Seven Best Lakes in Texas for Crappie Fishing and a Few Tips
Crappie Fishing Here In Texas Made Easy
Crappie are fun to catch and great fighters. Crappie have remained unchanged for centuries. Elusive as ever.
In that picture above (of a Black Crappie), you can clearly see the black spots all over the fish are assembled in no set pattern and it also has a large number of dorsal fins; Black Crappie usually have upwards of ten or more.
These two things distinguish a Black Crappie from a White Crappie. A White Crappie has well-organized spots in nice neat rows plus no more than six dorsal fins as a rule (see picture below).
As a species, Crappie are predatory feeders just like other fish and actively search out smaller baitfish including their own. They usually feed at dawn and again at dusk. They love weed beds, shallows. and most submerged structures.
So....what are some of the things we fishermen can do to improve our odds?
Try one of the seven best lakes for crappie fishing in Texas (below) and check out the tips I list below.
Seven Lakes in Texas Famous for Crappie Fishing
Crappie fishing is second only to Bass fishing here in Texas. As promised, I'm going to reveal some of the best lakes for you to try fishing for Crappie (regardless of species), right here in Texas.
Listen, have you've ever thrilled to the 'zing' of your line as a fish strikes? Then it's high time to get out there and test the waters on these lakes. The first two are where the record-sized crappie were caught.
- Lake Fork (east of Dallas on a major tributary of the Sabine River)
- Navarro Lake (south of Dallas and west of Richard-Chambers Lake)
- Sam Rayburn Reservoir (N. E. of Lake Livingston)
- Richland-Chambers Lake (S.E. of Dallas)
- Somerville Lake, (near Somerville)
- Toledo Bend Reservoir (Texas/Louisiana border)
- Tawakoni Lake (east of Dallas)
This doesn't mean that if your favorite lake isn't listed here it's not good for crappie fishing, but to be sure check with the TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) before you go, and they will have fairly up-to-date information. Plus, your local fishing shop or even the folks at the lake where you are fishing or camping can tell you as well.
There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
Texas Crappie Fishing at Its Best
Spawning for crappies begins in late March or early April here in Texas as they flood the shallows, waiting for that perfect water temperature (above 56 degrees) so they can spawn. Whereas Bass like their nests to themselves, Crappie are more into the communal approach. The more the merrier in their nesting areas and in shallow water.
Now if you think about it, this works in our favor as fishermen and women, because it almost guarantees a concentration of fish to be caught in any given spot. Almost every lake in the eastern half of Texas has excellent Crappie populations which make for great fishing during the spawn, even into April.
After that, you need to go back to fishing basics and try a couple of the strategies I have outlined here and you will almost always go home with your limit or nearly so. The best lake here in Texas for Crappie? It's located in Central Texas and it's called Granger Lake. The lake is between the towns of Granger and Taylor off 95. If going north on 95, turn right (east) onto 1331. It's about 8 miles from the turnoff to the dam
The picture above is an aerial view of Granger Lake and the dam is clearly visible.
Three Types of Crappie, Including Fresh CaughtClick thumbnail to view full-size
Some Suggestions for Crappie Fishing: When, Where, and With What
When fishing for Crappie, I use lures, jigs, and live bait.
Keep in mind, crappie breed when the water temperatures are in the high 50's to low 60's and it's the males who build the nests: always in shallow water (usually in under 6 feet of water). But that's where the similarities between the three crappie species end.
White Crappie build their nests under banks and along shorelines on the lakes here in Texas. Whereas Black Crappie prefer wooded areas or heavy vegetation in these same lakes for protection of their nests. Both species prefer shallow water. So....how to trick them out to be caught?
We simply look for places to fish as described above, near their nesting areas in the lakes here in Texas. When they are spawning and nesting, they will hunt baitfish, so Storm's Wildeye Minnow or Live Crappie work the best. Real minnows work as well..
What to Use, and Where and How
Time of day has a lot to do with what to use also.
Crappie prefer areas with no current movement, so fish those areas accordingly. In the early summer morning hours or in the late afternoon.
On bright and sunny days, I use tube jigs in bright colors, like orange or white or even red.
On dreary and overcast days, I prefer two-colored tubes, like black and blue, brown and green, or even black and white, though my preferred color is watermelon.
Selection of Gear
You'll need a good selection of bobbers and some decent jig heads for your tubes. If you are using live bait (minnow or crappie) use number two hooks. The size of your bait will vary depending upon the time of day and year. This time of the year (spring), I like the Storm Wildeye series. Either the Live Minnow or the Live Crappie lure in #2. In the fall, use a larger size such as Goby. The fish have had all summer to grow and learn to like bigger bait, so use it. If I use live bait, I prefer to hook it through the mouth from underneath the jaw with the hook coming out above the upper lip so they still swim.
Keep in mind that crappie will have moved out to deeper water in the summer months. They will be in water 10-15 feet or deeper, but always around submerged trees and brush piles. They can often be found back in secluded coves as well, if the water is deep enough. For deep water, I use a Carolina Rig. I like to move the lure around as I retrieve it, using the rod tip to lift the weight off the bottom for a second to move my bait/lure around.
Setting the hook:
Crappie are a soft-mouthed fish (like a trout) so they will be more cautious. Do not attempt to set the hook when you first feel a slight tug on the line; wait until you can feel the full weight of the fish on the line. The first thing to do is reel in any slack. If you are NOT using the Spiderwire line, with its increased sensitivity, I recommend reeling in all slack, which makes standard monofilament line more sensitive. If you are using a bobber and it disappears, it's time to set the hook. If you are using braided line, which of course doesn't stretch, a hard hook set isn't necessary. Unfortunately, experience is the best teacher here and a few lessons learned the hard way are in the offing. Be prepared.
Once you find whatever the crappie are hitting on, keep doing that till you limit out or they quit biting.
Fluorocarbon Line Is Stronger and Invisible
Buy and use the line I use and recommend. Spiderwire fluorocarbon line almost disappears in the water, and if you've never fished with it before, its sensitivity is out of this world. The first time you experience a fish checking out your bait, you'll know what I mean.
Evaluation: Hands down, the best line I have found. Buy a few different pound test line to see which works best for your particular fishing needs.
More Tips: Cover and Vegetation
Crappie Love to Hang Around Submerged Cover
In the Pacific Northwest, there was a lake not too far from the house my brother and I grew up in, where we fished for crappie. We had an old flat-bottomed skiff we kept there and would row around the lake. We used to make up dinosaur stories about the lake, because to us It looked like one of those inland seas depicted in dinosaur stories, with lots of trees both living and dead. We could just imagine dinosaurs roaming around. But those trees and their roots? They provided the natural cover for crappie.
Cover and Vegetation
As I said, crappie almost always gathered around the trunks of those trees in either shallow or deep water depending upon water temperature or time of year. My brother and I both knew that, and many an afternoon, we would head over to the lake after chores and catch a bucket full of fish to take home for dinner. In those days, we just used worms or corn and jig around the tree trunks and roots. Especially along with the submerged logs and branches. All of which provided plenty of cover not just from other predators but from the sun as well. Crappie (as with most fish) use 'cover' for shelter from predators, while predators use the cover for ambush. So, like the water holes of the African scrublands? On land or underwater, the cover can be for predator or prey.
Vegetation can be broken down into several classes, but the most important takeaway here is this: Top or floating weeds are generally rich hiding spots for Bass or Walleye and require weedless hooks and a good fluorocarbon line to sink better. Submerged cover is better for Crappie fishing. Just work the edges with a good plastic like a Bobby Garland Slayer or one of your favorite spinners.
In the Fall
In the fall, the crappie still around have had time to grow, and they are bigger and they will be in deeper water mostly. That just means it's time to pull out the old tube baits if you want to get that big one fired up. I have friends that use worms and plastics (larger size) as well as larger spinners and they claim to catch fish just as well. But for me? I stick with what works for me until I learn something better. Fresh worms and tube baits.
Size and Bag Limits
Here in Texas, legal crappie fishing is generally accepted to be any fish 10" long minimum and with a maximum per day bag limit of 25.
Suggestions for Lures
The best artificial lures I have found include various types of jigs, predominantly tube jigs, and small spinners but only from 1/32 of an ounce out to 1/8 of an ounce in the springtime. Just about any color combination works, just keep in mind what I described above about time of day and season.
I carry these Bobby Garland Slab Slay'r's because they work when nothing else does. Now, that being said, no lure is 100% effective, but the Slay'r has been known to get the attention of a lazy fish when other lures won't.
Evaluation: The bright color and it's excellent wiggling action seem to be the key to its effectiveness. Not to mention that to a fish, it looks a bit like a freshly hatched larva. This watermelon color seems to work the best for most any water condition.
I have the Strike King in two colors, watermelon and pumpkin seed. If I can't catch with those two colors, something is wrong.
Evaluation: This is the 'bomb' for crappie fishing. They can't resist it. Works great under docks and around structures.
The Clinch Knot
Probably the easiest knot out there. The Clinch knot can be used for anything and most everyone has learned to tie this knot at one time or another in their lives. Whether it be for attaching my line directly to the hook, a lure or a swivel, it doesn't matter, it just works. That being said, this knot is excellent for panfish (Crappie) because it works best when used on line under 10 lb test. If you want a knot that is an old reliable 'go to' knot, then the Clinch Knot is your answer. It's a strong knot that can be used for anything, while using lighter weight lines.
Tying The Clinch Knot:
It's a really simple knot. I start by passing the line through the hook's eyelet, the eyelet of the of the swivel or lure, which ever is being tied. Now, I double the line back and wrap instead of five times, I wrap it six times around the line. Using my non-dominant hand, I hold these wraps in place. With my other hand, I pass the line through the first loop above the hook's eyelet. To complete the knot, I pass the line through the big loop and while still holding the wraps tightly? I pull the line up tightly against the hook's eyelet.
Simple, right? Clip excess line and that's it, you have now tied the Improved Clinch Knot.
This knot is called the 'Improved Clinch Knot' and not just a Clinch Knot for a reason. What "Improved" means is that this knot adds an extra tuck of the line under the final turn. The extra tuck makes the stronger than the standard Clinch Knot, which can be worth the effort for those fighters we all get on our line.
Crappie Lures That Work: Use With Either a Carolina or a Texas Rig
If Bobby Garland's Slay'r isn't enough to get your interest, let me tell you that this ranks up there with one of the top baits I use. The wiggly tail is the key.
Evaluation: These are the best crappie tubes to carry along with you in your kit. If you're not catching fish with these? Your line isn't in the water.
The Bobby Garland in Chartreuse, looks like a cross between two of my favorite colors, watermelon and pumpkinseed.
Evaluation: Bobby Garland lures always work. Buy 'em, carry 'em, use 'em. I carry pumpkin and watermelon colored baits.
The Snell Knot
One of My Favorites
The Snell Knot is one of the oldest and strongest knots around. I use this because it allows the line to be tied directly to the hook for a live-bait set up, using all of the strength of the line. Many folks however still like to use a leader, and this knot works equally well with a leader.
Tying a Snell Knot
I start by threading one end of the line (or leader) through the eye of the hook, about 1" to 1½" past the eye. I now take the loose end of the line (or leader) and insert it back through the eye of the hook in the opposite direction, while holding the hook and line (or leader) between the fingers of my non-dominant hand, leaving a large loop below the hook.
Wrapping the Line
I take the loop closest to the eye of the hook with my dominant hand and wrap it over the hook shank and the line (or leader) downwards towards the hook: probably five or six turns are enough. Now, holding the line (or leader) that is through the hook's eyelet with my dominant hand, I pull it slowly and steadily tight, remembering to hold the turns on the hook shank tightly so that they do not unravel. As the knot tightens, I slide it up tight against the hook's eyelet.
Holding the short end of the line with needlenose pliers, I pull the line (or leader) tight to complete the knot. That's it.
Now That You Have Caught Your Crappie
Now that you know how, I know you will catch plenty, so the only thing left to know is how to clean your fish.
How to Fillet Crappie (or Any Fish Really)
Cleaning fish is pretty universal, but in the case of crappie, filleting for nice clean steaks is the way to go. Start cleaning as with any fish.
To scale the fish use either a fish scaler or the back side of a knife blade as this will prevent accidental nicking of the skin. Holding the fish by the tail and run the scaler or rub the dull side of the knife from Tail to Head. This will remove the scales. When done, the skin of the fish should be smooth all over if done correctly.
Next, using just the barest part of the knife tip, insert it in the vent hole on the belly of the fish near the tail. Then carefully cut from the vent hole up the belly to the gills, ensuring that the knife tip does not penetrate any of the fish's insides. Remove all of the organs inside the fish, from head to tail and wash the inside of the fish thoroughly. The fish is now ready for the next step.
With a thumb, locate the spine of the fish and insert the tip of the knife (behind the gills) slightly into the fish and make a slice from head to tail right along one side of the spine. Next, with the fish lying flat, using the knife edge and cut into the fish right behind the gills. Once the knife blade touches the spine, stop and turn the knife edge towards the tail. With one smooth slicing motion, slice the meat away from the spine from the head to the tail by allowing the knife to slide down the length of it but not into it (the tip of the blade should be sticking out of the cut made previously), Slide along the spine. Once the meat is emoved, turn the fish over and do the same with the other side. Two fresh fillets are now ready. You can cook or fry it this way, but if you want the skin completely off for batter frying, do the following.
Removing the Skin
Lay the fillet on a cutting board skin side down and make a careful cut into the fattest end of the fillet between the skin and the meat. Slowly work the knife blade under the meat, but at skin level, to separate the meat and the skin ever so slightly. Grasp the skin and use the knife edge to sweep from the fattest part to the thinnest part to remove the skin. When done, rinse well and place on ice immediately.
Thanks for reading today, stay safe and I'll see you on the trail.