Hot crappie, hot action on the Ouachita River

Late summer slabs like this are great for fun and filets, but also helped Matthews and Elrod claim some cash in the recent ACT crappie tournament on the river.

When the water temperature is 90 degrees and the mere thought of moving makes you sweat, it’s not usually time to talk about catching crappie. But right now, the hot water and hot weather has led to some — yes — you know it’s coming — hot crappie fishing on the Ouachita River.

Patrick Matthews of Junction City and Tim Elrod of West Monroe fish the river almost every day this time of year and they’ve been surprised at the big crappie bite going on right now, even though it isn’t exactly crappie fishing weather.

“Anywhere you can find a lake, bayou or slough off the river, it’s probably got crappie in it right now, “Matthews says. “It’s amazing, but they are as healthy and active as I’ve ever seen them this time of the year. But they aren’t where you’d expect them to be. They are in really shallow water. We have been catching our fish in a little lake off the river that isn’t over four feet deep in the deepest part. But it’s loaded with shad and the fish are in there just as thick.”

American Crappie Trail

Matthews and Elrod were among 160 anglers that fished in the American Crappie Trail tournament on the river Sept. 13-14 and they finished seventh with 14 fish weighing 21.51 pounds. The winning team caught 14 fish weighing 25 pounds. Almost every team caught a limit each day and reported catching dozens of fish.

But tournaments isn’t what most people are interested in. They just want to catch fish for fun and supper.

“It’s a good time to do it right now if you can stand the heat,” Matthews says. “The Ouachita River is a long river with dozens and dozens of bayous, lakes and runouts. There are crappie in most of them, but they aren’t everywhere. You have to spend some time looking, but when you find them, they are biting. A sure sign there are fish there is that if you see shad flipping or flitting across the surface. That kind of action usually means there are crappie there, too.”

Matthews has a couple of hints to narrow your search down. First, if you can find an area with a little water running in or running out, it seems to be holding more fish. Fish are concentrated, so you may go a long way without a bite, but when you get one, there are usually more. And they are shallow, most of them suspended two or three feet deep. Since crappie feed up, it’s important to keep the lure above the fish, which means sometimes you aren’t fishing but a foot to 18 inches deep.

Patrick Matthews with a big shallow hot water Ouachita River crappie.

“I know that sounds strange, but that’s where they are,” he says. “I think that’s where the best oxygen is and so that’s where the baitfish are. And where the bait is, that’s where the crappie will be.”

What to use

There are also a lot of gar in the river right now and Matthews says sometimes it’s hard to keep a shiner on your hook. He and Elrod have found that if you spider rig and troll a little faster than normal, the crappie will catch up with the bait but not as many gar will. Other than shiners, Matthews recommends fishing a small jig head with a Mr. Crappie joker. The brighter the color the better, he says.

If you’ve never fished the river, he recommends getting on Google Maps and studying the river lakes and sloughs. Pick out a couple and fish them. Try to find some with a little deeper water in them, but don’t go deep for the fish. They’re just not there.

Kinny Haddox
About Kinny Haddox 301 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.