Did you know there’s only one natural lake in Texas?
I bet you didn’t.
And even if you knew that fact, you probably couldn’t name Caddo Lake – the somewhat mysterious, cypress-infested body of water straddling the Texas-Louisiana border northeast of Marshall – as the lone native fishing spot in the Lone Star State. However, even the resident body of water in our state needed some manmade intrusion to help out its flows, something that certainly has been a boon to angling across Texas.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the controlling authority of Caddo and multiple other reservoirs in Texas, has been the No. 1 builder of the best fishing holes we’ve got from north to south, constructing lakes mostly as water sources for cities near and far. The Corps through its efforts also has made Texas among the top fishing destinations in the country, offering us the chance to fish for bass, catfish, and especially crappie.
Texas’ top papermouth paradises not only are fantastic for filling a cooler with some of the tastiest fillets you will ever find but also are great for introducing youngsters to the pastime of dabbling minnows and jigs around submerged timber and brush, hoping for a school of bites.
Here’s a statewide look at Texas crappie fishing, from north to south, with a focus on the best lakes that have been given a leg up thanks to a little manmade intrusion.
Central Texas Crappie Hot Spots
This 4,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake northeast of Austin in Williamson County could lay claim to certainly being in the top five crappie fishing destinations in Texas, if not being the top dog. The crappie fishing is at its best during the spring ahead of and during the spawn, and the fishing can be red-hot in super skinny water.
As with other good crappie hot spots, focus on flooded trees and laydowns and you’ll often find the fish nearby. The lake offers a number of creek areas found on the upper end of the reservoir and shallow coves littered with rocks and submerged vegetation also usually are littered with loads of panfish. Granger, like other crappie destinations, also has received help from fortuitous anglers who place brush such as old Christmas trees and other fish attractors in hopes of keeping crappie nearby.
During the summer, use your sonar to locate humps, ridges and drop-offs that also feature vegetation of some kind. Those areas are certain to have fish lurking at various levels.
The 12,000-acre body of water located on the upper Navasota River in Limestone, Robertson and Leon counties, is a water supply reservoir built by the Brazos River Authority in 1978.
It also is another crappie hot spot, featuring an amazing array of fish-holding vegetation, most notably flooded timber and vast tree stumps and laydowns. The lake is somewhat off the beaten path, and though it does feature plenty of boat houses, docks, piers and pilings, the boat traffic is much lower than at other crappie havens. In fact, those manmade locales should be among your most targeted structure to find hungry crappie, especially as they move shallower or during the hotter periods of summer when they’re seeking shade.
Limestone features miles of scintillating shoreline opportunities and with numerous creeks emptying into the lake, it’s another top five crappie honey hole.
Lake Texana, managed by the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority and created via dam, is a roughly 10,000-acre body of water that’s another awesome crappie fishery. The lake features the typical submerged timber found in other great fishing spots and it also features invasive water hyacinth, vegetation that’s not great for the overall landscape but is outstanding for concentrating loads of panfish.
The crappie fishing, especially in creek channels and other areas holding the vegetation, including spots that are anywhere from 5 to 10 feet deep, can be phenomenal during the spring.
Using your electronics can be the easiest way to discover the best areas that may hold huge numbers of schoolies, but even if you’re poor-boying it and want to forego the fancy add-ons to your fishing arsenal, you can still locate lots of fish by dabbling live baits along main-lake humps.
East Texas Crappie Hot Spots
Sam Rayburn Reservoir
This massive 100,000-acre Army Corps lake on the San Angelina River is mostly known as being among the best bass fishing haunts in the country and certainly in Texas. However, crappie fishing can be downright phenomenal all year.
Like other good crappie lakes, Sam features an amazing array of natural habitat such as standing timber and multiple varieties of submerged vegetation. It also has plenty of manmade fish-holding structure including docks and piers, and most notably in the form of riprap and other rocky areas.
Toledo Bend Reservoir
This body of water at nearly 200,000 acres is the largest manmade lake in the state, and features big things for boatloads of crappie. The reservoir straddlling the Texas-Louisiana border on the Sabine River is among the best places to catch a mess of fish relatively easy as it has an immense variety of fishy cover.
It should be noted that residents of Texas or Louisiana who are properly licensed in their state (or are exempt because of age), or persons who hold valid non-resident fishing licenses issued by either state may fish in any portion of the lakes and rivers forming a common boundary between Louisiana and Texas inland from a line across Sabine Pass between Texas Point and Louisiana Point.
Anglers also should be advised that limits for catfish, white bass and black basses apply on both the Texas and Louisiana portions of the lake.
Lake O’ The Pines
Another Army Corps lake, the 17,000-acre body of water northeast of Longview is situated among the great pine forest of East Texas, as the name implies. The lake has nearly 17,000 acres and unlike some other good fisheries features both white and black crappie in abundance.
Anglers should be advised that there are special rules regarding crappie on the lake. For black and white crappie caught from Dec. 1 through the last day of February, there is no minimum length limit and all crappie caught must be retained. From March through November, the minimum length is 10 inches. The daily bag limit remains 25 crappie in any combination.
North Texas Crappie Hot Spots
White Rock Lake
White Rock, created in 1910, is among the oldest manmade lakes in the state and the 1,000-acre body of water features superb crappie fishing right in the city limits of Dallas.
The lake features the typical daily bag limit of 25 crappie in any combination with a 10-inch minimum length limit. White Rock is under a motorized boat ordinance that prohibits the use of anything larger than 9.9 horsepower. It should be noted that the use of electronic trolling motors is certainly advised.
Ray Roberts Lake
This Army Corps lake, among the newest in the state after having been created in 1987, is roughly 25,000 acres and has superb amounts of vegetation that hold lots of crappie. Biologists have noted that the best crappie angling is done during winter months at Ray Roberts, unlike at other crappie hot spots, where the fishing typically is best during the spring spawn.
Ray Roberts has about 2,000 acres of standing timber, located mostly in the upper reaches of both major arms, according to state fisheries biologists. There also is riprap along the dam at the south end of the main pool and roughly another 2,000 acres of floating and submerged aquatic vegetation. Other good structure is provided by stream channels, flooded main-lake points, inundated pond dams, and flooded rocks, boulders and stumps.
The lake also has more than 40 brush piles that were constructed and left before the body of water was impounded.
Coffee Mill Lake
Coffee Mill, 15 miles north of Bonham in the Caddo National Grassland Wildlife Management Area, is the smallest lake on the list at about 600 acres, but it also supports the largest crappie population in an eight-county fisheries district, according to fisheries biologists.
The lake is only 30 feet at its deepest point, offering superb shallow-water angling, especially as the fish move up ahead of and during the spawn.
The dominant vegetation includes submerged brush piles along the dam, isolated submerged brush piles, water willow along the shoreline and some standing timber in the upper end.
West Texas Crappie Hot Spots
Arrowhead, 15 miles southeast of Wichita Falls, is widely known as the premier white crappie fishing hole in the state. As such, the lake receives a good amount of fishing pressure, but at about 15,000 acres in size, there remains plenty of room for plenty of boats.
Fish habitat includes riprap along the dam and bridges and rocky shoals near the main lake points, according to biologist reports. Good amounts of standing timber remain in the upper end of the reservoir and in the back of most coves, and old oil derricks make for unique fishing sites. The metal derricks mark wells that were capped and sealed before the lake was impounded.
The dam, accompanying state park area and bridges produce stringers full of fish, biologists have noted.
Stamford, 10 miles east of the small hamlet of the same name, is long and relatively narrow, comprising about 5,000 acres. Unlike other crappie havens, Stamford predominantly features rock as the main fish-holding structure, with areas of bulrush and cattail mixed in.
Stamford is included on the list of lake that have experienced fish kills due to invasive golden algae but fisheries officials urge anglers to focus on the cover and structure available in the lower reservoir near the dam and power plant for the best success for a variety of species.
Locating old laydowns and rocky drop-offs and humps are among the best ways to also find good numbers of crappie all year.
Lake Alan Henry
This 3,000-acre fishery south of Lubbock on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River is known mostly as a bass hot spot, having produced a boatload of largemouths surpassing 13 pounds. However, the lake also is among the best in the state when it comes to crappie, too.
Good catches of crappie frequently are found around the fishing pier and in flooded timber in the arms of the reservoir in the spring and fall, according to biologists.
Alan Henry, like other good crappie hot spots, features miles of enticing shoreline habitat and backwater creeks and coves that harbor multiple species of fish. Those are among the areas to target first if you have access to a boat.
What’s the best crappie bait?
Probably the one you’ve got tied on your line, for starters. While bass fishing has seen numerous lure trends come and go, crappie anglers can rely on old staples in their tackle box and at the bait stand to fill their limits. The top live baits are minnows and shiners, while earthworms certainly have caught untold numbers of crappie.
If you’re going artificial, lightweight jigs and tubes always should be in your arsenal. Lightweight tackle is fun to use since even a huge crappie won’t weigh 3 pounds, but if you’re looking to fish from the bank, break out a big (10 feet or longer) cane pole or rod that looks similar to a pool cue and target spawning fish.
Optimum Crappie Fishing Conditions
In lakes with low bass populations, crappie often overpopulate and become stunted, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department report. For crappie to reach larger sizes, populations must experience high total mortality to keep their numbers within the carrying capacity of their habitat.
Crappie populations typically exhibit high rates of mortality due to natural causes, but only moderate levels of mortality due to angler harvest. These factors allow for generous harvest regulations in most areas. Texas features a statewide general daily bag limit of 25 crappie that must be at least 10 inches each.