MDC: Challenges surround managing crappie at Wappapello Lake

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WAPPAPELLO, Mo. – Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) fisheries biologists have worked for decades to maintain and improve the crappie fishery at Wappapello Lake. Biologists say that goal comes with many challenges, but they're up to the task.

"Crappie fishing has a long history at Wappapello and we've seen ups and downs," said Dave Knuth, a MDC fisheries management biologist.

One challenge to managing the crappie population at Wappapello is the highly variable water levels from year to year caused by flooding. The lake was constructed in the 1940's to hold water with a goal of decreasing downstream flooding during large rain events. While the function of the lake is a positive thing for flood control, fluctuating water levels are not always beneficial for managing consistent crappie populations. If water levels drop suddenly during the period when fish spawn, successful reproduction could be greatly reduced. Fluctuating water levels can impact all fish in the lake, including gizzard shad, a smaller fish that crappie and other fish eat.

"Water levels can limit gizzard shad reproduction success, which directly impacts the survival and growth of the lake's crappie population," Knuth said.

Another challenge is that the crappie population is currently made up of half black crappie and half white crappie. The data has shown an increase in the percentage of black crappie since the 9-inch minimum length limit regulation was put in place.

"The problem with this is that in Wappapello Lake, black crappie grow much slower than white crappie," Knuth said. "It can take a black crappie three or four years longer to reach nine inches than a white crappie and a majority of the black crappie never get that big."

This slower growth means only the white crappie tend to be large enough for anglers to keep and therefore very few black crappie can be harvested with the current regulation.

"The reason we implemented that regulation was to improve the quality of the crappie population by giving the fish a chance to grow bigger before they're harvested," Knuth said.

Knuth said MDC is thoroughly analyzing all factors influencing the crappie population at Wappapello and developing management alternatives to meet these challenges.

"Our goal is to come up with the best strategy that will provide a consistent and high quality crappie population for our anglers year after year," Knuth said. "We're working hard to ensure Wappapello is a great place to fish."

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