Although late fall/early winter is an awesome time to fish, East Texas has a “special” season that thousands look forward to.

Sunday is the official kickoff of the 2019-2020 crappie restriction on two area lakes. From December 1st until the last day of February, anglers on Lake Fork and Lake O’ the Pines are required to retain the first 25 crappie caught.

Ordinarily the statewide rules for crappie is a 10-inch minimum length limit and a 25-fish bag limit. During the special season there are no minimum length limits and anglers are required to keep the first 25 fish caught.

It seems odd but the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has its reasons for the restriction changes.

Historically in these months shad will form giant schools and migrate to the deeper areas of the lake. The deeper water will be warmer than the surface temperatures and the shad will succumb to the frigid water temperatures the shallows experience during winter. Crappie, as well as other fish follow along and keep their winter feast going until spring begins to warm the water back up.

The later in the winter we go, the shad will build large schools and following will be equally large schools of crappie. This has long been the case and there was one glaring problem. Fish pulled from 30 to 40 foot depths quickly may not be able to decompress their swim bladders. These fish that did not make the minimum length limit had to be released and the majority ended up as food for turtles, bald eagles or other birds.

The TP&W recognized the waste of the resource and put the season into place at these two lakes. The change was an immediate success.

Most of the fish caught are close to 10 inches and make spectacular filets so the anglers win. The smaller fish are not wasted so the fishery wins. Both lakes have outstanding crappie populations so it’s an outstanding program all the way around. Keep in mind the “slabs” or bigger crappie are still in the mix so limits may only have 10-inch plus fish even during the special season.

A boat is needed to participate in this fiesta. Later in the season, there will be no mistake where the fish may be congregating. Large flotillas can be spotted on main lake points and river channels.

Although it may seem crowded, most boats are friendly and understand the close quarters fishing. If you have electronics finding your own private school can separate you from the crowds but keep in mind the shad and crappie are usually moving.

Make plans to get in on the winter campaign this year. Lake Fork guide Brooks Rogers is already catching plenty of crappie with some big ones hitting the deck.

Dress for the weather and Happy Thanksgiving.