Trout and black bass may get much of the fishing publicity in Missouri, but angler surveys show crappie are among the most sought-after sportfish in the state.
To say many Ozarks anglers are starting to think about crappie fishing would be a false statement: Most never stop thinking about it.
However, it’s getting ever closer to the spring crappie spawn – a fishing event that’s as special to many anglers as any other outdoors happening in the state. When crappie start to head for shallow waters to spawn somewhere around early April, many anglers begin to head for the coves of area lakes. Trout and black bass may get much of the fishing publicity in Missouri, but angler surveys show crappie are among the most sought-after sportfish in the state. Part of the reason for crappie’s appeal is their eagerness to take a lure. They’re also great table fare.
People can learn more about crappie at the free Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) program “Crappie Fishing for Beginners” on March 13 at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center. The program will be 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.
Missouri is home to two types of crappie; white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) and black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus). Both can be found in reservoirs throughout the state, but white crappie tend to be more abundant in most areas.
Crappie do not school, but instead congregate in loose aggregations around submerged trees, boat docks and other suitable cover. They feed primarily on small fish, aquatic insects and micro-crustaceans. The proportions of these food staples vary with locality, season and the age of the crappie. Adults depend heavily on small fish. Small gizzard shad and threadfin shad are the staple food item for adult crappie in many reservoirs.
In spring, crappie often build nests in coves that are protected from wave action. Many nests are sometimes concentrated in the same cove. Males fan out nests in water ranging from a few inches to up to 20 feet in depth. The spawning depth depends on water clarity (i.e., the clearer the water, the deeper the spawning depth.) The most favored nest sites are near a log or other large object, on a substrate consisting of fine gravel or finely divided plant roots for the attachment of the eggs.
Anglers can determine the spawning depth by lowering a white jig or similar object into the water and measure the depth when it disappears. Crappies usually spawn at that depth and up to three or four feet deeper. Once you catch a spawning crappie, more will often be in that area.
Spawning crappie can be caught with jigs (1/32nd to 1/8th ounce), minnows or small crankbaits or spinners. Fish brushpiles and standing timber where crappie concentrate. During spring, you might find crappie grouped off the bank around brushy structure and suspended at about the same depth as other spawning fish. The Missouri Department of Conservation has placed brushpiles and other fish habitat structures in many Missouri lakes. These often hold large concentrations of crappie. A comprehensive map of these structures can be found at huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/where-fish
Anglers should remember that Table Rock Lake, Bull Shoals Lake and Stockton Lake have a 10-inch minimum length limit while Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme de Terre and Truman reservoirs have a nine-inch minimum limit. The reasons the length limits vary is because studies have shown the crappie in these respective reservoirs have different growth rates. The daily limit is 15 at all of the above-mentioned reservoirs.
The March 13 program is part of MDC’s “Discover Nature Fishing Lecture Series” that has been held throughout the winter at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center. At this program, MDC Fisheries Biologist Shane Bush, MDC Outdoor Skills Specialist Greg Collier and MDC Naturalist Alan Reed will discuss crappie characteristics. The program is for ages 10-adult with adult mentor. To register, call 417-888-4237. The Springfield Conservation Nature Center is located at 4601 S. Nature Center Way in Springfield.
Information on crappie and other sportfish can also be found at huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/species/crappie