by Ed Mashburn
Small waters offer some of the best crappie fishing to be found anywhere.
Although most crappie anglers love to visit on big lakes, rivers, and reservoirs to find and catch crappie, they might just be missing out on some seriously good crappie catching in small water.
Case in point – Lionel “Jam” Ferguson caught the world record black crappie (5.7 lbs.) in May of 2018 on a small private lake in East Tennessee. This absolute monster crappie replaced the former world record black crappie, a five-pounder, which came from a private lake in Georgia in 2006.
Although not all small waters can produce a world’s record crappie, many smaller ponds and lakes provide an almost untapped bounty of great crappie fishing. And according to the world-record evidence, the biggest crappie do come from smaller waters.
Small Private Ponds
If an angler can arrange permission to fish private lakes which hold crappie, then things are just about perfect for some real fun. Most private lakes and ponds receive very light fishing pressure, and the crappie may be totally unaware of any dangers from anglers and easy to fool.
There are thousands of smaller lakes and ponds scattered across the country which hold crappie, and the best thing about these small waters is that usually at least a few of them are very close to wherever a crappie angler lives.
Whether fishing on foot from the shore or from a small boat, crappie anglers who spend some time fishing and learning particular small lakes and ponds can become very well acquainted with the fish, with the water, and with the structure of a small lake much easier than trying to learn the ins and outs of a major reservoir with often variable water levels. In small waters, anglers can learn when and where in the course of a year the crappie will be catchable.
I have permission to fish a small private lake – perhaps twenty-acres in size – very close to my house. I have learned where the crappie hold in deeper water in hot and cold weather, and where the crappie go to spawn in spring. I know this small lake well, and I can usually bring enough crappie back home from a fishing trip for a good fish fry, regardless of the time of year.
And to be honest, walking slowly along the bank of a small lake or pond allows a crappie angler to thoroughly work potentially good water. It’s much easier to maintain position when you’re standing on the bank as opposed to being in a boat.
Backwaters of Larger Lakes
Many major lakes and rivers have lots of small, hard to access backwaters and sloughs that can hold tremendous numbers of crappie, especially in springtime when the slabs seek quiet shallows for spawning.
There are several reasons for crappie anglers to concentrate on smaller backwaters which connect to bigger lakes or rivers.
First, big boat anglers can’t reach these waters, so there is less competition. Whether a crappie chaser is on foot or in a small boat, these secluded backwaters are the private property of anglers who are willing to do a little footwork to reach the fish.
Just by walking the bank and casting, a crappie angler can locate the most reliable spawning shoreline, and the crappie will return to the best spots year after year.
Near one of my favorite crappie lakes, Lake Conway in central Arkansas, I have found a small pond which in high spring water is connected to the main lake by a single two-foot deep channel. I learned that when the willows growing along the banks of this pond start to show green in their branches, the slabs will be bedding below the willows. The crappie make the trip through the shallow channel and pile up in the protected waters of the small pond, and they will be eating up every kind of bait I want to throw to them.
Crappie anglers who want to find some very good crappie and lots of them often need to think SMALL!
(Ed Mashburn is a retired public school teacher, outdoor writer and photographer. He lives in southern Alabama, but he fishes for anything – carp and trout in Arizona, smallmouth bass and crappie in Wisconsin to snook and snapper in the Florida Keys.)