There is no doubt that Toledo Bend is phenomenal for catches of outstanding numbers of double-digit bass.
This fact is so apparent and newsworthy however that anglers can’t see the forest behind the trees.
What if I were to tell you that within this forest are impressive numbers of quality Toledo Bend crappie?
Do you want to catch limits of crappie that average 1.25 pounds on occasion?
Now that’s a real number, not a concoction.
A statistical average is derived by summing the pounds of crappie taken and dividing by the number of crappie.
When you read a sentence saying, “Crappie averaged from ¾- to 1 ½-pounds” – that is not an average. That’s called a range. And unlike an average, the range could include many more fish in the ¾-pound group than in the upper 1 ½-pound portion.
So then, do you want to eat hefty slabs of the tastiest flesh that ever lay upon the sides of any freshwater fish in Louisiana, and guiltlessly?
Not worrying about catch and release since these fish are so prolific?
Then load the boat, the family and/or friends to spend some time at Toledo Bend Reservoir this summer.
Toledo Bend ranks No. 1
In many stories in magazines, Toledo Bend does not often appear as a Louisiana hot spot for crappie.
Toledo Bend however should be No. 1 on any statewide list.
Not only do anglers experience coolers filled with crappie during the winter at the fabled Chicken Coop area north of Pendleton Bridge, but the same can be accomplished all summer long.
To say tons of crappie are taken out by the numerous guides, clients and recreational anglers who frequent these waters is actually an understatement of this phenomenon.
Take this trip last summer with longtime guide Maurice Jackson of Zwolle.
Jackson, Mister Twister’s Chuck Byrd and I set out into the 12-15 area of Toledo Bend to fish some brushpiles the guide had strategically set and arranged in the area.
“I found some here a couple of days ago,” 69-year-old Jackson said while looking at his Lowrance.
The guide threw out a marker buoy, and the anglers baited up with medium-sized shiners and a few tiny plastics.
It didn’t take long until Jackson and Byrd started hauling fish in, and some good ones. There were many doubles.
“The fish are suspended in this brushpile at 18 feet,” Jackson said. “And there is a large group here.”
After placing 12 good fish over 10 inches in the cooler, the bite slowed and it was off to another brushpile farther south.
“This brushpile is a very special one,” Jackson said. “I hope those fish are here.”
Sure enough, after a few fish over a pound were taken, Jackson smiled when a very special slab appeared.
“This one will certainly go near 2 pounds,” he said. Byrd and I agreed with the guide as the camera was steadily working capturing the moment.
After 15 fish were taken, Jackson caught another huge fish as Byrd hauled one in that looked to be over a pound.
“Maurice, you put us on some very good fish here,” Byrd said.
Eventually the big slab brushpile played out.
So it was again off to another – at high noon.
“It’s hard to believe the crappie bite in the middle of the day,” Byrd said.
“They sometimes bite better at midday,” Jackson said. “There’s always a better time, but we stay on them hard.
“Just look around at all the bass boats and pontoons out there. They’re all catching crappie or they wouldn’t be here.”
Where to find Toledo Bend crappie
Beginning in late April and lasting until the middle of the fall, Toledo Bend crappie will school tight to deep, submerged structure in strategic locations along the winding Sabine River channel, the interior guts of Toledo Bend reservoir.
More importantly however, schools of baitfish will seek the cover and forage these brushpiles offer.
“The leaves of the trees that make up the brushpile have larvae still producing insects which in turn attract small baitfish,” Jackson said.
According to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist manager Sean Kinney, there are two major species of baitfish that crappie forage upon.
“There’s plenty of forage for crappie in Toledo Bend,” he said. “They will target silverside minnows and threadfin shad.”
“I will have 110 tops set out in 15- to 25-feet of water at any given time along the channel,” Jackson said. “I will also reset them every year and make sure that they are brushed fully with green foliage.”
“There are 17 public, artificial reefs in Toledo Bend Lake,” biologist Kinney said. “Some are better than others, but you can find panfish on many of them including crappie.
“The Eagle Scout reef near Pirate’s Cove Marina can be good in the late spring and early summer, but it eventually gets covered by hydrilla,” the biologist said.
“Pilings 2 to 26 on the Louisiana side of the Pendleton Bridge were specifically designed to attract crappie, but anglers will also find white bass on them,” Kinney said. “There are some lighted reefs with illumination beginning at dark and they remain lighted until daylight.
“They can be pretty productive, and anglers can usually find crappie during the summer on the deeper portions of these structures when the fish suspend there.”
The biologist said that the reef named Megastructure No. 2 is also a very good one, as anglers have reported great catches of crappie in 20 feet of water. The Megastructure No. 2 reef is accessible by nearest launching facility at Kite’s Landing.
Other artificial reefs that are popular with crappie fishing pilgrims include North Toledo Bend State Park Reef No. 1 and North Toledo Bend State Park Reef No. 2.
Of course, electronic depth finders with GPS access are necessary to locate these reefs.
“To find fish on these reefs, you should start by slowing dropping shiners or jigs down to find out at which depths the crappie are suspended in,” guide Jackson said.
“If you reach bottom, you want to slowly come up with the baits until you start catching fish. Then you can estimate the depths of where they are suspended and drop your shiners or jigs in the same location.”
“You’ll catch more crappie that way consistently until that part of the structure plays out,” he said.
Toledo Bend crappie quality, biology and trivia
The quality of the crappie has been outstanding when fishing the tops in the summers of the last two years. It is not uncommon to take several hefty crappie – some well over 2 pounds on some occasions.
“My largest are two over 3 pounds,” he said.
Toledo Bend Lake records as published by the Lakecaster Magazine indicate the largest black crappie on record weighed a hefty 4 pounds taken in 2002 by Hazel Bolton on a cane pole.
These same records indicate the top Toledo Bend white crappie weighed 3.44 pounds taken on rod and reel in 2011 by Claude Gilcrease, Jr.
“White crappie make up 15- to 20-percent of the crappie population any given year on the Bend,” Kinney said. “The majority of crappie anglers will find black crappie in their catches.
“Crappie populations on Toledo Bend Lake are gaining from the same recovery following the cycle of low water conditions in the lake,” the biologist said.
According to the biologist, crappie appear to adapt well to cycles of low and high water conditions.
“We are now seeing slightly larger sizes of crappie because of the lake’s bounce back from low waters,” he said. “During the Sabine Parish Tourism Commission’s crappie rodeo, we saw a lot of large crappie.
“It’s not that often when we find 1,500 to 1,800 big enough to tag. There were a significant number of fish over 9 inches taken.”
Kinney also said that unlike many other river systems, lakes and basins, Toledo Bend Lake sustains very stable crappie populations on an annual basis, even when cycles of low and high water do not occur.
When crappie go deep in May through November, medium-sized shiners are the mainstay of most Toledo Bend crappie guides in the summer, and Jackson is no exception.
“I like to fish medium-sized shiners, and I would rather them be little than big,” he said.
The guide will change up his tackle a bit as he will user longer and a bit more sensitive rods which include 10-foot Shakespeare Crappie Hunter rods equipped with B’n’M reels.
On any given day in the summer, Jackson will locate his sunken tops where baitfish are moving by using his Lowrance. Once he is confident that crappie will be there, he will drop marker buoys near the tops where the anglers can find fish.
Jackson baits his shiners on No. 2 gold Aberdeen hooks. He hooks the shiner from bottom lip to the top lip, and sets 6- to 8-inches of line under a BB crimp weight with a 3/8-ounce slip sinker above the BB.
For deep water, brushpile fishing, the guide uses 12-pound Berkley Big Game monofilament.
Perhaps his most important tackle component and one that visiting anglers should keep in mind to carry along is a Frabill Min-O-Life Personal Baitstation. Within this insulated shiner box, Jackson will comfortably keep alive a ¼-pound of shiners, approximately 85 medium-sized fish, alive and healthy all day in the heat of the summer.
“It is absolutely the best shiner box out there right now,” Jackson said. “If you use copper top batteries (2 needed), I only have to change them out every 3 to 4 trips.”
Certainly Jackson fillets many slabs daily for his clients. He is sponsored by Mister Twister and actually tested the new Cuda blade for its Electric Fisherman and Piranha knives.
“This new blade is real efficient and makes quicker work of all the crappie I fillet,” he said.
You can contact Maurice for fishing rates and information at 318-645-6863 or 318-617-4887.
*** Portions of this article ran under the author’s name in the May issue of Louisiana Sportsman magazine.