It doesn’t seem long ago that crappie fishing conjured pastoral images of rural anglers with simple tackle, wielding cane poles on oxbow lakes and ponds or lobbing minnows at brushpiles and stumps on a southeastern reservoir. Crappie chasers were widely considered consumptive in motive, and crappie populations thought to be nearly boundless when big hatches occurred. As a result, harvest regulations were minimal or nonexistent.
Today, change has come, and come fast. Crappie fishing websites crackle with the latest scoops on hot bites and new jig designs. There seems to exist a crappie belt that roughly comprises a region that has West Texas and Colorado on the western edge, follows a line from Nebraska through northcentral Minnesota, then eastward through Ohio and veering southeast to Virginia; running the eastern coastline through southern Florida, and west along the Gulf Coast back to Texas.
Here, angler surveys rank crappies among the top three preferred species. Here, crappie clubs and associations sponsor tournaments on productive lakes. Here, sales of poles, tubes, and other crappie tackle overshadow all other purchases except for bassin’ gear. Here, resource agencies are working to balance increasing interest in trophy crappie with the traditional harvest interests, studying angler attitudes and objectives, along with the biology and population dynamics of these wonderful and sometimes inscrutable panfish.
CRAPPIE GEOGRAPHICS AND DEMOGRAPHICS
Crappie anglers are a diverse group that varies regionally and covers all age groups. The carefree nature of the bite at times makes the crappie excellent for introducing kids to fishing and for elderly anglers who’d rather fish from the comfort of a lawn chair. Typically you don’t need fancy tackle or a lot of patience to catch crappie.
Southeast and Midwest: As the In-Fisherman staff travel across the Southeast region and parts of the Midwest like Kansas, Ohio, and Illinois, we find full-time crappie guides working popular fisheries on large reservoirs. When the bite is hot, guides who specialize in catfish or bass may also switch to slabs. Today, more crappie guides are mobile as well, bouncing among two, three, or more states, following the best bites.
In these regions, many anglers fish primarily for crappie. They fish for fun and for food, and might be on the water several times a week. They’re often knowledgeable about movement patterns in their local waters and about effective presentations. In parts of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas, crappie fishing seems to be the top game in town. Around the large and famous bass fisheries of Missouri, Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma, crappie take a back seat in terms of popularity but invariably comprise an important recreational resource.
Florida has so many good crappie lakes that the fish are almost taken for granted, as saltwater species and bass take center stage in TV fishing shows and tourism promotions. Perhaps as a result, few guides regularly target crappie. But all the famous bass waters and many small ones that aren’t widely recognized house excellent populations of big black crappie that thrive in the dense emergent and submerged vegetation that abounds. And knowledgeable anglers pursue “specks” in earnest.
Canada: “Twenty-five years ago, if you mentioned crappies in Canada most anglers would have looked at you like you were crazy,” comments In-Fisherman Field Editor Gord Pyzer. “Today, interest in crappie fishing has greatly expanded. And not coincidentally, so has their range. Increasing eutrophication and associated underwater vegetation, plus clearer water because of zebra mussels, have favored crappie over some previously dominant species like walleye and lake trout.
“For example, in Rice Lake, Ontario, a famous largemouth lake, no crappie existed 25 years ago. They’re now a prized and much-sought-after species. They’re abundant and grow large. In Lake Simcoe, a smallmouth hotbed, crappies have boomed over the last decade and are now the most abundant gamefish in the lake.
“On the other hand, crappies have long been popular in Georgian Bay and other parts of the Great Lakes such as Rondeau Bay of Lake Erie. Northwest Ontario is also traditional crappie territory. On Sabaskong Bay in Lake of the Woods, the ice-fishing catch alone can approach a quarter of a million fish. A couple lakes in Manitoba also have crappie, and they are noted for producing fish averaging from 13 to 15 inches.”
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