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Crappie are favorite cool-weather targets

by Bob Wattendorf

Black crappie are favorite cool weather targets, so join the fun, check your license (License.MyFWC.com) and the list of top sites and tips below and go fishing.

What better way to start off a new year then with some healthy outdoor activity and a mess of fresh fish?

Crappie are among the most popular freshwater fishes in Florida. Their deep body with nearly symmetrical dorsal and anal fins and a speckled pattern on the body make them easy to distinguish.

Crappie spend much of their time offshore, feeding on small fish. This time of year they will be preparing to spawn and, as the temperatures reach 62-65 degrees Fahrenheit, they move inshore to build nests in colonies. Nests over gravel or muddy bottoms in depths of 3-8 feet are fanned by males.

Crappie eat crustaceans, insects and small fishes. A bright, 1/16-oz. to 1/8-oz. jig or Hal-flies will produce once they are inshore. If they are schooling offshore, drift Missouri minnows or grass shrimp below a float, with a #4 hook and small split shot. Depth is key, as crappie school at the same level, so experiment until you find the right depth.

Crappie (aka speckled perch or papermouth) longer than14 inches or heavier than 2 pounds qualify for a Big Catch angler-recognition certificate (www.BigCatchFlorida.com).

Youth under 16 can participate with an entry longer than 10 inches or heavier than 1.5 pounds. Easy registration makes people eligible for both Big Catch and TrophyCatch (which rewards anglers for catching-documenting-releasing largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds), as well as a drawing to take place in October 2014 for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury.

Looking for the best places to go?

Every year Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) fisheries biologists compile annual lists of top fishing sites for bass, crappie, bream, catfish or striped bass (see MyFWC.com/Fishing, then select “Freshwater” and “Fishing Sites and Forecasts”).

You can also find regional forecasts for other key water bodies that are updated quarterly, with links for more current information. Here are the selections for your best black crappie fishing in 2014, as compiled by Cheree Steward, FWC fisheries biologist.You can also find quarterly updated regional forecasts for other key water bodies, with links for more current information.

Lake Talquin (8,800-acre reservoir, west of Tallahassee). The 10-inch minimum size limit on Lake Talquin helps maintain the crappie fishery. The state record black crappie (3.83 pounds) was caught here. This reservoir has many submerged stumps and snags, so be careful, particularly in the upper half of the lake.

Lochloosa Lake (5,705 acres, between Gainesville and Ocala). Water levels have been up for over a year, and anglers are catching good numbers of crappie measuring between 11 and 14 inches, with some weighing over 2 pounds. In 2014 the lake should continue to produce good results. The lake can be accessed using the county ramp, Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp or Twin Lake FishCamp.

Lake Weir (5,685 acres, south Marion County). Located near Weirsdale, this lake is deeper than most Florida lakes, with depths exceeding 20 feet and an irregular bottom.

The FWC maintains 12 brush fish attractors, which were refurbished in 2010 and can be easily identified by yellow buoys. Also, the FWC is experimenting with Fish-in-a-Barrel attractors on Lake Weir. These attractors are PVC cubes surrounding halves of PVC barrels that were designed to provide structure without snagging tackle. These attractors are marked by yellow buoys with blue caps. For GPS coordinates of these and other attractors, see the “Fish Attractor” link on the “Fishing Sites and Forecast” page listed previously.

Lake Griffin (10,000 acres, Lake County). Part of the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, this lake was known as a numbers lake. However, a 10-inch minimum size limit for crappie implemented in July 2012 is showing positive results, giving 9-inch fish another season to grow. Trawl sampling in 2013 saw twice as many 10-inch and larger crappie than in recent years. Also, in January 2014, FWC biologists will be placing several marked fish attractors in the lake; easily accessible from ramps at Herlong Park or Lake Griffin State Park on Highway 441. Given crappie’s tendency to congregate around structure, these attractors should provide excellent fishing.

Lake Monroe (9,406 acres, near Sanford). Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River and is just off of I-4 about halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach. This lake is known for quality-sized black crappie. Drifting or trolling the river channel and offshore from the power plant are popular, but schools are located all over the lake.

West Lake Tohopekaliga (18,810 acres, south of the city of Kissimmee). While known for bass fishing, Lake Toho has gained a reputation as a prime location for black crappie. Good numbers of fish are caught by anglers drifting minnows between Makinson and Paradise islands, the mouth of Shingle Creek and around channel marker 24. Anglers also have success jig fishing around hydrilla in these areas.

Lake Kissimmee (34,976 acres, east of the city of Lake Wales). A stellar bass fishing lake, Lake Kissimmee is also a popular destination for speck fishermen. Anglers consistently catch limits near the mouth of the C-37 canal, on the north end of North Cove, between Brahma and Bird islands and around channel markers 7 and 8.

Lake Marian (5,742 acres, Osceola County, east of Lake Kissimmee). Lake Marian is a consistent black crappie fishery. Try trolling or drifting minnows in open water off of Whiskey Point, Jordan Slough, and Four-Mile Point. When crappie are inshore, jig fishing can be outstanding around native grasses, bulrush and lily-pads. In 2012 the average crappie caught was about 10 inches and anglers harvested an average of 2.4 fish per hour. There is a public ramp west of U.S. 441, with a fish camp (Lake Marian Paradise 407-436-2021) nearby. Mosaic Fish Management Area (1,000 acres, southern Polk County). Mosaic Fish Management area near Fort Meade has some fine crappie populations. The dozen lakes range from 10 to 200 acres and have shorelines with plenty of woody brush and vegetation to target with a well-hooked minnow under a float. Trolling deeper areas with minnows to locate crappie schools can be especially productive in early winter. Lakes SP12 South and Haul Road Pit are the best bet for crappie; both had catch rates greater than 3 crappie/hour during 2013. The area is open to fishing four days a week (Friday-Monday), and it is first come-first served, but you’ll have a spot somewhere. For details, call 863-648-3200.

Tenoroc Fish Management Areas (8,300 acres, Polk County). Crappie fishing at Tenoroc, near Lakeland, can be rewarding, especially during cooler months. With lakes from seven to 227 acres, anglers have plenty of areas to dunk a bobber. Try lakes 4, 5 and B for some of the best action. Call the Tenoroc office at 863-648-3200 or the creel office at 863-499-2422 to make reservations. These lakes are open four days a week (Friday-Monday).

Lake Weohyakapka (Walk-in-Water) (7,800 acres, east of Lake Wales). Hydrilla has not returned to this lake since the hurricanes of 2004, leaving plenty of open water to troll and drift for crappie. Good numbers and some quality fish are caught in deeper (10 feet) areas of the lake during cooler months and in shoreline vegetation (bulrush, knotgrass and maidencane) during spawning season. Seven brush-type fish attractors were installed in December 2010, to concentrate fish for anglers offshore. In spring 2012 anglers caught 2.3 crappie per hour including an impressive 2-pound, 2-ounce black crappie, which was entered into the FWC’s BigCatch program. For details, call 863-648-3200.

Lake Arbuckle (3,800 acres, east of Frostproof). This dark-water lake produces quality crappie year after year. They can be found in all three basins. Live Missouri minnows and small spinners are the baits of choice.

Lake Marion (2,990 acres, east of Haines City). While not known for large crappie, Marion is regarded as one of the better numbers lakes. Cane-polers often employ Missouri minnows here, while on light spinning tackle nothing beats Hal-flies or Beetlespins.

Lake Istokpoga (28,000 acres, near Sebring). Istokpoga is a fishing wonder for bass and specks. From November through April, anglers troll open water with Hal-flies, doll flies, spinner or Napier jigs to locate schools of crappie. When the water temperature stabilizes around 65 degrees, crappie move into bulrush and spatterdock along to spawn. When that happens, move slowly through the vegetation in 3 to 6 feet of water and cast the holes and pockets in the vegetation with a crappie jig.

Lake Trafford (1,500 acres, southeast of Fort Myers, in Immokalee) This lake is another numbers lake, with sampling indicating that record numbers of young crappie sampled by biologists three years ago are now 8-9 inches long and should provide additional keepers this year. The general bag limits for crappie is a generous 25 fish with no size limit, unless otherwise specified. So bring your family and friends and get out on the water. Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to [email protected] Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and select “more news,” or scr.bi/Fish-busters for more Fish Busters’ Bulletins. To subscribe to FWC columns or to receive news releases, visit myfwc.com/Contact.