Lakecaster Online

The Calico Treasures of Big Sam
By Ed Snyder

Lake Sam Rayburn, TX.

Better known for its superb black bass fishing, Lake Sam Rayburn is also receiving "whispered" accolades as being one of the finest Crappie lakes in the Lone Star State. Geographically situated as a year round fishery, Rayburn's massive waterway reservoirs some 114,000 surface acres at normal pool which edges over 600 miles of shoreline that harbors some of the finest crappie habitat that most self respecting Calico's love to call home. Lately, thousands of anglers have re-discovered Rayburn's "other" prime fishery as on any given day, or weekend, you'll find just as many crappie boats fishing right next to the bass fishing boats.

A prime Crappie fishery doesn't just "happen" but instead develops from a series of positive conditions which occur within the lakes natural environment. Rayburn's improvements towards a positive development of its crappie fishery began some ten years ago when the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department initiated a Crappie management program which involved a 10-inch minimum keeper length and a 25 fish daily bag limit. Over the years this helped to greatly increase the brood stock for much improved spawn and fish counts. Rayburn's Hydrilla and plentiful grass-beds also became an important notation for the increased crappie populations as they provided excellent cover and habitat for the crappie during their seasonal migrations from spring, summer and winter periods.

The following are reports and "inside" information on Rayburn's Crappie fishery from our lake area TP&W Fishery Biologist and several LakeCaster fishing guides..

Todd Driscoll- Texas Parks & Wildlife Fishery Biologist: (409)-384-2221
We monitor the crappie population with two different methods and those include
Trap-netting and creel (or angler) surveys. Trap nets are fairly efficient at collecting crappie in North and West Texas lakes. Unfortunately, trap-netting in most East Texas lakes with relatively clear water and aquatic vegetation is fair at best. Historically, data collected from trap nets at Sam Rayburn has been extremely variable and probably does not reflect the status of the population. We do obtain age and growth information from trap nets; growth rates of both white and black crappie on Rayburn are excellent. White crappie reach legal size at age two and black crappie at age three.

Because of the above-mentioned problems, most of our management implications rely on data collected from anglers during creel surveys. Creel surveys indicate that the crappie fishery on Rayburn has consistently been a good one. Since 1994, catch rates of anglers seeking crappie have ranged from 2 to 6 fish per hour. Harvest rates have averaged between 1 and 3 fish per hour over that same period. These catch rates are averaged over the entire year, so at certain times of the year they may be higher or lower. Most of the fish harvested range from 10-13 inches in length, but it is not unusual to see fish 14-17 inches in the creel. White and black crappie each comprises approximately 50% of the total crappie harvested. Total directed effort has also been relatively consistent since 1994, averaging around 3 hours per acre. This equates to a total of approximately 343,500 annual hours spent crappie fishing at Sam Rayburn. Only Rayburn's largemouth bass fishery surpasses this popularity in hours fished.

Scott Soisson of Needmore Tackle -(409)-698-9430

Crappie fishing on Lake Sam Rayburn has been a best-kept secret for quite some time now, "But as more and more people discover Rayburn's superb crappie fishing they arrive in good numbers to chase the tasty fish

Summer and fall can provide some really good, and simple, crappie fishing down on the south end of Rayburn as all you have to do is locate brush piles in 22' to 32' of water. You can fish these brush-piles from July -thru- September with live minnows or crappie jigs until the Autumn temps begin to cool the water which starts the crappie migrating back to shallower structure such as grass-beds. At this time roadrunners, beetle spins, and small grubs produce best.

When Winter weather arrives the crappie will begin to migrate back to deeper water as how cold the water temp gets will dictate as to how deep the crappie will go. If the water gets down to the 40's then the crappie will move as deep as 35' to 45' as warmer water will find them holding at 25' to 30' depths.

When the water begins warming up in Spring the crappie will start moving back to shallow waters as they prepare for spawning which will occur -(depending on the weathered water temps)- between March, April, May, and sometimes, June. Roadrunners, 1/16 oz jigs, grubs, or tube-jigs will now be your best baits as will live minnows fished from the bank back to 8' grass-beds. For more information on Rayburn's crappie fishery give Needmore Tackle a call.

Jim "Jimbo" Franklin- Rayburn Tackle Guide Service-(1-800-Big Hawg)- Crappie are a guides best friend as well as a very popular sporting fish. Some anglers even choose to make these "White Perch" a singular pursuit. Although the black bass are still King on Rayburn, when the "green-backs" quit biting, the crappie bite is usually on which has helped to salvage many a guide trip. June -thru- February can provide some exceptional crappie action, as they tend to hold on, or near, the main-lake points and creek-channel edges. Rayburn has literally "thousands" of brush-piles, which are located in these areas, and finding them can be easy if you zigzag these spots at idle speed while searching with your graph recorders. The brush will show up as black humps above your gray-line, the bigger the hump the better the fishing will be.

If "idling" around looking for someone else's crappie fishing spots doesn't fit your "expertise" then learn to build your own crappie hotel. After locating some likely crappie holding spots mark them with buoys. Crappie tend to hold mostly in deeper water such as at 22' to 25', so by placing your brush-piles in these areas they will provide some year round action for your efforts. On erecting your "hotel" choose brushy limbs such as willow branches to build with as you tie them up in bundles, then attaché these bundles to weights, such as cinder blocks. Before dropping your brush-pile next to your buoy markers is sure to attaché a jug to your brush-tops as this will help to keep your brush in a vertical position. Now it's only a waiting game as, sometimes just a few hours, to maybe 24 hours is all it takes to attract crappie to your own personal Crappie Hotel. Lightweight crappie jigs, small spinner type jigs, or live minnows will now help you to "check-out" those preferred guests. For more info on this method contact me at Rayburn Tackle.

John Presley of Presley's Guide Service -(409)-698-9713
The crappie fishing has really been great on Sam Rayburn this year with most of the fish coming in on minnows fished over brush piles in 25 to 35 ft of water. The morning bite has been the best for me from 6:00 am to around 11:00 am, after that it gets kind of slow. This past week we've had many limits caught on several trips with good keepers in the 1 lb to 1 &1/2 lb range with very few undersized throwbacks. The lake is staying clear with two to three feet visibility and the grass is really growing good. The crappie are in great shape this year and should hold like that through the Summer and Fall. Although most of my fish are coming from deepwater brush-tops they are also catching some under the 147 bridge around the pilings in brush. Live minnows are now the best bet for catching the better crappie but you must take care to keep them in large, aerated live-wells because of the Summer heat. Although I fish for black bass and compete at bass tournaments most of the time I also find time to introduce my clients to the "incredible" crappie fishing that Lake Sam Rayburn now offers on a year round basis. For more info contact Presley's Guide Service.

Pete Gunn of Pistol Pete's Guide Service- (409)-872-3572
There are several Crappie hot spots to be found up in the north-lake areas of Big Sam such as The Black and Amber Forest as well as Ayish Bayou and the Angelina River area near the Hwy 103 bridge, but the best known hot spot on a year round basis would be the 147 Bridge located between Zavalla and Broaddus. The bridge pilings on the river channel side of the span would be your best bet as most crappie will concentrate near the deepwater drop-offs. When searching for good crappie structure out in the lake areas just locate some standing timber or old brush-tops along the creek channel edges. The crappie have a tendency to hold on these structures on a year round basis and can be caught on 1/8 oz jigs, roadrunners, beetle-spins, or rattle traps.

During warm water months you'll find the crappie holding between the bank and 20' as they migrate back and forth through the Hydrilla beds as grass-points are good crappie holding hot-spots during this time of year. Cold water months will usually find the crappie holding in deeper waters of from 18' to 35' around river, or creek, channel drop-offs. This is also the time of year to catch the really big "saddle blanket" crappie which will often weigh up to, and over, 3 lbs. But the absolute best time of year to catch a lot of crappie will always be during the Springtime spawning runs which will occur from April -thru- May. During the spring spawn it's not unheard of to catch from 200 to 300 crappie in just a few hours of fishing. But all anglers must be fore-warned that the daily limit only allows for no more than 25 crappie at 10 inches or better.-(this is strictly enforced)- For more information on fishing North Rayburn crappie contact Pistol Pete.

( Editors Post-note)- Not everyone has the time to forage through the woods to find what they may need for building crappie brush-piles, and in fact, in some areas this may be illegal, so, the only other option would be to purchase a brush-pile which has already been cut, marked, and neatly packaged for you. This newly marketed artificial brush-pile option can be found by contacting the "R & D Fish Attractor Company" which is located in Onalaska, TX. This company manufactures a portable, lightweight PVC system that is easily put together in minutes and ready for immersion into any pond, lake, or fishing area that you wish to use it for. Resembling a large PVC tinker toy, this neat gadget can produce an active fishery for you in just a very short time as it attracts algae growth, which in turn attracts crawfish, minnows, and baitfish, which in turn attracts the feeding interests of larger game-fish such as Bass, Catfish, and "Crappie". To find out more on this Fish Attracting System contact R&D Fish Attractor at (409)-646-4398.

a finetuned catch of rayburn calico's

this young angler caught this nice crappie from the bank on a fly-rod
< photos by Ed Snyder >

what a "slab" crappie looks like

Rayburn's black & white crappie species

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