many different type places to fish. It’s known for giving-up quality crappie and numbers can be good. The problem with this and most rivers is the big fluctuation of water along with daily changes in current when electricity is being generated. However, the good times are so good that experts keep it in the top ten. Check water conditions before going and when current is present, seek current breaks and eddies.
#8 – Barnett, Mississippi – A jump to number eight, this lake continues to produce good fish. It’s overshadowed by nearby Grenada, but it has better numbers of fish and produces its share of good slabs. Located in Jackson, the area provides more things for a family to enjoy, but due to city, the lake draws plenty of fishermen.
#7 – Arkabutla, Mississippi (11,800 acres) – It’s the smallest, shallowest (avg 9.6 ft) of the big Mississippi lakes. Therefore, rains quickly change the levels and conditions. This lake jumps all over the ratings year-to-year because fishermen love having a chance to catch a true monster up to four pounds but hate it because it often embarrasses the best fishermen. So, expect potentially tough fishing, but rig for a monster crappie and be mentally prepared for hooking, playing, and landing your personal best. Live imaging, slow trolling and power trolling are popular techniques.
#6 – Truman Lake, Missouri (55,000 acres) – The lake always has good numbers of fish, but in recent years, size made a big jump, but don’t expect them to be in the same class as the top five lakes. Its advantage is easy fishing, lots of action and plenty of fun. Jigging and live imaging are the best techniques for tackling the stump and snagged filled lake. Navigation can be tricky so take your time until you learn the channels and areas to run. Lodging is available in Clinton and around the lake.
#5 – St. John’s River, Florida – Fishermen who have experienced the St. John’s talk about its beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife that creates a feeling you don’t get anywhere else. Fish are beautiful, too, being gold-tinted, dark, black crappie you can catch while watching an alligator or manatee. Expect crappie numbers and sizes to vary with some good slabs in the mix. Top fishing months are December through February.
#4 – Lake Fork, Texas (27,000 acres) – A consistent top five pick. Fishermen can use different methods on Fork, but it’s known as a great jigging lake. Live imaging has only enhanced the jigging opportunities. Standing timber and submerged wood are plentiful. Excellent stringers come from the lake with a shot at a huge slab at any time. It’s a bucket-list lake that can make crappie dreams come true.
#3 – Lake D’Arbonne, Louisiana – This cover-filled lake is a great pick when looking for numbers of 1.5 to 2-pound fish. A few 3-pounders are available, too. Size and numbers are down a little, but experts still rank it high because of the action, weights and the variety of tactics that can be used. A fisherman can use any technique. Live imaging is popular but slow trollers catch their share of fish by working river or creek ledges and shallow wood-filled flats. There are places to pull jigs, too. Negatives include dangerous navigation, so idling is recommended if you’re out of the marked channel. Also, it’s river-fed, so rains can cause quick fluctuations. Check conditions before heading to the lake. Cabins at the state park are a great place to stay.
#2 – Sardis Lake, Mississippi (98,000 acres) – A big jump from the number eight spot, this lake is famous for producing numbers of good fish, especially in the 11- to 14-inch range, with plenty 15 inch and over. A 12-inch length limit ensures quality fish in the livewell. Live imaging and power trolling are hot tactics, but most methods work including trolling crankbaits in warm water. Keep an eye on your weather app because a little wind can create a dangerous lake. Good lodging is scarce, but the state park offers a good campground.
#1 – Grenada Lake, Mississippi (35,000 acres) – A unanimous pick every year as the best crappie lake in the country. The waters here give anglers a real shot at three-pound crappie. Fish growth rates are great and management practices are good. It’s producing a lot of 3-plus-pound slabs with overall numbers good. Negatives include heavy fishing pressure, a lake that can be difficult to navigate at certain lake levels and it’s not wind friendly. Consider wind-protected areas when wind exceeds 10 mph. However, the chance of landing your personal best crappie or your biggest stringer far outweigh the negatives. Peak time for monsters is mid-February through March. The town of Grenada includes plenty of hotels and places to eat.
Check out the 2023 list of the 50 Best Crappie Lakes at www.monstercrappie.com
(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing writing and photography for over three decades. He is currently Senior Writer for CrappieNOW Digital Magazine, freelance writer, and book author. His books are available at Grizzly Jig Company or from Amazon.com)