December 20, 2023
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When the angling conversation turns to crappie—especially, record-size slabs—most people sitting around the proverbial campfire or the dock-side coffee shop table are going to cast a wishful glance at the calendar, especially a few weeks beyond the New Year.
You know, when the Christmas holidays are over, spring has sprung, and the weather has warmed up down South as the dogwoods bloom.
But if the Bingo card in your super-sized crappie conversation has the words November, kayak, weak coffee and Colorado on it, well then, you win the prize even before jolly old St. Nick has loaded up his sleigh for a Christmas Eve ride.
Because all of that is exactly what happened recently when Eric Allee, the Content and Marketing Coordinator for the Denver, Colo.-based Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle Co., loaded up his own rig—in this case, a Hobie kayak—and went fishing.
Because what else do you do when you work for one of the best American-made tackle brands out there and have a little time to spare when most people are shopping, hunting, or watching football? You load up, go fishing, and try to catch a piscatorial present for yourself, that's what.
Allee found for himself out on the water, catching a super-size slab crappie that would make anyone proud anywhere, especially if you live in Colorado where his fish appears poised to become a new catch-and-release state record, what’s more, it’s bigger than the existing caught-and-kept state record.
As great as this angling tale is—and Allee will admit he’s not a hardcore crappie stick, he was actually bass fishing that particular day. It's a story that he said isn't some triumphant battle of man against beast. In fact, it involved some trial-and-error because when he first launched his kayak on the lake, his smile of anticipation quickly turned to a frown as he discovered not the gin-colored water he had been expecting, but instead stained H2O that looked a bit like “weak coffee.”
He decided to give it a shot and dropped a bait overboard. But when it disappeared almost immediately, he was soon back on shore and headed for his pick-up truck to make some real-time adjustments and hopefully regain some confidence.
“I rigged all my hover rigs the night before, and they were all set up with colors that were better suited for clear water,” he said. “It's a process that is easier done using the back of my pick-up as a workbench.”
When he got back to his truck, he grabbed a handful of 3/0 Trokar TK570VP hooks that he had tied a keeper onto the night before.
“I rigged two with black Berkley Flat Worms, taking my time to ensure the hook was perfectly centered along the back of the worm,” he explained. “I then inserted Lazer Sharp Tungsten Pagoda Nail Weights and took a dab of super glue to keep them secure. The last step was giving the tails of the Flat Worms in chartreuse garlic-flavored Spike-It. A few minutes later, I was back on the water, slightly more confident.”
After relaunching and pedaling over to the first target of the day, a submerged tree dragged into the lake some time ago according to Allee. Through the use of his Lowrance ActiveTarget, he could see two fish holding tight to a couple of longer limbs out of several that stretched up about 6 feet off the tree trunk lying on bottom. Looking for a vertical presentation with the hover-rigged flatworm, he employed some critical thinking here.
“My thought process with the water clarity so low, I needed to make it as easy as possible for the fish to find the Flat Worm," he said. "A general rule of thumb—especially in colder water—with the hover rig, whether you're fishing vertically or casting, is to keep the presentation a little above and ahead of your targets. I dropped down, stopping the bait to where it was slightly elevated over one of the marks that I assumed were bass.”
The fish must have liked that approach, because they bull-rushed the rig, giving him a bit of a surprise.
“I lifted my rod tip and felt weight, so I reeled down and put the wood to 'em,” he said.
It ended up being a chunky largemouth, as expected, “…a thick-bodied 3 1/2-pounder that looked like it was about to bust at the seams."
Now full of confidence, Allee took a photo of this nice largemouth, and pedaled over to the next spot after the first CPR (catch-photograph-release) session of the day.
Now at his go-to spot, he caught a couple of cookie-cutter size crappie on a concrete tube that sits off the bottom, albeit in a bit of an awkward position. While he admits he isn't sure how the contraption stays put, you never question such things when there's a little November fish-catching magic possible. And that magic certainly seemed likely as he viewed the concrete tube on his electronics and found three giant marks on the screen lying near the tube’s opening.
He admittedly worked hard to contain himself and let this story play itself out.
“Instead of freaking out like a little kid all hopped up on Mountain Dew, I took a minute to position myself and game-plan my approach," he said. "I had to resist the urge to cast as soon as I saw the marks, knowing with the water clarity, I didn't have the pulling power I might have had a few days ago. I felt that dropping vertically would give me the best shot at hooking one of these fish.”
He said that there might have been a little bit of uncertainty over what he was looking at on his Lowrance electronics, but he had the feeling that the fish were crappie due to their movements. So, checking the hook points on his hover-rigged Flat Worm, he dropped the rig overboard.
It's tempting to say here that what ensued was pure chaos. But Allee grinned—despite a head-cold he'd been battling—and said otherwise.
“This is where there's supposed to be an epic battle between man and beast, but after the hookset, the fight itself is anticlimactic,” he noted. “After setting the hook, I could feel the weight, but I was lifting whatever was on the other end of the line to the surface for ten seconds or so.”
But when he first laid eyes on the fish, maybe a little chaos did indeed erupt, after all.
“When I first saw it, the situation's intensity elevated dramatically, ha-ha!” he said. “I was in shock and knew this was the make-or-break moment for this fish, either being a figment of my imagination or a reality I could share with people. It felt like everything was in slow motion, and with every movement it made, I was one step closer to losing the massive slab crappie.”
But as the Colorado cold-water battle reached a conclusion, Allee could actually see the sunshine glinting off the speckled skin of the super-sized black crappie, confirming that this was no dream, but angling reality.
“Staring at the biggest crappie I'd ever laid eyes on with my net inching toward her is a moment that'll be etched in my mind forever,” he said. “As I slipped the net below her and scooped her up, I could feel relief and euphoria wash over me.”
That adrenaline high was short lived, though, as he looked into the net and then wondered just how big this record-class fish might really be.
After digging into his gear bag, he found his scale and tried not to have any expectations in an area where he said that any crappie over 1 pound is solid and anything over 2 pounds is a story.
So, it's safe to say that when the scale’s numbers settled down, Allee was ... well, he was speechless and a little befuddled. But mind you, not so much that he forgot his strong commitment to catch-and-release ethics.
"I found my Rapala digital scale, and my jaw dropped when it reads 3 pounds, 15 ounces,” he said. “I weighed her three times, hoping she would hit the 4-pound mark, but the scale stayed at 3 pounds, 15 ounces on the dot. After getting a few photos, I placed her in the net over the side of my kayak as a makeshift livewell.”
That's when he did a little Internet digging on his phone.
“I checked the weight records and the catch-and-release state records on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website,” he said. “The kept weight-record for a black crappie is 3.48 pounds, and my crappie eclipsed that record by about a half of a pound. The catch-and-release record was 16.25 inches.”
(Editor’s Note: FYI, if you’re wondering, in the white crappie category for CP&W’s state records program, the weight record is 4 pounds even and the length record is 15 inches.)
The bottom line here is that Allee’s fish is well into Colorado record-class territory at 3 pounds, 15 ounces and 18.25 inches in length. After making a record application, he now sits and waits for final confirmation from CP&W.
But back to his story, and this is where angling opportunity and catch-and-release commitment collided in a big way.
“Since I was a little kid, I envisioned myself taking a fish to the CP&W headquarters in Denver with a record-size fish and getting my picture taken in front of the sign out front holding up my trophy,” he admitted. “Dude, I couldn't do it.
“It's not that I'm against keeping fish, as I surely eat my fair share of crappies, walleyes, channel cats, and brookies every year,” he continued. “I don't want to get too hokey here, and this (story) is now book-long, but she was too damn beautiful. Her colors, how stacked she was, just her sheer size, were amazing.
“Record or not, I wanted to feel what it felt like to see her swim away and disappear into the abyss. I wanted the madness that would accompany releasing her, wondering if she was swimming down to two other crappies that were her size—or bigger. I needed that moment to stay on the water where in my imagination of giant fish of any species and reality met.”
And with that, he gave the gift of releasing a great fish to swim away and fight another day, a key principle in the success of many of North America’s great fisheries. After all, someday, that slab might be even bigger and either Allee or someone else might catch her again.
He was content with his decision, both then and now.
“I took a few minutes to document her size,” he said. “Each time I'd lift it out of the water, I'd quickly get her back in the net over the side of my kayak. After I was sure I had a few solid photos and measurements, it was time. I released her over the side of my kayak in the same spot where I caught her, hoping our paths would cross again one day.”
And true to form, the moment lived up to the hype in Allee's mind as the fish slid away from his grasp and disappeared into the weak coffee-stained water.
"The second I released her I knew I’d be able to forever keep that moment on the water. Totally worth it.” he said.
From all of us at In-Fisherman, Congrats Eric!