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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nichole LeClair Terrill