Crappie Days Coming in Arkansas and Missouri
by Ron Wong
Missouri is known as “The Show Me State.” Along with Arkansas, what it can show you is some plentiful crappie.
As the weather starts to warm in late winter, many of us start to experience bad cabin fever and the itch to catch some crappie becomes top of mind. If you don’t already live in Arkansas or Missouri, maybe you should add a road trip to your calendar.
The highland lakes in north central and north west Arkansas and lakes in the middle part of Missouri offers some excellent fishing in late winter and early spring. It is often a fine time to beat the crowds and pleasure boaters.
There are two types of lakes in Arkansas, what are known as highland lakes and lowland lakes. The highland lakes would be Beaver, Bull Shoals, Norfolk and Greer’s Ferry. All these lakes are deep with clear water much of the year. Spring rains will occasionally stain the water in the creeks, but the main lakes remain clear. All these lakes fish much the same during cold water periods. During late winter, crappie will suspend in flooded trees. Most local lake maps will identify areas that have flooded timber to assist you in where to start looking for fish.
Effective methods of catching fish during the late winter is using either a Capps and Coleman double minnow rig (see “Double Rigs for Winter Crappie” in this issue) or a double rig with 1/16th ounce Rockport Rattler jigs rigged with a small profile bait like a Crappie Magnet or Bobby Garland Baby Shad. Small minnows and soft plastics work more effectively during this time of the year in the highland lakes. When using soft plastics, it is recommended to use an attractant like a Leland Lures Slab Bite.
The best fishing will be 20 to 25 feet deep moving very slowly around the flooded timber often stopping on top of a tree. Use electronics to find those pieces of cover that have bait fish, crappie will be stacked around that area.
As the water warms moving towards early spring, the crappie will move to the front and middle parts of major creeks in these lakes. The same rigs used in late winter is most effective however the crappie will be shallower, so fishing 12 to 16 feet is best. Following schools of bait fish in the creeks is key to catching fish as there will be days when the crappie will be shallower towards the bank due to sun light.
For those that like to fish lowland type waters, the Arkansas River system produces large population of crappie. During the late winter, fish the mouth of major creeks feeding into the river. Spider-rigging with a double minnow rig is most effective fished 15 to 18 feet deep. Use electronics to locate baitfish and lower your presentation to just below the bait fish.
During late winter early spring rains, current will be heavy throughout the river system so the fish will move farther into the creeks, again the key is following the forage. As the water warms, single pole vertical jigging with a 1/8th or ¼ ounce Rockport Rattler jig rigged with bright colored plastics such as a Crappie Magnet or Bobby Garland Slab Slay’R tipped with Leland Lure Slab Bites around cover in the creeks 6 to 8 feet deep works well. A minnow under a float is also every effective when the fish begin to move shallower.
Horseshoe Lake in east Arkansas, just 40 minutes from Memphis offers excellent crappie fishing during cold water periods. The myriad of docks on the lake with many having 12 to 18 feet of water around them gives the crappie fisherman some excellent action. Single poling is best using a small hair jig tipped with a small minnow is most effective. Look for bait fish on your electronics to determine best depth to fish here.
In Missouri, there are two premier crappie lakes, Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks. Both lakes offer excellent crappie fishing year-round however in late winter and early spring the crappie are easier to pattern. For those that go Lake of the Ozarks (LOZ), late winter crappie fishing is best near the mouths of creeks fishing brush piles 17 to 25 feet deep. Spider-rigging a double minnow rig 15 to 20 feet deep is most effective. Find those brush piles with your electronics that have baitfish is key to locating the crappie here.
For those that like to use the “live scope” technology, using a ¼ ounce jig rigged with a small profile bait such as a Crappie Magnet or Bobby Garland Baby Shad can be effective in same brush piles. The larger weight jig gets the bait down quicker, so the fish do not spook. As the water warms at LOZ, the crappie will move to docks that are on points of major creeks that have at least 12 feet of water in the fronts of them. Dock shooting is the most effective way to catch fish. It is conceivable to catch 20 or 30 fish off one dock during early spring. Using a 1/16th ounce jig rigged with a Bobby Garland Baby Shad or 2-inch Slab Slay’R works best with 4- or 6-pound test hi-vis line.
As the water warms, the fish will move along the myriad of docks that adorn the banks of all creeks, follow the bait fish and the crappie will be there.
Truman is a big flooded timber lake. For those who prefer to single pole fish for crappie, this lake is paradise. During late winter, the crappie will be in the deeper timber lined creeks and fishing 12 to 16 feet deep is most effective. 1/16th or 1/8th ounce jigs rigged with a bright colored crappie tube tipped with a small minnow will work very well. As the water warms, follow the creek towards shallower water using the same baits. If the bite is slow, change colors of your soft plastics.
For those traveling to Missouri or Arkansas to experience excellent late winter/early spring crappie fishing, all the lakes mentioned have very good accommodations nearby. Local bait shops are willing to provide advice as to current patterns to catch fish. For those who would like more information about crappie fishing in Arkansas, visit www.centralarkansascrappieassociation.com and for Missouri check out www.welcometowarsaw.com
(Ron Wong is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, retired from FedEx after 34 years, and currently serves on the boards of several organizations. He is an avid fisherman and outdoor writer. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show Outdoors with Larry Rea, airing in Memphis, Tenn. Saturday mornings from 6-7:30 a.m. on ESPN790.)