Crappie fishermen in Kansas and Missouri will have plenty of fish on their stringers and in their livewells this year.
The season already is off to a good start, with impressive winter fishing reported at reservoirs such as Clinton and Hillsdale in Kansas and Truman and Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
But even better things lie ahead, provided the heavy spring rains and flooding hold off.
Here are my top five lists for Kansas and Missouri, based on information from guides, fisheries biologists and fishermen.
- TRUMAN LAKE: Guide Jeff Faulkenberry has already been on a tear at Truman Lake, leading his customers to limit catches and some big fish, too. “We’ve had days when we’ll limit out in a couple of hours and then go after catfish,” he said. Surveys indicate that the number of legal crappies (9 inches and longer) should be above average this year. And the future looks great. Near record-high numbers of crappies were produced in the high-water spring of 2015. They averaged 7 1/2 inches in length in the fall of 2016.
- LAKE OF THE OZARKS: The big playground lake in central Missouri is consistently one of the best crappie lakes in Missouri. This year should be no different. Though it gets heavy fishing pressure, successful spawns each year replace the number of fish taken. Surveys show that fishing should be excellent in the Niangua arm, where 55 percent of the fish sampled last fall were 9 inches or longer.
- POMME DE TERRE RESERVOIR: Surveys in the fall of 2016 showed that crappie densities improved dramatically compared to recent year. They also showed that a large percentage of the fish sampled exceeded the 9-inch minimum length limit. Fisheries biologists translate that to an excellent outlook for the 2017 season.
- STOCKTON LAKE: Excellent fishing also is forecast at this 24,900-acre reservoir in southwest Missouri. Trap netting surveys last year showed the highest white-crappie catch rate in the last 24 years. Many of the fish should grow into the minimum size length of 10 inches and provide plenty of bites for fishermen.
- SMITHVILLE LAKE: This Kansas City-area reservoir still has plenty of crappies – just not as many as in recent years. Surveys showed that 44 percent of the fish sampled were over 9 inches in length, and that’s still pretty darned good.
- CLINTON LAKE: Chatt Martin, a veteran fishing guide, ranks Clinton as by far the top crappie reservoir in Kansas. “It has good numbers and some big fish, too,” he said.
The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism agrees. Surveys show that Clinton has the second-highest density of crappies in the state.
- HILLSDALE LAKE: This 4,580-acre reservoir near Paola, Kan., has traditionally been known as a spot where you could get plenty of bites, but few large fish. That has changed – and in a big way.
Hillsdale produced impressive winter fishing, with plenty of nice-sized crappies caught. Population surveys indicate that was no mistake. Hillsdale ranks first in the state in the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s rankings of fish 10 inches and longer.
- JOHN REDMOND: The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism ranks John Redmond as No. 1 in the state in its density rankings. But I’m not sure how that will translate to fishing success.
In recent years, Redmond has ranked near the top in the state for crappie populations, yet fishermen have experienced disappointing fishing there. Maybe this will be the year Redmond will live up to its top billing.
- TORONTO RESERVOIR: This 2,800-acre body of water in southeast Kansas scored well in surveys, with the top ranking in the state for lunker crappies (12 inches and bigger). The only problem here: If southeast Kansas gets heavy spring rains, Toronto tends to get so high and muddy that the fishing comes to a halt.
- PERRY RESERVOIR: This reservoir in northeast Kansas consistently ranks as one of the top crappie lakes in the state. It’s not as good as it once was, but it still has plenty of fish.
This is the second in a series on fishing prospects for the 2017 fishing season in Missouri and Kansas. More species will be featured in the next two weeks.