10-inch size limits -
Table Rock Lake and Stockton Lake:
The most dramatic improvement in the quality of crappie fishing is on the James River Arm of Table Rock Lake where harvest has shifted from 1- to 2- year-olds (7") to 3- to 5-year-olds (12 inches). Recent samples from all areas of Table Rock Lake reveal good numbers of 10- to 14-inch crappies. However, they can be difficult to catch in parts of the reservoir that have clear water and steep banks.
At Stockton Lake the size limit has been in effect since 1984 and harvest of crappies has shifted from primarily 2- and 3-year-old fish to 3- and 4 year-old fish. Before the 10-inch size limit, the average length of crappies harvested never exceeded 10 inches. Since the size limit, the average length has increased to over 10.5 inches.
The 9-inch size limits -
Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme de Terre, Truman, and Smithville lakes:
Like Table Rock and Stockton lakes, the harvest of crappies on Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme de Terre, and Truman lakes shifted from 1- to 3-year-olds, to fish ages 3 years and older. The average size of the catch subsequently increased to about 10 inches on the three lakes. This is an increase of about 1 inch on Pomme de Terre and Truman and over 1.5 inches on Lake of the Ozarks.
Much more of the anglers' creels are now fish that are 10 inches and larger. Prior to the 9-inch limits, only one of every five crappies kept was 10 inches and longer, but now nearly half are that long.
The 9-inch limit at Smithville Lake is an example of how regulations capitalize on a reservoir's specific characteristics. A 10-inch size limit on crappies was begun in 1984 to prevent over harvesting young fish in this new reservoir. Although this regulation prevented over harvest, the crappies were not growing fast enough to reach 10 inches in a reasonable time.
Consequently, few fish were harvested. The size limit was lowered to 9 inches in 1989 so that more crappies would be harvested. The crappie fishery in Smithville Lake is now similar to other lakes with 9-inch size limits. The change from 10 to 9 inches improved the fishery in this popular north Missouri reservoir.
Cooperation and Teamwork
It took time, patience and the cooperation of a lot of people to learn about management of crappies in Missouri reservoirs. Fishery biologists worked for several years to identify the best management approach. This was a slow and painstaking task because we had to throw out a lot of the "old" things we knew as we tried to understand the "new."
Conservation agents helped educate anglers about the benefits of the new regulations and paved the way for a smooth transition to the more restrictive size limits. Missouri's anglers also need to be commended for their patience and cooperation with new regulations on their favorite reservoirs. In fact, what we accomplished together in Missouri has been a model for crappie management in other states.
So what couldn't be done is done, and the future of crappie fishing in Missouri reservoirs is bright. Biologists are constantly looking for opportunities to improve the quality of crappie fishing, and that can only mean good things for Missouri anglers.