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Feathers and Fins

Crappie Fishing Beaver Lake

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Where do I start? Hard question when it comes to the crappie on this lake sometimes plentiful sometimes as elusive as a crypto-zoological creature like Bigfoot yet like the coelacanth, crappie are a real fish swimming in the waters of this lake though some think they are bigfoot.

How fine a table treat they are, searched out by experienced and recreational anglers alike. Valued for their fine fighting ability on light line and more valued for how they taste at the dinner table, they make a great meal for the family or a traditional southern fish fry and at a wild game cook-out seldom is there a fillet left over. Their value to any lake they swim in is beyond just their fighting ability or table fare but the money they can drive in to a local economy. What a neat little fish and the one many a child catches first as pan-fish are designed by God to put smiles on their faces and those smiles last long in to the lives of even the eldest of fishermen. Such a fine fish they are.

The interesting aspect with Beaver lake is how they do not seem to be where they are suppose to be when you read books on them from other areas and go searching Beaver for them and end up being more frustrated and wanting to burn the books. That has a lot to do with the deep waters of Beaver Lake and its structure. This makes it a different place and you need special tactics to catch her crappie on a consistent base, sure you can get lucky and find a few but the guys who really understand this lakes crappie can really pile them in.

Currently the Regulations allow for 15 crappie a day and must be 10 inches long, I have personally caught them to 22 inches so trophy class are very possible check the regulations for changes before you venture out.

From 2009 to 2013 I have seen a steady increase in the quality of the fishery fish and numbers, when I first started fishing the lake 10 to 12 inches seem to have been the predominate size but in the last five years I have been seeing many more in the 14 to 16 inch range and in 2013 had many in the 17 inch range and one at 22 inches. I attribute this to the high water years during those times and good stocking efforts by Arkansas Game and Fish.

It is my opinion Beaver Lake has very good crappie opportunities if you put in the time end effort to learn the lake. But go in with an open mind that this lake is unlike anything else when it comes to crappie.

Beaver Lake has two very special environments that must be discussed when you are talking about crappie, the White River section which for me starts at the mouth of Montne and the main lake section starting the 12 bridge. You may ask about the area from Montne to 12 bridge and this area is a transitional area where fish seem to be more migrating to one or the other areas. It does hold fish no doubt but they are marauding schools more than stationary and that makes targeting them not only difficult but very specialized.

For me there is only two seasons on Beaver Lake. Winter and the other 8 months! Winter starts as soon as water temperatures fall to below 56.7 degrees. Don’t ask me why but that number seems to put them deep in to their winter haunts. Above that you can find crappie from 25 feet of water to surface with their preferred depth being right around 9 to 17 feet of water.

Now there is two forage seasons Fry and Shad! We all know crappie want small fish to eat and in the early spring to about September they are feeding on fry so baits mimicking fry of other species is what the angler needs to key in on, where September to the water going below 56.7 they are keyed in heavily on threadfin shad.

Lets start off with Winter and how to catch them in the winter months. When crappie go deep 35 feet down to 60 catching them can be very difficult and most people just give up and winterize their boats. But these winter crappie are often fat and willing to bite if you spend the time to locate them.

First thing is knowing they go deep and not to waste your time in shallow water, the next thing is knowing they want shad for food. This is Boat season for certain and you will have to do a great deal of traveling in the boat to find the shad and with them the crappie, but the depths you can find relatively easy with the use of the mapping programs and store bought maps available today. I highly suggest a store bought map actually 4 so you can track their movements over several years and develop a pattern to save the driving. Mark the maps each of the four seasons as to where you find the shad and what depth this will over a few years showing you a very clear pattern of the bait fish of the lake.

Trolling with down riggers is my preferred method for catching these winter crappie. It allows me to cover a lot of water and do it fast, when I locate a school I will turn the boat on it and make repeated cast until I no longer catch any or can see the school scatter on the sonar, I then mark the spot and move on. I will repeat this pattern at least 10 times and after the tenth one is played out I start a troll pattern designed to take me over all 10 spots then turn around and do it again. Many times I have had 40 fish days in the middle of winter when no one is catching fish. Downriggers are the key to this approach. My bait of choice is size #5 and 6 flicker shad in Pearl White though I will be using the Thin-fin more this year as they have the Original thin fin back on the market and I know from my youth how deadly a bait that is trolled.

Trolling is the method but the madness is the casting to each of my ten spots as I initially contact them it is really a two pronged attack first the trolling tells me I have active fish as they hit the troll on a speed presentation so I know those fish are active. This gives me the confidence to cast to them and by casting I am referring to parking the boat with a trolling motor just off the structure and throwing past it with a crappie jig and then working the jig in to it or if it is very deep 25ft or deeper I can hover over the top and jig them. Typically this works very well. When I play them out I typically will have 10 to 15 crappie in the boat so the final trolling over the spots is to cull out smaller fish if I’m looking to make a big fish fry. If I am fishing just for me and my wife 4 crappie of 14 inches is more than plenty.

Never take more than you need for a single meal. Though they do keep well in vacuum sealed bags there is no reason to load a freezer full unless you are planning a fish fry for many people soon. My rule of thumb is fresh is best and for a big fry go out a couple weeks before the fry and fish several days to get what you need. Conservation of the resource will ensure the continued availability of it.

I do not try or mess with any other style of fishing in winter for Crappie this one is very productive and simple. I will vary the boat speed from 1.1 mph to 3.2 mph to find the speed they want but that’s all. Winter trolling is very effective and puts a lot of fish in my boat.

Next is when the water temperature warms and the crappie start moving up in to shallower water, this is the time choices have to be made. Do I go up river or fish the main lake? Let’s look at both areas starting with the main lake.

Though crappie can be found all over the lake I have found the most productive area to be from Rocky Branch to 12 bridge and Montne to Blue Springs it is a large area for certain but does have some areas that are more productive than others Key areas are; starting in Rocky Branch let’s look at a few spots up to 12 bridge.

  1. Rocky Branch from the back ramp to the front ramp and the coves on the west side in that zone. The crappie here tend to be smaller 8 to 11 inches but can be located readily the problem I find with this area if you can call it a problem is the white bass can get in their very thick at times making catching the crappie difficult.
  2. Fords Creek, most people think of Fords as a bass factory but the crappies do hang out in this area typically in the timber coves of this area they are again about the same size as the ones you find in Rocky Branch.
  3. Ventris and Little Ventris, much like Fords creek these crappie tend to hang out around the timber but are a little larger in size from 12 to 14 inches. Unlike Fords creek though these crappie can be found at the main mouth of Ventris roaming open water here they tend to be upward of 16 inches and when you find the school sticking with them is difficult as they are on the move which is good as these are very active fish and can be caught quite easily.
  4. Avoca, this is a tricky area to fish crappie as they are hanging out on the timber and require a fast attack approach, high speed trolling this area can be very productive but you will lose many baits doing it and by speed trolling I am talking 2.5 to 3mph
  5. Prairie Creek, Crappie in this area are very susceptible to spider rigs with either live minnows or crappie jigs or the old bobber under cork and trolling. But like with Rocky Branch the white bass like this area and can make it very hard to catch a crappie through them.
  6. The Islands from Prairie Creek to 12 Bridge, these islands can be very productive for crappie but also have the issue of white bass but early season stripers are patrolling this area as they head back down lake. There are crappie here but light line for crappie does not hold up well against the man in the striped suit.
  7. 12 bridge itself, the pilings in this area hold a great many crappie and if you ever have drove out that way at night you will see all the boats parked under it at night with their lights on. A perfect place for summer crappie fishing when you are looking to beat the sweltering heat and boat traffic. But beware those lighted boats are there for white bass and they are plentiful there.

And then we have the White River area of the lake or from Montne to Blue Springs, much further up river than that it becomes difficult for boat or walk-in access due to private property and trespass issues so we will stop and Blue Springs.

  1. Is Blue Springs itself I am talking about the arm not the area in the main river after you get under the bridge. The crappie I have found tend to stack up on the brush in the area but beware the ramp itself is not the best in the world nor is the parking area, I would not use it after dark for safety reasons.
  2. From hwy 412 Bridge to the mouth of War Eagle, this area provides both sand bars and pole timber to fish with numerous hidden structures. Spider rigging works very well in this area as does slow drifting minnows under bobbers on the bluf walls.
  3. War Eagle, again think timber and flowing creek channel area, BUT beware as with Rocky Branch there are pesky whites in this area so though it can be great it can be frustrating.
  4. Hickory creek, this area is bluffs and flats with many log jams under water and other hidden structure a good area to find crappie for sure.
  5. Montne, This area has a ramp and its pretty decent there is a lot of timber on the south shore with flats in the back as well as some brush piles scattered around it is excellent crappie fishing but beware the white bass as well.

So there we have the two environments I mentioned as primary but there is that transition area from Montne to 12 Bridge. This area is a high power trolling area the fish are constantly on the move here and it requires speed trolling 2.3 to 3.2 mph and covering water like crazy. It can be productive but I have found most people without the proper gear get frustrated fast. You have to have good electronics and down riggers and be willing to lose a lot of bait and break a lot of bills off baits but the rewards can be some big crappie. But to give you an idea at what cost the average day is at least 6 to 10 lost crank baits and 30 bucks in gas never slowing down and pray the winds not out of the North or South or it’s a fight to maintain speed and control.

So on to the other 8 months season, in the early season the crappie are working up from their winter retreat they start feeding on shad and as it progresses to Fry and shad Timing is key and by that I’m talking about the timing of the White Bas spawn, Bass spawn and Perch Spawn. I have seen fry from White bass as early as March 14th and Bass as early as March 22nd so I know someplace in that area the Crappie will be chasing fry but before that they chase shad.

When they are on the shad bite I speed troll to locate shad and then work the area over, The crappie are not typically chasing them but will suspend in open water areas waiting for the shad to come to them so speed trolling is very effective. When you locate a school you can switch to spoons or crappie jigs and catch many fish quickly.

When the fry finally start showing up this is a time of year to switch to spider rigs with crappie jigs or minnow rigs. One interesting minnow technique I watched last year was an older guy had rigged his trolling motor on the side of his boat and had a pole out the Bow and stern and then lined poles across the side of the boat opposite the trolling motor and he slowly back-trolled. He was in a 16ft John boat and his long rods were custom 16 footers he covered almost 48 feet of water with this spread and was like a human seine net.

Another favorite tactic of mine when they start chasing fry is find cuts that come up very close to shore with buck brush and pitch a crappie jig in to the brush and then work it back to the cut Crappie will tend to hang in the cut and make feeding runs in to the buck brush and as the lake really warms they will move up to spawn in it and feed in it more.

Finally the pure speed troll, this is when I know where suspended crappie are and I intentionally target the largest of the crappie. I troll 140ft behind the boat with 10lb test line and flicker shad between 2.3 and 3.0 mph. This is a tactic you are not going to often limit but the crappie tends to be very large 14 plus inches. This tactic also tends to cost you baits as any cover you come across that at the level of your bait will snag you and at that speed it can break you off fast. These are what I deem open water crappie where they can be suspended over any depth but are aggressively feeding. A good day doing this is between 4 and 8 crappie but big ones.

The later part of the 8 month season see’s a switch from fry to shad, early in this part of the season you will find them over structure more than any other place and hopefully by this point you have marked many waypoints on your unit and can start targeting them. The best technique I have seen is a 8 rig spider rig where the using minnows set for the depth the brush or structure is at and then noses the boat to it remains stationary for a few minutes and then pushes it slowly in to the cover. If it doesn’t catch anything just go over it to verify fish or no fish and then leave to either come back later or write it off as no fish that day.

You can also tactical troll where you troll over the structure and then sharply turn the boat to make the bait slam the rocks, This will produce good results but really beat up baits and lose baits also if you are not very familiar with the lake it can eat a prop so do it with care. This style really requires you know your boat and understanding your sonar as to when the bait will coming near the structure so you know when to make the turn after you pass over the structure.

Late in the season an interesting thing happens on Beaver Lake something that the first time I saw it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, large schools of crappie surface busting shad. The first few times I saw it I actually ignored it as white bass or small Kentucky bass and just didn’t want to waste my time. Finally one day I was bored and thought playing with them would be fun and I threw a small zara spook in to the blowup and to my surprise I caught a nice 14 inch crappie. I wrote it off as cool but probably just a fluke mixed in so I casted again and bang another nice crappie. I was scratching my head but for the next hour I was able to chase this school and limit out on crappie and many more released.

Ever since that day I have looked for this action and it doesn’t happen often but each year I have managed to get into a surface bite on crappie doing it. They seem to key in on large schools of 2 inch shad and do it in open water. So don’t pass up what looks like just small whites or bass in the late fall it might well be boiling crappie.

Fishing for spawning crappie on Beaver is possible but frustrating at times! Not because they won’t bite but because of the lakes water levels. Crappie like cover this is no secret but only when the lake is high will the buck-brush be submerged and that is when shallow water fishing is at its best. You will need long rods to really work the brush well. I like to use a 9ft fly-rod with a crappie jig on the end and drop it in the thick cover in this situation. This also is a great time as you can sight fish the crappie by slowly drifting along the edges looking in to the brush.

But it also for me is a hard time as seeing nice sized bass, catfish and carp in the shallows tends to make me want to play with them. I often keep a second rod set-up for bass fishing and a third rod set-up for carp. I just do not see a reason not to have fun and being ready willing and able to take advantage of whatever I find is what it’s all about to me.

Finally there is the night fishing scene on the lake. Far too many people neglect what can be some of the best and most comfortable fishing on the lake in the hot summer! We all get tired of the heavy traffic, drunks and other players on the lake during the day, but at night it becomes quiet and peaceful and what better way to unwind after a hot day doing honey-do’s or hard work.

I prefer to be on the water a couple hours before night fall, you may need to put up wth the spectacle at the ramp but if you keep a good since of humor and just enjoy the insanity it’s a good way to start off the night with some laughs.

After you leave the comedy club head for the arms with timber in them and spend some time looking at the sonar for good bait concentration or surface signs of bait. You will want to mark a few spots until about 30 minutes prior to dark then go back to the best mark with the most bait. Tie up to one of the timbers and drop your lights over. The bite could start at anytime but typically I find 1 to 2 hours after dark is when it really starts to happen. What can be better than sitting back in a nice peaceful evening no crowds and just you the darkness and some fish?

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I coukdnt help myself. :-). He knows I'm only teasing in good sport as friends often do.

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Standard cannon clips. The trick is to load the rod hard and pay attention to the tip you will see the hit, it takes a little learning but works great. I did see some clips at cabelas the other day I might start trying they were designed for planer-boards but looks like with a little work can be modified for down riggers

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Apparently, I'm going to have to fine tune my release techniques. I also use Cannons, but I've had trouble getting them to kick off. I know the basics as far as line position, but finding that right spot that keeps things together and then releases on small fish (compared to the salmon I'm used to) is still a bit tricky.

Cannon used to have a rubber-band release for use on stocker trout and kokanee, but it was based on the idea that the rubber band would break on the strike. I may do some surfing today and see if I can find kokanee releases somewhere. Those should be about right.

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