Catching crappie consistently all year long is but a dream for many anglers.
Rivers, streams and bayous are notoriously seasonal in delivering numbers of this popular species – especially to anglers fishing backwater areas.
Fortunately, large impoundments such as Toledo Bend on the Louisiana/Texas border and Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir offer locations to find large populations of quality crappie 12-months-a-year.
Since May, Toledo Bend Lake has already delivered literally tons of slab-sized crappie to anglers seeking fillets for the frying.
Before this spring’s historic flooding on Toledo Bend, longtime guide Jerry (JT) Thompson with Living the Dream Guide Service was making quality observations of his catches.
“We were filling gallon storage bags with fillets from 15 to 18 fish compared to fillets of 25 to 30 last year,” 51-year-old Thompson said. “Size and quality have increased compared to the last two to three years.
“We had a couple of clients here recently who told us they have never been able to catch fish of such size,” he said. “They had fished on the lake quite a bit – but the size they caught with us greatly exceeded their expectations.
“I think we are looking at some huge sac-a-lait to be caught this summer.”
The largest fish taken aboard by the luremaker and his family were large, white crappie.
“We typically find the black and white crappie mixed together,” the 24-year-old angler said. “In some instances, we find more whites in a group than blacks – and vice-versa.
“A range of good sizes of blacks run 10 to 14 inches in length, while larger white crappie can be found in lengths of 14 to 18 inches.
“It’s not unusual to catch white crappie above 2 pounds and an occasional 3-pounder.”
Acadian Outdoors Charters LLC’s Shane Johnson is in general agreement with Dubois and Thompson over the size and quality of Toledo Bend crappie.
“My hometown friends always wondered why I prefer fishing for Toledo Bend sac-a-lait when I have the Atchafalaya Basin not far from my home in New Iberia,” Johnson said.
“It is not uncommon to catch fish over 2 pounds once or twice a week. The local anglers have taken this for granted, and some of the larger fish at 3 pounds or better may just not be reported for the record books.
“There is just no other location in Louisiana where an angler can catch a limit of 25 fish where the average is a solid pound. It’s just great fishing.”
Veteran Toledo Bend guide and crappie angler Maurice Jackson of Zwolle (318-645-6863 or 318-617-4887) has developed a pattern of setting brushpiles in locations where many huge white crappie have been taken.
“The quality of the crappie has been outstanding when fishing the tops in the summers of the last two years,” the 69-year-old angler said. “It is not uncommon to take several hefty crappie – some well over 2 pounds on some occasions.
“My largest are two over 3 pounds.”
Go deep for the summer slabs
No doubt, many crappie are taken early and late on structure and near docks in the many coves along Toledo Bend’s shorelines.
But for numbers of quality slabs, anglers will have to fish deep.
As the sun rises and removes shade from the shorelines, crappie will venture deeper to find cover and a comfortable thermocline. They will cluster together in numbers in brushpile cover and within the artificial public reefs in Toledo Bend waters.
Brushpiles and artificial reefs are usually set in depths of 12 to 25 feet, and crappie will move to the deeper structures depending on sunlight and baitfish movement.
Both live bait (golden shiners) as well as a host of artificial lures are used usually on light spinning equipment or specially-designed extended crappie rods and reels.
Most guides and anglers agree small-to-medium shiners work best when using live bait for the species. Besides the usual small jigheads utilized on plastic or hair lures, most all anglers fishing deep will also attach sinkers up to ¼-ounce in order to get the lures down. These sinkers will also be used when fishing shiners.
Increased slab size apparent
“It’s a very healthy crappie fishery we have at Toledo Bend,” said fisheries biologist Jason Brancamp with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We have had evidence of good recruitment in recent years.
“There has also been an increase in size observed and that is based on forage availability. Those drought years exposed the lake beds and upon reflooding back to pool stage – there was just so much new cover and forage for baitfish, crappie and bass.”
“As a result, gamefish populations exploded.”
Locations for finding deep slab crappie
Although now headquartered in Lake Charles, LDWF biologist Sean Kinney has thorough knowledge of the 17 public artificial reefs scattered throughout the reservoir.
“Some are much better than others, but you can find panfish on many of them including crappie,” he said.
“South near Pirate Cove’s Marina, the Eagle Scout reef can deliver numbers of crappie in the late spring and early summer, but historically this reef gets covered by hydrilla,” the biologist said.
“In 20-foot depths, anglers have also reported finding crappie on public reef Megastructure No. 2,” he said. The Megastructure No. 2 reef is accessible by nearest launching facility at Kite’s Landing.
Kinney also reported that the Pendleton Bridge reefs are very popular with anglers, and they are even illuminated at dark and remain lighted until daylight adding an additional night-fishing option for anglers.
Lodging for newcomers
The deep crappie bite will continue at Toledo Bend throughout the summer.
With 185,000 surface acres and 1,200 miles of shoreline, Toledo Bend Lake is immense.
Accommodations have recently become a concern as anglers throughout the U.S. have been making fishing pilgrimages to the No. 1 bass fishery in the nation as ranked by Bassmaster in 2015.
Not to worry though, as visiting anglers are simply unaware of the very many possibilities of daily and weekly rental opportunities available.
A good place to start looking is by visiting the Toledo Bend Lake Country website at www.toledobendlakecountry.com/stay.