The South's finest crappie fishing!
Alabama’s Weiss Lake Crappie
A huge favorite of Alabama fisherman, the Crappie exists all over the state. Game and Fish Magazine has reported that if there's any one lake in Alabama that's consistently the best place to go for spring crappie, it's Weiss Lake, according to Dan Catchings, District 2 fisheries supervisor.
"Lake Weiss is a 30,200 acre reservoir that's relatively shallow," he says. "It has a mean depth of about 10 feet overall, and is the first major impoundment on the Coosa River system in Alabama. There are some other impoundments on the tributaries upstream in Georgia, but Weiss is the first one on the Coosa itself."
Lake Weiss has a lot of structure on the bottom in the form of timber. It's snaggy enough that you need to know where you're going before you take a boat out on it.
"You can't really see the timber from topside," Catching says, "but it's there. If you've never been out on it before, you need to get familiar with the main channel.
"It would be helpful for a new angler to go out with a guide the first time, if possible. You want to be sure you have a good lake map that shows the contours so you don't get into dangerous water where you can bust a prop real easily."
"The Little River arm is probably one of the clearer parts of the reservoir," Catching states. "But there's not a lot of retention time in the lakes -- the water flows through fairly quickly and doesn't stand for a long period of time. It's not a riverine system, but it does have a fairly high turnover due to the volume of water coming down the Coosa, Chatooga and Little rivers feeding it."
In addition, to the wonderful remarks of Dan Catchings to the Game and Fish Magazine, the Alabama District IV Fisheries Supervisor, Jim McHugh has written an informative article that even further expands on Alabama’s crappie, with some mention of Weiss Lake. Due to locality and accuracy, his information serves as the primary source for this article as well. See: http://www.dcnr.state.al.us/agfd/fish/fnacrappie.html
There are two species of crappie, black and white. Crappies belong to the sunfish family Centrarchidae. They constitute the genus Pomoxis. White crappies are classified as Pomoxis annularis. Black crappies are classified as Pomoxis nigromaculatus.
The white crappie can handle muddier waters, while the black crappie seem to appreciate the clear. It’s hard to say which species dominate in the state, but the murky rivers are good for white crappie, whereas Alabama’s lakes are a favorite of the black.
Photos from the Iowa State Department of Natural Resources: http://www.state.ia.us/dnr/organiza/fwb/fish/iafish/sunfish/card/whc-card.htm
The crappie’s mottling, or markings, helps in identifying the species. While color may sometimes seem to point the way, mistakes are often made. The Black crappie’s dark spots are randomly disbursed on its sides. The White crappie’s spots, on the other hand, form between seven and nine sometimes hard-to-see, vertical bands. The most accurate identification is in the number of dorsal fin spines. White crappie has five or six spines and black crappie have seven or eight spines.
“During spring some crappies are very dark on the head and throat. That is the breeding coloration of male crappie and occurs in both species in the spring. Females do not exhibit that coloration. Knowing this provides a useful fishing tip. During spring, if you are catching crappie with the dark throat coloration, you are catching nesting males. Take some time to look around for the females, which are often larger than the males. They will be holding offshore, but nearby, at about the same depth as the nesting males.”
During late March and early April, the crappie are moving into shallow water in Weiss Lake. White crappie spawning activity occurs when the water temperature reaches 56 degrees F. The male crappie fans out a depression in the bottom, usually in a cove or small embayment that is protected from wave action. Many nests may be located in a cove at depths usually ranging from 3 to 10 feet. Female white crappie enter the spawning area and deposit their eggs in one or more of the nests, which are immediately fertilized by the male fish. The number of eggs in a crappie nest is variable, but a nest can hold up to 20,000.
Spawning requirements for black crappie are nearly the same as those of white crappie, but the nest size is slightly more shallow. The nest is usually constructed in 3 to 8 feet of water. Black crappie spawn at water temperatures of 58 to 64 degrees F. Fecundity of female black crappie may range up to 150,000 eggs, but 20,000 to 60,000 eggs are more the rule. Nests of both crappie species usually contain similar-sized egg masses.
"They start getting shallow and the fishery starts picking up," Catchings says. "The fishery is at its best in late March and into April. You may find some early spawners in March, but the peak of the spawn is usually about the second week in April. By late May it's on the downside."
During this period, anglers should look for crappie in shallow water between 5 and 10 feet deep. "Some may be shallower, depending on the warming temperature," Catchings continues, "and as you get into April they may be real shallow. At that point, the two primary things are the old standbys that people use everywhere. Jigs work real well there, and there's a large minnow fishery contingent there, too. Either one is real effective."
Other aspects of crappie reproductive behavior should be of interest to anglers, since most crappie are caught in the spring. Black and white crappie are members of the sunfish family, along with bass and bream. In all species of this family, the males hollow out nests and guard the eggs and young fish. Some species, like bream, construct their nests close together in large beds, while other species, such as bass, construct individual nests. Crappie build their nests close together but usually in smaller groups than bream. Crappie also nest earlier than other members of the sunfish family.
In the Fall
As the water cools and fall begins, crappie bunch up into tight schools again and find a particular level of water that they like best for whatever reason. They will be found near good cover all around the lake at this same level. Anglers should learn how to drop their line to the same level, using count-down techniques, measured back-reeling, marking the line, or even stopping the line with a rubber band around the reel.
Adult black crappie are more willing to eat aquatic insects than white crappie, though minnows are their favorite food. Like white crappie, they will also eat crayfish, worms and other invertebrates. Young crappie feed on insects. As crappie grow, they feed more and more on baitfish, and particularly minnows, until baitfish comprise nearly their whole diet. Crappie will also eat worms, maggots and crustaceans, and adult black crappie will still eat aquatic insects.
using natural baits tend to prefer medium to small minnows or other baitfish,
crayfish, worms, maggots, crickets or grasshoppers. Crappie lures include
medium to very small grubs, micro-tubes, chenille or marabou mini-jigs or micro-jigs,
Mylar mini-jigs or micro-jigs, small spinnerbaits or in-line spinners, and
small poppers. Crappie flies include poppers and streamers, and black crappie
in particular will hit dry flies, nymphs and emergers.
Size and Creel Limits
There is a 9-inch minimum size limit on crappie in most Alabama public waters (10-inches in Weiss Lake with a Creel limit of 30). This size limit was instituted in October 1993 and has been very well received by anglers. In fact, many crappie anglers have asked why the size limit is not higher because, at about 10-inches crappie really start to put on weight. When the size limit was established, the age and growth rates of crappie were taken into consideration. Anglers cannot see how old a fish is, but Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologists determine fish age on a regular basis. In almost all Alabama waters, crappie reach nine inches by the time they are three years old. However, in most waters 10-inch crappie are four years old. Because crappie are not very long lived fish, it was deemed appropriate to allow their legal harvest at age three. Any benefits of protecting them to age four would be offset by natural mortality. In the few public waters where crappie fail to reach nine inches at age three, no minimum length limit has been established. Therefore, the crappie size limit, as with any fish limit, is as much an age limit as a size limit.
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