It seems the more I write about those cherished autumn days with brisk, sustained winds from the north, the more we are inundated with a southerly flow of tropical weather that announces the continuation of summer. I describe often, gray December days with a hint of sleet and freezing rain bringing mallards to the flooded timber and stirring legendary bucks to get on their feet. Again, in contrast, we experience balmy days with frogs and turtles being the only creatures we find in our decoy spread. Likewise, instead of catching that wise old buck checking his scrape line, we find ourselves swatting mosquitoes in the swamp during prime time.
We awake on Christmas morning, so many times, to the sound of the compressor from the air conditioner instead of the popping and crackling of a fire in our dens. Am I jinxing our autumns and winters by harping on what we long for and wish for? Is there a correlation to wanting something so badly that it eludes us? I sometimes wonder. So maybe a little reverse psychology is in order. I don’t want to show my hand, but perhaps I already have.
While crossing the dam of Lake Caroline last week, of course on my way to another sit in the haunt, I couldn’t help but notice what resembled a “fleet” of stationary boats in the middle of the lake. Each boat resembled that of a granddaddy longlegs, as lengthy crappie poles protected both bow and stern of each vessel. Normally I look to the east while crossing the impoundment, for it is rare not to see several whitetails in the fields bordering the subdivision. This day was different. I slowed and focused on what was happening in the chilly waters. Not surprising, I saw several silver-sided slabs brought to net as I made my way to the swamp. Sadly, but true, it felt more like fishing season than hunting season, so if you can’t beat em, join em.
Crappies are a North American freshwater fish in the sunfish family, Centrarchidae. Belonging to the genus Pomoxis, meaning “sharp cover,” referring to the fish’s spiny gill covers, this popular pan fish is known by many names. The common name crappie is derived from the Canadian French “crapet” which refers to many different species of the sunfish family. Other names for this tasty game fish, include papermouths, strawberry bass, speckled bass, white perch, and Oswego bass, just to mention a few. In Louisiana, it is called sacalait, Cajun French for an illusion to its milky white flesh or silvery skin. The supposed French meaning is folk etymology because the word is ultimately from Choctaw sakli, meaning trout.
There are two species currently recognized. One is the Black Crappie, (P. nigromaculatus), and the White Crappie, (P. annularis.) The two are generally differentiated by distribution with the White Crappie inhabiting the waters of the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi River basins expanding from New York and southern Ontario westward to South Dakota and southward to Texas. The Black crappie is generally located in the eastern United States and Canada. Enough about distribution and binomial nomenclature though.
Both species, as adults, feed predominantly upon smaller fish species including the young of their own predators. In addition, they will also feed on zooplankton, insects, and other crustaceans. By day, crappie tend to be less active and concentrate around structure like submerged logs and weed beds. They feed during dawn and dusk by moving into open water or approaching the shore. It sounds like I know a lot about crappie, doesn’t it? I must admit, I know almost nothing about this prized gamefish. I’ll explain.
I used to be pretty good and tricking the largemouth bass to hit my topwater baits and soft plastics. I was hooked on the sport and never could understand why my dad didn’t purchase one of those beautiful Ranger bass boats or perhaps the work horse, Bass Cat. I loved bass fishing and caught my fair share. Regarding bluegills, I drowned many a cricket and filled the old igloo coolers more than once with the colorful bulls. Catfish followed, and whether from tightlining or running trotlines, channel cats filled the freezers. But oh, so how elusive the best tasting fish of all, in my humble opinion, was and is to my barbed hooks. Maybe it’s because I never pursued this noble species therefore never becoming good at it. I think there is still more to it than that, for when I join my comrades in the boat, they still out fish me substantially.
I won’t reveal though to what degree. Let’s just say this, if you tell me where the crappie are, and send me out in a boat, I am more likely to return with just as many as I left the dock with. On occasion, if an experienced angler takes me and tells me where to drop my jig or minnow, sometimes I can catch some, but it’s rare.
I place the crappie fisherman at the top of the list when it comes to skill and finesse. Patience, I believe, is the key. An angler may stay focused all day and when the fish finally turn on, they are there for the harvest. It may take hours or days before the “bite” turns on, but you better be there and in the right spot when it does. I remember an old turkey hunter once telling me, “Son, you can’t make the game and fish get right, but when they are, you better be there.” Truer words have never been spoken.
We are blessed with some of the best crappie lakes in the nation. Whether you fish manmade structures like the flood control reservoirs or scull the river oxbows during the spawn with minnow and jigs, the season is upon us. Alas though, I do have concerns with pressure on the resource.
There is a device, with novel technology, known as a “live scope.” In recent years, this seems to be all the rage. Basically, it is an underwater camera that shows you exactly where the fish are, and you can even watch them rise to your bait and bite it. It spans in an arc quite the distance from your boat and when you see the fish, you just drop your bait in front of their nose.
Now I realize the fish still must bite your lure, but it takes all the guesswork out of the equation for “finding” the schools of fish. Once again, technology is ahead to the times. In time, and you watch, there will be legislation enacted to regulate these devices in some manner. It takes the “sport” of fishing to a new level and just like nonresidents coming to our great state with freezers to “trawl” the waters, this will without a doubt take a toll on our lakes and reservoirs. I hope our fisheries biologists and wildlife commissions are on top of this. Rest assured, I will bring this topic up for discussion with certain individuals.
One of my favorite crappie stories goes like this, but I’ll be brief. Sam Williford’s dad stopped in for a visit one fall at the cotton office. In his trunk, he had the most beautiful bundles of turnip greens neatly wrapped and boxed. I dearly love turnip greens and asked him for a bundle or two. He emphatically stated that it took him all day to pick those greens. I even offered to pay him but to no avail. Needless to say, I didn’t get any greens. Move forward to the next spring. Sam and I were fortunate enough to catch 9 nice crappie one morning when we didn’t make the turkey hunt this day. Now 9 crappie is not just 9 fish, this equates to 18 filets. You do the math.
Anyway, Sam and I were in the process of frying them for lunch when Sam’s dad happened to stop by for a visit. He exclaimed, “Looks like I made it just in time, y’all fryin crappie?” Without hesitation, I said, “Mr. Snake, it took us all morning to catch these fish, there’s not enough for you today.” I wish I had taken a picture of the look on his face, priceless to say the least. Even today, Sam and I laugh about this story. Guess he should have shared those greens, huh?
Ok, so do you think it will turn cold next week? By writing about warmer weather sports, let’s see if Old Man Winter will make another trek through our state. We’ll know by the time you read this. If not, oh well, it’s still fun to think we can fool Mother Nature. Get your hooks sharpened up and boats ready. Let’s go fishing soon. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.