Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Voices from the Past: Crappie Fishing (1877)

We tend to concentrate (perhaps a bit too much) on the historical writings on the more popular gamefish, such as muskellunge, salmon, trout, and bass. We often forget that there are legions of anglers dedicated to perch, crappie, sunfish, carp, etc. I was reminded of this in December when I received a copy of Crappie Angler Magazine that republished a Christmas poem I wrote. I was struck by how many dedicated crappie anglers there must be; similar to perch, carp, sunfish, and other fish.

So we're going to start a series of historical writings on various fish, including crappie. Here we have a very early writing on crappie fishing, first published in The Second Biennial Report of the State Fish Commission of Iowa (Being Reports for the Years 1875-6 and 1876-7). It shows there was a keen interest in crappie even back then.

The Crappie

Among the many names which have been applied to the crappie are: Bachelor, new light, Campbellite, sac-a-lait, bridge perch, strawberry perch, chinquapin perch, speckled perch, tin perch, goggle eye, John demon, shad, white crappie and timber crappie.

In the lower Mississippi valley the crappie is one of the commonest fishes. The Illinois, Ohio and Mississippi rivers are particularly noted for an abundance of crappies.

The crappie is a very general favorite for pond culture, can be readily transported and under favorable conditions multiplies prodigiously. Its range has been very much extended by artificial means. The best distinguishing marks between the crappie and the calico bass are the more elongated form of the crappie, the presence of six spines in the dorsal and the nearly uniform whitish color of the anal. In the crappie the greatest depth of the body is usually contained two and one-half times in the total length without the tail, while in the calico bass the depth equals one-half the length. These two species are so closely similar in size and habits that they are rarely distinguished except by ichthyologists.

The crappie grows to the length of about one foot and usually weighs one pound or less, but in a lake near St. Louis an individual weighing three pounds has been recorded.

Crappie fishing usually begins in June and lasts until the coming of cold weather.

Prof. S. A. Forbes has studied the feeding habits of the crappie and finds that the young live chiefly upon entomostraca and small insect larva. The adults subsist upon the same food when obtainable, but in times of scarcity they feed to some extent upon other fishes.

Small minnows and darters have been found in their stomachs. In the autumn Prof. Forbes has found a larger percentage of small fishes, sometimes constituting nearly two-fifths of their food. The helgramite is eaten by the crappie. In cold weather it does not consume one-fourth the amount of food which it takes in the early spring. The crappie prefers still waters, thriving even in warm and muddy water, and has been taken in large numbers in mid-summer at depths of only a few feet; in cold weather it retires to deeper water, becomes rather sluggish and takes little food. The crappie is a very free biter and can be caught readily with minnows or worms. Spoon bait has been successfully used in trolling for this species. It is recorded that two men have taken a thousand crappies in three days' fishing with hook and line. As the fish is gregarious, congregating in large schools, and fearless, it can be taken in the large numbers cited. The best bait for crappie is a small shiner. It rises well also to the artificial fly. As a food fish this is one of the best in our inland waters and its adaptability for life in artificial ponds should make it a favorite with fish culturists.

-- Dr. Todd

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