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East Texas' Biggest Crappie Lakes
Those would be Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, no doubt: each loaded with crappie, each offering plenty of hot places to find them in. These are just a few of those sites. (February 2007)

Beaumont angler Bryan Thomas shows the author a black crappie taken from the pilings of the Highway 147 bridge at Sam Rayburn -- just one of many places at the lake for filling a livewell with slabs this month.
Photo by Paul Bradshaw.

February is a frustrating month for East Texas outdoorsmen. For hunters, virtually all regular seasons have closed, and for anglers it's still too early to fish for bass in the shallows -- the way God intended. But before you consign yourself to your recliner to eat Cheetos while watching A-Team reruns, take a look at some early-season crappie fishing for hot action on East Texas' most prominent lakes. That would be Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, naturally!

Trivia time: What was the original name of Sam Rayburn Reservoir? (No it's not Sam Rayburn.)

OK, quit guessing -- you're embarrassing your kids. In 1955, when Congress authorized the damming of the Angelina River to build a reservoir designed to provide electricity, flood control, and recreational opportunities for the residents of East Texas, "Big Sam" was originally named the McGee Bend Dam and Reservoir, as it was located just upstream from the McGee Bend in the river.

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It wasn't until 1963, when the dam was close to completion, that Congress passed a special resolution renaming the lake after the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then recently deceased, Mr. Sam Rayburn.

It's safe to say that Congress had no idea how large a recreational impact this new body of water would make on East Texans, but in the years since Big Sam reached full pool, it has staked a claim as one of the premier bass fisheries in the South. Countless club bass tournaments are held on the reservoir each year. And Sam Rayburn has been and remains a regular tournament location for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. With this much attention devoted to bass, it's easy for the other fish swimming in these fertile waters to become overshadowed. Just in case you didn't know, Sam Rayburn's crappie fishery also is one of the best in the state.

That calls to mind an experience demonstrating just how good the crappie fishing at Big Sam can be.

"Are the crappie biting today?" my longtime friend and fishing partner Bryan Thomas called out to the older gentleman -- known only as "J.D." -- who was trolling under the Highway 147 Bridge spanning Sam Rayburn.

The old man spat a stream of tobacco into the water and hollered back, "They're biting every day."

He would know: The old man and his black-and-white terrier are daily visitors to the Highway 147 bridge, where more often than not it takes them less than a half-day to pull in a limit of crappie. While we watched, the venerable angler nosed his aged aluminum boat up to a leg of the bridge and dropped down a jig. A few turns of the handle later, a keeper crappie put a bow in the light-action rod as the old man cranked him to the surface. With a flip of his wrist, J.D. tossed the fish into the perpetually propped-open livewell, and then thumbed the lever on the counter hanging around his neck.

"I asked him about that counter one time," Bryan said as we moved up to our own bridge leg. "He only counts keepers, and late last year he showed me the total for the year to that point and it was around 7,500. I went home and did the math -- and he was averaging more than 22 keepers per day. Every day."

Over our shoulders we heard the terrier barking. "He must have caught a small one," explained Bryan. "The dog only barks when he throws one back."

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