I try to keep track of which species I've written about. Many get short posts on my blog detailing
where, when and how I first caught a species, but I often write longer columns like the one
you're reading right now.
In part, it lets me remember each species and share stories about obscure fishes most people
haven't heard of. But not every species comes with a great story, so I'm forced to be creative.
As someone who writes about fishing for (a small part of) a living, my primary business expense is
travel and the costs associated with fishing. In order to justify to the Internal Revenue Service
that I do operate CaughtOvgard as a business and claim my fishing trips as business
expenses, I eventually have to write about every species and every trip. I don't have to write
about every injury, close call or misadventure in dating; that's purely for your entertainment.
Though I've written plenty about Hawaii, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe and virtually
everything from dusky shiners to dusky sharks, in all of my writing, I've come to realize that I've
ignored one of the fish I've chased since childhood: the black crappie.
Though I've caught more bluegill (2,723) and rainbow trout (2,364), the papermouth comes in at
No. 3 on my all-time catch list with a total particularly significant this week: 1776.
It's been a minute since the United States of America first declared its independence on July 4,
1776, and in the nearly 250 years since, the black crappie hasn't changed much. Though native to
just six of the original 13 colonies, it is now found in every U.S. state except Alaska and Hawaii
and is one of the most popular targets of anglers nationwide.
Virtually every fish in American waters had value to Native Americans and colonists as food, but
today's Americans are less likely to eat what they catch than ever before. Most anglers place
crappie second only to walleye in terms of table value for freshwater fish. Personally, I don't eat
freshwater fish often because even the best pales in comparison to the most mediocre saltwater
fish, but you do you.
Independence Day is a significant measure in crappie fishing because it signals the beginning of
the end of the crappie season. You can catch crappie year-round, but to catch them in numbers,
you want to fish water temps between 65 and 80 degrees. In most of the Oregon outback, that
means mid-May through early July. A few weeks after imported fireworks, barbeques and gaudy
flag-choked outfits, the fireworks between spawning crappie are done, and the fish spread out
and move to deeper water.
Nonetheless, our independence was declared in part to pay fewer taxes, and I write these stories,
in part, to pay fewer taxes, so it's symbiotic, really.
Early in the season, fishing from mid-afternoon to dark is the way to go, but as the summer sun
slowly boils the water, your worthwhile fishing window shrinks. By the end of the season, you're
fishing the last hour before dark.
Crappie like structure, so bridges, rock piles, flooded timber, logs and other manmade structures
can all draw and hold crappie. If the water is shallow (less than 5 feet or so), crappie will be
staging and trying to prolong their genetics. Since they're a non-native species out West, feel zero
guilt chasing them on their spawning grounds or harvesting them where legal.
Small curlytail grubs are my favorite tool, but tube jigs, small streamers, nymphs and the
polarizing fly known as the "San Juan worm" are all very effective. If the water is clear, use
natural colors like white, black, brown, purple or blue to imitate small baitfish. If the water is
dirty or stained, try brighter colors like glow-in-the-dark white, chartreuse, hot pink or red.
Over the years, I've had five nights wherein I caught more than 100 crappie after work. The best
was 222 in four hours, so be ready for nonstop action if you time it properly. Crappie don't fight
as hard as other panfish, so even on an ultralight or lightweight fly rod, you're able to bring them
in quickly, one after another.
If you want to try something just for the sake of being contrary, join one of the two major
political parties. If you want to try something different while fishing, consider using small lures
for crappie or suspending a worm or minnow below a bobber. Crappie will crush these in low
light, and you tend to catch larger fish with this method.
Despite their lackluster effort once hooked, crappie will surprise you with their ferocity. I've
caught 8-inch crappie on large, jointed Rapalas, spoons, Keitech swimbaits and even large live
baits down South where that's allowed.
What I love most about crappie is the minimal level of commitment they require to pursue. You
can go out and fish for two hours after work with virtually no gear. You won't need a net,
probably won't need bait or extra lures, and you can still crush it. The casual freedom of the
crappie angler makes this fish a perfect mascot for July Fourth, so go out and celebrate.
For similar stories, read the author's book, "Fishing Across America" which is available for
preorder now at https://bit.ly/3MKucLp. Sign up for every single CaughtOvgard column at
www.patreon.com/CaughtOvgard. Read more for free at caughtovgard.com; Contact
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