Volume XVII, Issue 19 # MAY 7 - May 13, 2009

Crappie are widely regarded as one of the most delicious of all the freshwater game fish.

Sweetwater Fishing

A sac-a-lait under any other name is just as sweet

Casting the small chartreuse spinner bait up near the shoreline, I cranked it back in short, irregular surges and just fast enough to keep the blades turning. I held my rod tip high to keep the lure up out of the weeds that were already carpeting the shallows in this small freshwater Maryland impoundment.

Just as the bait swam alongside the fallen tree that provided the most likely looking structure, a hard strike jerked my rod down toward the water. Lifting the tip, I set the hook and was rewarded with a total aquatic tantrum. The water churned white, and I got just a glimpse of the broad, speckled flank of a fish turning, flailing and generally breaking bad.

As gently as possible I tried to muscle the fish away from the submerged jungle from which it had launched. I suspected I knew what kind of fish it was, and if I put on too much pressure the hooks would simply tear through its paper-thin mouth; not enough and the devil would secure sanctuary. This was an exquisite problem to have on an early spring morning.

At last I persuaded the fish that deeper water was a better option. The spunky rascal shot past my small boat, heading out for the center of the small lake. Lifting my index finger from the ultra-light spinning reel’s spool, I freed up a light drag and gave the fish almost as much line as it wanted.

About 30 feet into its run and still feeling my line’s pressure, it decided that strategy a mistake and tried to head back for its tangle of submerged tree limbs. But it was too late and too far. Thwarted, the fish surged first one way then another, circling the boat but finding no escape.

Finally, turning on its side in exhaustion, it reluctantly slid into my landing net. I found it easy to remember why crappie are regarded as the most reckless and relentless battlers of all the freshwater bream family.

Know Your Fish

Its bright green, speckled sides gleamed in the early sun. It was a very nice specimen indeed, at least a foot long. Burying it deep in my cooler’s ice, I began seeking another along the same downed tree. These are schooling fish, and where one is found, others are bound to be close by.

I didn’t have much time. As the sun continued to rise in the sky, these guys would be slipping out of the shallows and heading toward deeper sanctuaries where they would be much more difficult to locate.

Crappie (properly pronounced with a broad a) much prefer feeding in shallower, near-shore waters early and late in the day when light conditions are low and minnows, their preferred food, the most active, available and vulnerable.

The name crappie derives from a collective French Canadian word for panfish rather than intending anything disparaging. It’s also known by more elegant aliases such as calico bass, speckled perch and in Louisiana, the sac-a-lait. Big ones are called slabs.

Most importantly it is widely regarded as one of the most delicious of all the freshwater game fish. I heartily agree. A carefully executed crappie fillet is a joy to behold. Dipped in egg and milk, rolled in cracker crumbs, then dropped into 400-degree peanut oil, it produces a savory and crispy treat that makes any angling effort worthwhile.

Fish Are Biting

Trophy rockfish are available. Scattered throughout the mid-Bay, they may take some trying. Fish approaching 50 pounds and over 50 inches in length were taken last week. With water temperatures still in the mid 50s, we should have continued good fishing for trophy-sized stripers for at least the next two weeks.

Croaker have been reported at Crisfield, Hooper’s Island and Point Lookout. They should turn up in the Choptank at Cambridge soon. Frequently a school of big ones arrives in our area early to wander between Sandy Point and the mouth of the Eastern Bay.

In fresh water, the pickerel and yellow perch are done spawning, but the bluegill’s efforts have just gotten under way. Crappie are beginning to make their nests, as are largemouth bass, so the shallows in many lakes are alive with amorous activity.

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