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Fishing large lakes key for catching slab crappies

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 11:51 p.m.

Anglers looking for an edge should keep this advice in mind.

If you want to catch especially large crappies, go fishing right now, and do it on a big body of water. Why?

Statistics show that, in Pennsylvania, spring on large lakes is by far the best time for bringing home slab-sized fish.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has an “angler awards” program that recognizes fishermen for catching large fish, by species. It is neither rigorous nor scientific. Unlike with potential state records, there's no process whereby anglers must have their fish weighed on certified scales or examined by a commission biologist or conservation officer. Everything is done on the honor system.

Still, the awards can sometimes reveal trends. That's the case here.

A look at the top five crappies, by weight, reported caught each year between 2008 and 2012 — fish between about 2.5 and 3.5 pounds — shows 15 of the 25 came from lakes of 1,000 acres or more. That's 60 percent.

That trend has been even more pronounced lately, with 11 of the top 15 crappies coming from big lakes over the last three years. That's almost 75 percent.

Rick Lorson, the commission's area fisheries manager based in Somerset and someone who has studied crappies, said that's not surprising.

“Generally as a rule for crappies, the bigger the water, the better the fish,” he said.

Greg Martin, president of the North East Panfish League, said on-the-water experience tells him that's true.

“That's the rule of thumb. The bigger the water, the bigger the potential for fish to grow large,” Martin said.

Food is the reason. When crappies reach about six inches in length, they switch over from feeding on invertebrates to minnows and other fish, Lorson said.

If they can't find enough of that kind of food consistently, as is often the case on smaller lakes, they often max out at eight or nine inches, he said.

“It's kind of like the theory that says bigger bait catches bigger fish. The bigger the food particle, the bigger the fish,” Lorson said.

“They need that bigger particle size, otherwise they're using too much energy just to get by.”

That's not to say you'll only find big crappies at big lakes. Smaller waters can produce the occasional whopper. The commission's angler awards show six of the top 25 crappies of the last half-decade came from waters less than 70 acres.

But those “are the exceptions to the rule,” Lorson said.

As for when big crappies are most often caught, the same angler awards show six of the 25 biggest were nabbed in May.

Only one other month — April — was as productive, and that may be an anomaly. Three of the six April fish were caught in one year, 2008, whereas May has given up at least one of the top five crappies in four of the last five years. June gave up four of the top 25 fish.

That's not surprising either, said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the commission. Historical data collected over decades reveals angler catch-per-hour rates for both black and white crappies are significantly higher in May than at any time of the year.

“Fishing opportunities for crappies are about to become phenomenal, if they are not already phenomenal right now,” Lorantas said.

There are indeed indications the crappie bite is turning on.

“I talked to one guy this past week who said he got over 100 in one day at Loyalhanna Lake,” said Amil Zuzik, a deputy waterways conservation officer with the commission, speaking of that 480-acre water. “He said a lot were small, but he also got some slabs. He said a couple were up to 15 or 16 inches.”

Catches have gone up in “just the last couple of days” at 3,200-acre Lake Arthur, said Jerry O'Donnell of O'Donnell's Sports Supplies in Portersville. The action has likewise started to pick up at 1,800-acre Lake Wilhelm, 3,500-acre Shenango Lake and 17,100-acre Pymatuning Lake, according to various reports.

So if you want a slab crappie, do some fishing now, and do it on a big lake.

“I always say, we live and die by statistics, so if you want to catch lots of big crappies, you should go to a big water,” Lorson said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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