By Josh Gowan
Slabs, hogs, giants, pigs, monsters, and even toads are all terms used to describe catching big crappie. While most panfishermen are “meat hunters” and are quite content with a mess of tasty, hand-sized specimens to deep fry for their friends and family, we all fantasize about where to catch trophy crappie.
Catching the next state record is a tall order, but putting a bona-fide trophy crappie in the boat is not that far-fetched if you know where to fish.
I discussed the topic with other traveling professional anglers and came up with our top 10 lakes to catch trophy crappie in the United States
No. 10 Eufaula Lake, Oklahoma
Lake Eufaula covers more than 100,000 acres and offers fishermen the chance to catch trophy crappie using about any tactic, depending on the time of year. While the lake has vast, barren flats, submerged stumps and standing timber riddle much of the lake and offer ideal cover to the bountiful crappie. With 600 miles of shoreline, natural rock banks and brush-lined feeder creeks provide crappie with ample spawning areas that anglers frequent in the spring. Aside from wood and rock cover, numerous bridges offer prime targets for both crappie and anglers alike.
No. 9 Lake D’Arbonne, Louisiana
The North Louisiana swamp is new to many angler’s lists of monster crappie lakes, but it emerged in the last 5 years as a prime destination for pursuing slab soc-a-lait, as crappie are called in Cajun country. With groves of standing cypress, stump-ridden ledges and flats, and river channels running throughout, the lake produces many 2-plus-pound crappie each year.
No. 8 Lake Talquin, Florida
The smallest lake on the list at 10,000 acres, this Florida gem stretches 20 miles and uninhabited forrest engulfs most of the lake. Huge black crappie, or speckled perch as they say in Seminole country, grow to mammoth proportions in the shallow, fertile lake. Stumps and dead trees, along with acres of thick vegetation, make Lake Talquin a “one-poler’s” dream.
No. 7 Kentucky Lake, Tennessee/Kentucky
Few lakes are better known for outstanding crappie fishing than Kentucky Lake. Stretching 184 miles and covering 160,000 acres, Kentucky Lake is the largest manmade lake in the Eastern United States. The Tennessee River runs through the lake and is controlled at the 1-mile-long Kentucky Dam, and the main and secondary channels connecting vast flats and cover-laden shallows throughout the lake construct textbook crappie habitat. Trophy class crappie, both white and black, are frequently caught by the thousands of anglers that fish the lake.
No. 6 Santee Cooper, South Carolina
Known as South Carolina’s “Great Lakes”, the Santee Cooper lake system consists of 110,000-acre Lake Marion and 60,000-acre Lake Moultrie, which are joined by a 6 1/2-mile diversion canal. Between the two massive lakes, crappie hide in nearly every habitat they could want. The most notable fishing opportunity for trophy crappie is vertical jigging the immense amount of vegetation for big black crappie in the spring. A recent crappie tournament on Lake Marion was won with a 7-fish stringer weighing 13.68-pounds, nearly 2 pounds per fish.
No. 5 Lake Fork, Texas
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and crappie are no exception! This 27,000-acre impoundment in East Texas is well known for its trophy bass fishing, but lunker largemouths aren’t the only gamefish that thrive in this cover-rich impoundment. Thousands of acres of standing timber and multiple large bridges offer homes to a healthy population of trophy slabs. Many 2-plus-pounders and the occasional 3-pounder are caught vertical jigging every year.
No. 4 Alabama River, Alabama
While officially a river system, the slowly meandering waterway forks out into massive creeks that fish like small lakes. From the shallow backs of the creeks, across the stumpy flats and down the deep ledges into the main channel, giant crappie are found throughout the river’s many features, depending on the time of year. The Alabama River was not nationally known until 2009 when the Bass Pro Shop’s Crappie Master’s Tournament was held there. The winning weight for the two-day event (14 crappie) was 31.69-pounds, turning the unknown river into world-class crappie fishery overnight.
No. 3 Arkabutla, Sardis and Enid Lakes, Mississippi
Okay we’re fudging a little bit by combining 3 Mississippi flood control reservoirs of Arkabutla, Sardis and Enid into the No. 3 spot. Two to 2 1/2-pound crappie are fairly common on these lakes, and numerous 3-plus-pounders are caught, especially prior to the spawn. All of the reservoirs down the I-55 corridor in Mississippi are flood control lakes and vary vastly in depths throughout the year. While these three lakes have some differences, the commonality is the expansive coverless areas that gigantic prespawn crappie suspend in, offering anglers that are willing to push or pull multiple poles the chance at a trophy fish.
No. 2 Lake Washington, Mississippi
Lake Washington is just about an hour southwest of Grenada, and has only become nationally known in the last 5 or 6 years. Washington differs from the other famous lakes in Mississippi as it is an oxbow, and it differs from other oxbows because it is now cut off from the river that formed it. Although there is an area of 10 to 15 feet of water, most of the lake consists of coverless flats ranging in depth from 5 to 8 feet, surrounded on one side by houses and piers, and the other by ancient cypress groves. As with the other Mississippi lakes, the growth rate of the crappie is phenomenal, finding plenty of 4-year-old, 15-inch crappie ranging from 2 to 2 1/2 pounds, and turning out numerous 3-plus-pounders each year.
No. 1 Grenada Lake, Mississippi
You cannot make a list about big crappie lakes without including the undisputed No. 1, Grenada Lake, Mississippi. Grenada Lake is a 35,000-acre reservoir built in the 1950s to help control flooding in the Yazoo Basin. Crappie must be over the 12-inch mark to legally harvest on Grenada, which means many 1-pound crappie get thrown back.
To demonstrate how far Grenada stands above the rest of the country takes but to look at last year’s Bass Pro Shops Crappie Master’s Tournament. The “Big Fish” for the tournament was 3.87 pounds. The heaviest one-day bag of the tournament (7 fish) was 20.57 pounds, and the total winning weight (14 fish) was 38.92 pounds. 29 teams weighed in a crappie weighing more than 3 pounds, and 64 teams weighed in with more than a 2-pound average!
*** Why the South Dominates Trophy Crappie Fishing ***
Southern lakes dominate the top destinations for trophy crappie quite simply because of an expanded growing season. Upper midwestern and northern lakes produce trophy slabs as well, just not nearly as fast. Crappie will live more than 15 years in the north, and less than 6 years in the south. A 4-year-old crappie in Pennsylvania will average 9 inches long and weigh 1/2 pound, while a 4-year-old crappie in Mississippi will average 16 inches and weigh 3 pounds. This rapid growth rate is why the south is the primary destination for anglers looking to catch a trophy crappie.