Depending on your region, crappie may also be called “papermouths”, ”specks”, “slabs”, “calico bass”, or perhaps “sac-au-lait.” Despite the unfortunate oft-mispronounced common name, crappie are highly prized sport fish, primarily for the delicious fillets.
Because a mere 16-inch fish is worthy of a long, appreciative whistle, light line and long poles are normally used. Crappie can be caught on small jigs, plastic grubs, spoons, and crank baits. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife even offers the tip of attaching a piece of an onion to a jig, something I’ll have to give a try soon. However, crappie have a hard time resisting minnows, so bring plenty. And submerged brush or standing timber should be the first place to look for them.
Finding the right depth is critical. Vary depth until they are located, then stick with it. Though not a schooling fish, they tend to congregate and suspend near structure, especially this time of year. Where you catch one, you are bound to catch a mess of them. In Oklahoma, unless otherwise noted, you can keep 37 crappie a day. I recommend bringing a fish counter, which helps keep the kids occupied too.
That many fish will keep you busy preparing the fillets but it is worth it. Though it varies by state, crappie maintains a “sport fish” status and you won’t be able to buy crappie fillets from a store. For example, according to Gene Gilliland, Assistant Chief of Fisheries with the OK Department of Wildlife Conservation, even if an aquaculture operation obtains the permits to gain status of “farm-raised”, there are additional “permits and inspections required from the Oklahoma Department of Health to sell food that is destined for human consumption.” As if the papermouth paperwork wasn’t enough, I learned from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that this is a fish that is not yet economically feasible to raise in captivity.
So when you catch a mess of crappie, appreciate the treat. During an interview of Bassmaster Elite Angler Gerald Swindle, I asked him if he liked the smell of fish. He responded, “I like the smell of crappie frying” and for a couple of brief moments two grinning anglers were lost in the memories of a favorite meal.
Andy Whitcomb is a columnist, outdoor humorist, and stressed-out Dad living in Oklahoma. Visit him at www.justkeepreeling.com.