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Top Spots Crappie

Black crappie, known locally as speckled perch or specks, are a cool weather favorite in Florida. Crappie weighing up to two pounds are common. The state record is 3.83 pounds and was caught in Lake Talquin.

The following areas were selected by Florida's freshwater fisheries biologists as being the most likely to be highly productive for black crappie during 2021.

Habitat

Unlike most other panfish, crappie spend much of their time offshore, feeding on small fish insects and crustaceans. Successful anglers often drift through deeper water, fishing with small minnows or freshwater grass shrimp until they find a school. During spawning runs in cooler months, crappie will come inshore to areas of vegetation to spawn.  Anglers often target them in these areas using cane poles or light spinning tackle, fishing jigs or grass shrimp. 

female youth in a yellow and gray life jacket holding up a black crappie

When to Fish

Many anglers target black crappie early in the morning or in the evening.  Most crappie fishing occurs in the cooler months, but anglers who fish into the summer do very well, especially at night. Night fishing for crappie is an effective technique year-round.

Range

Black crappies can be found throughout the state, with large nutrient rich lakes supporting the best fisheries.  Lakes and rivers such as the Lake Talquin, Kissimmee Chain, St. Johns River, and Okeechobee are world renown crappie destinations.  Unlike other parts of the southeast, Florida does not have white crappie (Pomoxus annularis). Go here for black crappie fishing spots.

Tackle and Bait

Use a light wire #4 hook and small split shot below a float. Speck anglers typically use several rods or poles, fishing at different depths until they pinpoint concentrations of fish. Crappie also readily strike artificial; 1/16 oz. to 1/8 oz. feathered or curly-tail jigs in white, yellow, pink and chartreuse are popular. Tipping these jigs with a live minnow makes them even more effective. Any of the above baits fished near a lantern or floodlight can produce nice stringers. 

These are the sites most likely to be best for Florida crappie fishing in 2023.

 

NORTHWEST REGION

Ochlockonee River / Lake Talquin
(Leon, Gadsden and Liberty counties)
Features: Bass size, crappie size and numbers, striped bass size, catfish size and numbers

A hot spot destination for Striped Bass, especially below the dam, as well as quality-sized black bass, a numbers destination for Channel Catfish, and a top spot for Black Crappie fishing. The Ochlockonee River is a Top Spot destination for striped bass anglers! The Ochlockonee River is impounded to form Lake Talquin reservoir located between Gadsden and Leon counties Florida approximately 10 miles west of Tallahassee. Lake Talquin is bordered by State Road 20 on the east side and State Road 267 on the west and offers numerous access points. Both the river and the lake offer anglers multiple fishing choices. Lake Talquin is known for producing trophy Largemouth Bass but is also a Top Spot destination for Black Crappie anglers and Striped Bass anglers. Attention Striped Bass Anglers: There is an FWC Striped Bass tagging study currently on-going in the Ochlockonee River. If you catch a Striped Bass, please call the telephone number on the tag to claim your prize. Please do not pull the tag out of the fish. Cut the tag off the fish as close to the fish’s body as possible.

 

NORTH CENTRAL REGION

Lochloosa Lake
(Alachua County)

Features: Crappie size and numbers

Lochloosa Lake (5,700 acres) is designated as a Fish Management Area and located 5 miles south of Hawthorne near the town of Lochloosa. Most of the shoreline is bordered by old-growth cypress trees. Knotgrass and spatterdock (bonnets) are the predominant aquatic plants in the lake. A public boat ramp provides access to the lake from U.S. Highway 301 in the town of Lochloosa, and further north is a pay ramp at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp. In addition, a public pier is located south of the town of Lochloosa on Burnt Island within the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area and is a popular fishing site for those without a boat.

The black crappie fishery in Lochloosa Lake continues to be one of the best in the state. During the 2021-22 creel survey, the highest number of crappie were harvested since regular surveys began in 2006. Most crappie harvested were over 10” in length and there should be high numbers of even larger crappie in 2023. Try using minnows, grass shrimp, and jigs, starting offshore and moving into vegetation as spring approaches. The full moons of February and March usually produce memorable fishing trips. Anglers should be aware that there are tagged crappie swimming in Lochloosa Lake and there is a reward for reported tags. If you catch a tagged crappie, call 352-415-6958 to receive information on how to claim your reward. Tagged crappie can be kept or released as you normally would. If you release the fish, cut off the tag first. Anglers are encouraged to participate in creel surveys (angler interviews) that occur on random days throughout the entire spring on Lochloosa Lake.

 

NORTHEAST REGION

Lake Marian
(Osceola County)

Features: Crappie numbers

Lake Marian (5,742 acres) is arguably one of the most consistent black crappie fisheries on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Anglers routinely catch limits of crappie trolling or drifting minnows in open water off Whiskey Point, Jordan Slough, and Four-Mile Point. Jig fishing can be outstanding in and around native grasses, bulrush and lily-pads when the crappie are spawning. The majority of crappie harvested at Marian are over 10” in length. According to age and growth analysis in 2022, the majority of crappie harvested were 3 to 4 years old. Angler surveys from December 2021 through April 2022 indicated that anglers caught crappie at a rate of 2.18 fish per hour, which is one of the highest rates in the state. There is a public ramp at the lake (just west of US 441), and a fish camp (Lake Marian Paradise 407-436-2021) conveniently located nearby.

 

SOUTHWEST REGION

Winter Haven Chain of Lakes
(Polk County)
Features: Bass size and numbers, crappie size and numbers, bream size and numbers 

The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes consists of 26 waterbodies, tucked in amongst the city streets of Winter Haven in Polk County. These lakes offer some of the finest and most easily accessible fishing for multiple species in central Florida. Lakes in the Winter Haven Chain range in size from 25 to 2,654 acres, totaling just over 9,000 acres of fishable waters. Ample public access is available in the form of 14 boat ramps, 5 fishing piers, and shoreline fishing in city parks and public easements alongside the numerous canals which connect the lakes.

The Winter Haven Chain is known for excellent bass fishing throughout the year. The cattail stands on Lake Haines and Lake Rochelle are great for bass angling and when cypress trees are your favorite target, Lake Eloise is packed with plenty of large, beautiful trees to fish with a plastic worm. Lake Winterset has deep crystal-clear water and open water beds of eelgrass which are perfect to run spinnerbaits and gold/silver spoons through. Lake Hartridge also provides excellent bass fishing with plenty of Illinois pondweed (aka peppergrass) that is often loaded with baitfish. Lake Shipp has two public boat ramps and some great flipping opportunities for bass in the cattails along its shoreline. Nearby Lake Eloise has numerous docks, often surrounded by peppergrass, which are a bass angler’s dream to fish. Regardless of what lake is fished, they all offer high quality bass fishing opportunities and the chance of a lifetime to land a trophy-size bass. Live shiners, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worm presentations all work well in these lakes. Bass will begin to spawn as early as January and continue through April, depending on water temperatures. During spawning season, anglers should fish shallow areas near cattails, bulrush and Kissimmee grass while using lizards, crawfish and other soft plastics such as the Zoom Z-Craw in Junebug, red shad and tilapia colors.

If black crappie (aka speck) is your target, the Winter Haven Chain has plenty of fishing opportunities for them as well. Lake Eloise and Lake Shipp are excellent spots for crappie on the south part of the chain while lakes Rochelle, Haines and Hartridge are good locations on the north section of the chain. During cooler months, anglers have success by drifting or trolling live Missouri minnows or bladed jigs tipped with minnows around offshore submersed vegetation. When waters start to warm in the spring, crappie migrate to shallow waters to spawn and can be caught by dropping jigs tipped with minnows near bulrush, cattails and lily pads.

The Winter Haven Chain also has an awesome panfish fishery for bluegill and redear sunfish (aka shellcrackers). These waters offer a wide variety of habitat for both fish and anglers to choose from including bulrush and cattail stands, cypress trees, open water eelgrass beds and pondweed stands around docks. Crickets, wigglers or grass shrimp are the best live baits when fished under a float with small hook and split shot weight while small beetle spins and jigs can be productive when fished along vegetation.

Lake Istokpoga
(Highlands County)
Features: Bass size and numbers, crappie size and numbers, bream size 

Lake Istokpoga (27,700 acres) is a large, relatively shallow lake which is located a few miles southeast of Sebring, Florida. It’s a popular winter-time destination for nonresident and local anglers due to its productive fisheries. There are several public boat ramps around the lake, in addition to numerous ramps located at private fish camps, which also have fish cleaning stations. The lake also boasts four vegetated islands (Big, Bumble Bee, Grassy, Long) and a few incoming creeks which are great locations to catch several species of fish. FWC has completed multiple planting projects around the lake within the last couple of years, and eelgrass continues to expand along the eastern shoreline.

Lake Istokpoga has long been known for its trophy largemouth bass fishing. Since 2012, over 590 bass greater than eight pounds, have been documented from the lake and submitted into the FWC’s TrophyCatch Program. Recently, tournaments have also posed great success, with many five-bag weigh-ins taking 30+ pounds to win. Anglers fishing for bass on this lake commonly use either live wild shiners or some type of artificial bait. Both types of baits can be very productive depending on the time of year. Bass begin to spawn in mid- to late January depending on moon phases and often move into shallow areas around bullrush (buggy whips), cattails or lily pads on the northern and western shorelines and around Big Island and Bumblebee Island. Fishing these areas with soft plastics, weightless speed worms and swimbaits will be the best bet during this time of year. When water temps increase after the spawning season, try targeting bass around dense vegetation such as bulrush or cattail while flipping soft plastic baits like crawfish, lizards or worms. Fishing with spinnerbaits, spoons or jerk baits around submerged vegetation like eelgrass or hydrilla can also be productive throughout the year.

Lake Istokpoga is also well-known for its black crappie (aka speck) fishery. Anglers come from all over the United States to Lake Istokpoga to fill their coolers with this tasty fish during the cooler months of the year. Most anglers fish for black crappie by drifting live Missouri minnows and grass shrimp in open water or troll with Napier deer hair jigs, tube jigs and Hal flies for schooling fish. Anglers should look for areas with sandy bottoms around bulrush and cattails while fishing minnows or grass shrimp under a cork for spawning fish. Henderson’s Cove and the north end of the lake usually produces good numbers of specks on the outside edge of the pads and grasses near deeper water. Open water areas around Big Island and the western shore of Long Island are also good speck fishing spots. The key is to keep moving around until you locate an area with concentrated numbers of fish.

Istokpoga’s panfish fishery is also tremendous and not widely known. The lake boasts nice bluegill and redear sunfish (aka shellcrackers) which often approach a pound in size. The fishing gets really good during late spring and remains good throughout the summer when a lot of the seasonal anglers have left for the year. The best method for catching these fish is to use crickets and grass shrimp under a cork for bluegill and red wigglers on or near the bottom for shellcrackers. If you catch a fish, there are likely more in the area, so stay put and be patient for the next bite. Fly fishing can also be rewarding for anglers who prefer this fishing method. Locate areas with dense bulrush, Kissimmee grass or cattails for the best action, but don’t forget to try the pads too. Fishing the shade and pads around cypress trees on the southeast side of the lake can also be productive at times.

Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water)
(Polk County)
Features: Bass size, crappie size and numbers, catfish size 

Lake Weohyakapka (aka Lake Walk-in-Water) is a relatively shallow, natural lake in eastern Polk County, just outside of Lake Wales. A public ramp is located on Boat Landing Road, on the west side of the lake. There is little access for bank fishing on the lake, so plan to fish from a boat. The lake is approximately 7,500 acres and boasts some excellent fishing opportunities for several species of fish. Although hurricanes removed all the hydrilla from the water many years ago, the lake still has large areas of vegetation for anglers to target lunker size bass. FWC biologists tag more largemouth bass over eight pounds in this lake every year than any other nearby waterbody. Pitching live wild shiners and flipping soft plastic baits in offshore stands of bulrush (“buggy whips”) in the northern, eastern and southern areas of the lake can be productive during the spring when bass are up shallow and spawning. Spinnerbaits should also produce bass in the spring and summer around grass patches. Bass have also been found in maidencane grass and knotgrass (Kissimmee grass) stands along the eastern shoreline during spring and fall sampling on the lake. Soft jerkbaits and topwater frogs are a must when fishing these areas. Although topwater baits can catch fish throughout the year, summer months offer the best action when the bass are very aggressive. Summertime is also the best time to target bass on the FWC fish attractors using spinnerbaits and Carolina-rigged soft plastics. Fish all around the orange and white buoys because the attractors are spread over a large area but be careful to avoid getting hung up on them if you plan to anchor while you fish.

Fishing for black crappie or specks can also be very rewarding on Lake Weohyakapka as there are plenty of nice fish swimming around for the determined angler. Most anglers prefer to spend their time in open water trolling or drifting minnows, jigs and spinners for crappie. Good numbers and some quality fish are caught in deeper (10 ft) areas of the lake during the cooler months and in shoreline vegetation (bulrush, knotgrass and maidencane) during the spring spawning season. Missouri minnows fished under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners, are excellent for catching crappie near dense vegetation such as bulrush, cattail or Kissimmee grass. Seven fish attractor locations were refurbished with artificial brush in December 2020 and should concentrate plenty of fish for anglers offshore. Fish attractors are scattered underwater over an area of about ¼ acre in size and marked with orange and white buoys. Use caution if you plan to anchor when fishing around the buoys to avoid getting hung up on the attractors which are anchored on the lake bottom.

Lake Weohyakapka also has a relatively unknown catfish fishery. There are some nice size white and channel catfish lurking around the lake. A smaller, but just as tasty cousin, which also occupies the lake is the brown bullhead. They are very abundant and often roam around in large schools. Anglers should try fishing the mouths of creeks coming into the lake if water is flowing or around man-made canals. Slow drifting the deeper open water areas can also be productive as well during certain times of the year. The best baits to use are chicken liver, frozen shrimp, live worms or commercial stink baits fished on or near the lake bottom.

 

SOUTH REGION

Lake Okeechobee
(Palm Beach, Martin, Glades, Okeechobee, and Hendry counties)
Features: Trophy bass and TrophyCatch submissions, crappie numbers, catfish numbers

Long and frequently recognized nationally and globally as a top destination for largemouth bass fishing, even when the bass fishing isn’t at its best, it is still pretty good on “Lake O”. Over the ten completed seasons of TrophyCatch, Lake Okeechobee is one of the top 5 waters for qualifying submissions. With a total surface area over 450,000 acres and over 100,000 acres of littoral and marsh habitat, there is lots of lake to explore, which can make it both challenging and productive. Virtually all classic approaches work, Texas rigged grape/black worms, spinner baits, and frogs; current popular techniques work well too, punching mats with creature baits, monster worms, or swimbaits. If there is one bait that gets talked about year in and year out it is the Gambler Big EZ. A healthy wild shiner is always a good bet too. Crappie fishing is also top notch right now. The strong spawn of 2017 is grown up and providing anglers great fishing. Always a strong producer of white and channel catfish, it is not uncommon for a million pounds of catfish to be harvested annually.

Lake Trafford
(Collier County)
Features: Crappie trophy size and numbers

Typically one of the top lakes statewide for angler reported catch rates of crappie, recently the number of crappie in the 12” range has also been capturing anglers’ attention. Prime access points are at Ann Olesky Park and Lake Trafford Marina. Jigging and minnows are both popular and productive. If jigs aren’t producing tight in the vegetation in one place, start drifting or move to another patch of habitat until you locate fish.

Black Crappie

Black Crappie Management Plan

Thank you to those who provided input that has been incorporated in the FWC Black Crappie Management Plan. Details are available at the Black Crappie Management Plan website.