Welcome to 2014. Black crappie are favorite cool-weather targets for freshwater anglers, so join the fun, check your fishing license (License.MyFWC.com) and the list of top sites and tips below and go fishing. What better way to start off a new year then with some healthy outdoor activity and a mess of fresh fish?
Crappie are among the most popular freshwater fishes in Florida. Their deep body with nearly symmetrical dorsal and anal fins and a speckled pattern on the body make them easy to distinguish. Crappie spend much of their time offshore, feeding on small fish. This time of year they will be preparing to spawn and, as the temperatures reach 62-65 degrees Fahrenheit, they move inshore to build nests in colonies. Nests over gravel or muddy bottoms in depths of 3-8 feet are fanned by males.
Crappie eat crustaceans, insects and small fishes. A bright, 1/16-oz. to 1/8-oz. jig or Hal-flies will produce once they are inshore. If they are schooling offshore, drift Missouri minnows or grass shrimp below a float, with a #4 hook and small split shot. Depth is key, as crappie school at the same level, so experiment until you find the right depth.
Crappie (aka speckled perch or papermouth) longer than14 inches or heavier than 2 pounds qualify for a Big Catch angler-recognition certificate (www.BigCatchFlorida.com). Youth under 16 can participate with an entry longer than 10 inches or heavier than 1.5 pounds. Easy registration makes people eligible for both Big Catch and TrophyCatch (which rewards anglers for catching-documenting-releasing largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds), as well as a drawing to take place in October 2014 for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury.
Looking for the best places to go? Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) fisheries biologists compile annual lists of top fishing sites for bass, crappie, bream, catfish or striped bass. It is available at MyFWC.com/Fishing (select “Freshwater” and “Fishing Sites and Forecasts”). You can also find quarterly updated regional forecasts for other key water bodies, with links for more current information. Here are the selections for your best black crappie fishing in 2014, as compiled by Cheree Steward, FWC fisheries biologist.
LakeTalquin (8,800-acre reservoir, west of Tallahassee)
LochloosaLake (5,705 acres, between Gainesville and Ocala)
LakeWeir (5,685 acres, south Marion County)
LakeGriffin (10,000 acres, Lake County)
LakeMonroe (9,406 acres, near Sanford)
West Lake Tohopekaliga (18,810 acres, south of the city of Kissimmee)
LakeKissimmee (34,976 acres, east of the city of Lake Wales)
LakeMarian (5,742 acres, Osceola County, east of Lake Kissimmee)
Mosaic Fish Management Area (1,000 acres, southern Polk County)
Tenoroc Fish Management Area (8,300 acres, Polk County)
LakeWeohyakapka (Walk-in-Water) (7,800 acres, east of Lake Wales)
LakeArbuckle(3,800 acres, east of Frostproof)
LakeMarion (2,990 acres, east of Haines City)
LakeIstokpoga(28,000 acres, near Sebring)
LakeTrafford (1,500 acres, southeast of Fort Myers, in Immokalee)
Crappie are considered to be some of the tastiest freshwater fishes. With general bag limits for crappie set at a generous 25 fish and no size limit, unless otherwise specified, you can easily take a “mess” home to eat. So bring your family and friends and get out on the water.
Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Tip@MyFWC.com. Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and select “more news,” and subscribe to FWC columns and news updates by visiting MyFWC.com, and select the “Sign up for updates” button on the top right of the page.