Fishing with Grandpa Charlie

By Matt Seek | Photos by Cliff White | April 1, 2013
From Xplor: April/May 2013

Eryn and Lauren love to go fishing with their Grandpa Charlie. Tag along as they try to catch a tasty fish with a funny name — crappie.

Grandpa Charlie says crappie (crop-ee) are hungriest early in the morning and late in the evening. We show up at his house just after sunrise. You don’t need tons of gear to catch crappie. We bring lightweight rods and spinning reels, plastic jigs and live minnows for bait, hats, sunscreen, life jackets, water, and snacks. We don’t need fishing licenses because we’re younger than 16. Grandpa has to have one, though. It takes just a few minutes to stow everything in Grandpa’s pickup, then we’re on our way.

A Tasty Fish With a Funny Name

As our boat skims across the lake, Grandpa gives us a quick lesson in crappie biology. He says crappie are skinny, silvery fish that are related to bass, bluegill, and goggle-eye. Crappie eat aquatic insects and small fish such as minnows. Missouri has two kinds of crappie — white and black — but white crappie can live in muddier water and are more common. Both are found in lakes, ponds, and the backwaters of large rivers. Grandpa says that because of conservation, Missouri is a great place to fish.

Finding Fish

According to Grandpa, where you find crappie depends on the time of year you’re fishing. In summer, fall, and winter, crappie hang out in deeper water near underwater brush piles, submerged trees, or under boat docks. In spring, crappie move to shallow water where females lay eggs and males guard nests. It’s late April, so we’re fishing near the shore. Grandpa says male crappie fiercely defend their nests and strike at anything that comes close — including fishing lures.

Baiting Up

Grandpa helps us tie tiny hooks to our fishing line and squeeze split shot a few inches up the line to help our bait sink quickly. We’re using two kinds of bait: live minnows and plastic jigs. Grandpa says feathery marabou jigs work well, too. We hook the minnows through their noses and thread the plastic jigs onto our hooks so they cover everything but the barbs. Grandpa moves the boat quietly close to shore. We cast and let our baits sink into the cold, clear water.

Crappie Techniques

If you’re fishing deeper water near a brush pile or dock, Grandpa says to drop your bait straight down into the brush, raise the tip of your rod a foot or two, then let your bait sink again. Be ready. Crappie often strike while the bait is sinking. If you’re fishing shallow water, cast your bait toward shore, let it sink, and reel it in slowly. Let the bait bounce over limbs and rocks, and be ready for a strike at any time.

Hitting the Honey Hole

In no time, we’re pulling fish after fish into our boat. We lay each on a ruler and measure from the fish’s snout to the tip of its tail. The lake we’re on has a 9-inch minimum length limit. This means we must release as quickly and gently as possible any fish less than 9 inches long. Grandpa says this lets little fish grow into big fish and helps make sure there are lots of adult fish to lay eggs each year.

On a Slow Boat Home

Even though we have to toss a few fish back, it doesn’t take long for each of us to catch our limit of 15 crappie. We stow our gear, and motor slowly home. Just before we reach the boat ramp, Grandpa pulls into a secluded cove and pulls out his guitar. Sunshine glimmers off its silver strings, reminding us of the silverly fish on our stringers. Grandpa’s hand glides gracefully up and down the frets, and a bluegrass tune rings off the calm water. My sister and I listen, both of us thinking the same thought: This is the perfect end to a perfect day of fishing with Grandpa Charlie.

Grandpa's Fishing Tips

  • Crappie are light biters. Use a rod that bends easily so you can feel a crappie’s dainty nibble. Load your reel with clear, skinny fishing line. Six- to 8-pound test is best.
  • Crappie begin nesting when water temperatures reach 55 degrees, which is usually from mid-April to mid-May in Missouri. During this time, look for crappie in water 3 to 10 feet deep, usually in a cove that’s protected from wind and waves.
  • Crappie have little mouths. If you use minnows, make sure they’re small: 2 inches or shorter.
  • Crappie are friendly fish — they travel, feed, and nest in schools. If you find one, keep fishing at the same spot. You’ll find others nearby.
  • When you feel a nibble, don’t set the hook too hard. Crappie are nicknamed “paper mouths” for a reason. It helps to set the drag on your reel so that line pulls out easily.
  • To measure a fish correctly, be sure to squeeze the lobes of the fish’s tail together. For more fishing rules, visit the Conservation Department’s website at 3104.

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This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White