Crappie

Where I live if you like to fish, then April is crappie time.

My father was a crappie fisherman and so was my father-in-law. In their fishing world there was crappie and then there was everything else. In this regard I’ve failed to follow in either man’s large footsteps.

I like to crappie fish and do so often. But with some folks it borders on obsession.

Crappie aren’t difficult to catch. They are found in streams and rivers but are basically a backwater/reservoir warm water panfish. They come in two varieties: white and black (pictured).

They are timid fighters. If you’re looking for a panfish fight try bluegill.

They are not large fish.

You’ll rarely encounter a crappie that requires two hands to hold. A two-pound crappie a big one; a three-pounder a trophy and a four pounder almost unheard of. The world record is a shade over five pounds.

The crappie claim to fame is how it dresses up a dinner table. They are excellent table fare; and are never better prepared than when lightly breaded and pan fried.

There is a little misconception about spring fishing techniques. Crappie spawn in shallow water when water temps near 60 degrees. Where you find one fish you usually find a bunch. A minnow under a bobber is the time-tested method for filling an ice chest with crappie. But casting a curly tail jig or Road Runner is nearly as effective. They’ll hit a fly, too. Use a small white streamer and a slow retrieve.

The misconception lies in where the fish are located at spawning time. Guys like me have written reams about how easy it is to catch crappie when they are spawning – and that’s true, to a point. The fish do spawn in shallow water near the shoreline – this is why when water temperatures approach the magic 60-degree mark the banks at most decent crappie lakes resemble a Saturday afternoon Wal-Mart parking lot.

But while crappie anglers are pounding the bank there’s often plenty fish right behind them.

I used to occasionally fish with a retired fisheries biologist who’d spent a career studying fish movement and had spent endless hours at the wheel of an electroshocking boat, running crappie surveys. This was a guy I’d also interviewed several times during his career but we didn’t fish together until after he retired.

He never crappie fished close to the bank, preferring to work about in 12-15 feet of water, 20 or 30 yards off the shore; sometimes farther, depending on the lay of the land. We seldom fished more than a couple of hours. He’d have his limit in 30 or 40 minutes and would spend the rest of the time waiting on me.

I finally asked him why he didn’t follow the crowd and work the banks where the fish were spawning and – I thought – would be easier to catch.

He shook his head.

“All the fish don’t spawn at once,” he explained. “In fact most fish don’t spawn at once. They stage out here, run in to spawn, then move back out.”

I knew this, of course, but I’d grown addicted to fishing shore cover.

The biologist/fisherman then added, “I’d have told you that years ago when you were interviewing me . . . if you’d ever asked.”

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