January 15, 2004

Black crappie (a.k.a. speckled perch, speck or papermouth) is a favorite fish throughout Florida. It is a tasty panfish, and has a generous daily bag limit of 25 fish to provide a healthy “mess” of fish for the dinner table.

During warmer months, anglers can locate schools of crappie on or around deep underwater structures that show up on electronic fish finders. Other anglers have success by slow trolling or drifting over open water with live bait or small jigs, either singly or in tandem.

Locating a proper depth at which crappie are feeding is a key to success. Sometimes they’ll be just a foot or two from the surface, while at other times, they may be a foot or two from the bottom.

There is no telling when or where these prized game fish might show up, as they’re apt to be just about anywhere in Florida’s lakes and rivers. For an overview, noted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) fisheries biologists have come up with what, collectively, they feel is a “Top 10” list, in no particular order.

For more information on Florida’s freshwater fisheries, visit the Freshwater Fishing section of the FWC Web site.

While conducting the annual Top 10 crappie survey, FWC biologists said many other Florida lakes and rivers received enough votes to make honorable mention. These lakes includes: Lake Harris, Lake Griffin and Lake Beauclair in the Oklawaha Chain, Lake George, Lake Marion (Polk County), Crescent Lake, Lake Hampton and the Holly Chain (Lake County).

LAKE MARIAN: For those “in the know,” this 5,739-acre lake east of Lake Kissimmee appears on most lists of Top 10 speck sites. While not known for producing large crappie, Marian is widely regarded as one of the better “numbers” lakes. Catch rates of crappie nine inches and longer in FWC samples were the highest on record during the past two fall seasons.

LAKE TRAFFORD: About 30 miles southwest of Fort Myers, in Immokalee, this 1,500-acre lake also is regarded as a good “numbers” lake for black crappie. Reports indicate that the 2003-04 season will be just as good as the previous two seasons, when Trafford posted some of the best catch rates in the state. Try drifting minnows early or late in the day, and if you can’t locate schooling crappie in the middle, try jigs and minnows along the vegetated shoreline.

LAKE MONROE: Due to an ongoing FWC habitat-restoration project begun in the late 1980s, this 9,400-acre water body near Sanford is regaining its reputation as a quality crappie lake. With a 12-inch minimum size limit still in effect, anglers here will have an opportunity to collect some real “slabs” by using small jigs, Bream Killers, Hal-Flies or Beetlespins, along with earthworms, crickets, Missouri minnows and grass shrimp.

LAKE TALQUIN: West of Tallahassee, this 8,800-acre reservoir, which produced the current Florida record for crappie (a fish weighing 3 pounds, 13 ¼ ounces), is always high on any speck angler’s list. Due to submerged stumps and standing timber, boaters are urged to use caution when venturing out in search of another record crappie. Immediately release all crappie less than 10 inches long caught in Talquin. Numerous fish camps off S.R. 267, south of Quincy, have launching sites, and many are reporting good catches of quality-size fish.

LAKE OKEECHOBEE: Reports are that crappie should be large and plentiful again this season in Lake Okeechobee. Last fall, biologists found good numbers of slab-size crappie in the lake. Most of the fishing effort has been in the Kissimmee River/Fisheating Bay/Taylor Creek areas on the north end of the lake. Jigging along grass lines and dropping minnows in holes in the vegetation is productive. If offshore drift-fishing is more your style, check out the areas near Little Grassy, Eagle Bay Island and Kings Bar.

TENOROC FISH MANAGEMENT AREA: Think quality when venturing here for crappie, especially in the facility’s unreclaimed lakes. With its more than 13 intensely managed lakes, Tenoroc, near Lakeland, has earned a reputation as being one of the world’s leading all-around fishing sites for bass, bream and specks. Tenoroc is open to the public four days a week, so it’s advisable to call ahead for a reservation before planning a mini-safari to this popular place. Productive methods include using Missouri minnows, Beetlespins, 1/8-ounce Cotee Jigs or Hal-Flies for best results. Tenoroc has a 10-fish bag limit and a 10-inch minimum length for crappie.

LAKE LOCHLOOSA: Just southeast of Gainesville on U.S. 301, this 5,500-acre lake is the newest addition to the Top 10 List. Intensive FWC management efforts, combined with higher water levels have brought new life into Lochloosa’s crappie fishery. Fish the lily pads at the southeast and northwest parts of the lake, as well as the narrow connection to Little Lake Lochloosa. The lake offers anglers ample areas of maidencane and panicum grasses to fish when crappie get ready to spawn.

LAKE ISTOKPOGA: In Highlands County, between U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 south of Sebring, Istokpoga is the fifth-largest natural lake in Florida at 28,000 acres. Winter is the best time for black crappie fishing. Anglers troll open water using small jigs (Hal-Flies, doll flies, spinner jigs, “Napier” jigs, etc.) to locate schools of crappie from November through April. As water temperatures stabilize around 65 degrees, crappie will move into bulrush and spatterdock along the shoreline to spawn. The trick to catching these fish is to move slowly through the vegetation in three to six feet of water and fish a crappie jig (with or without a minnow) around the vegetation.

LAKE KISSIMMEE: While Lake Kissimmee (35,000 acres) has always been regarded as one of the state’s top bass destinations, it is also gaining a reputation as one of our better speck lakes. The last two years’ crappie seasons have rated excellent, with some anglers throwing back 10-inch crappie, and this year should be as good. Fish with minnows and jigs along the grass line and offshore. The deeper holes off of the grass lines were especially productive last season.

LAKE JESSUP: This 10,000-acre lake, in Seminole County between lakes Monroe and Harney, historically produces the highest crappie catch rates in the area. While the fish are plentiful, they do run a little smaller than crappie from Lake Monroe. Use minnows and drift in mid-lake and near Bird Island. Other popular fishing spots include the Soldier Creek area and the north end of the lake that connects to the St. Johns River.

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