With the water temperatures rising, we decided to try catching black crappie. While white crappie are introduced fish, black crappie are indigenous to North Carolina’s coastal rivers.
My son, Justin, wanted to head to a lake so we picked Columbus County’s Lake Waccamaw. To hedge our bets, we arrived loaded for white perch, with several trolling rods rigged with Rat-L-Traps and Shad-Raps.
The day started with a fresh, easterly wind. So we first headed for the lake’s dam at the southwest corner. The Waccamaw River was nearly flooding over the top of the spillway and the fishing was tough, according to an old-timer who told us only a few yellow perch had been caught.
So, instead of beating the bank, we launched the 16-foot johnboat at the NCWRC ramp after the wind died. We trolled the sloping areas and beside no-wake pilings. We cast twisty-tailed grubs beneath boat docks. We searched for any type of structure that might hold fish using a side-scan sonar feature on a Fishing Buddy depthfinder. But it was all to no avail.
The wind started blowing again, so we headed for sheltered waters in Big Creek. The creek is essentially a dugout channel with steep sides covered by overhanging trees, making it perfect crappie cover.
Nevertheless, we still cast fruitlessly, snagging overhanging limbs with our lines. Eventually we found ourselves blocked from further access to upstream waters by a new bridge. It appeared the new highway bridge was lower than the former bridge. However, upon closer inspection we found we could just clear it by lying in the bottom of the boat and sitting far enough forward for the outboard motor’s cowl to clear concrete. Turned out, the problem was not the bridge’s height, but the height of water rushing beneath it from recent rain.
“Don’t crappie like bridges?” Justin asked. “Do you think we should try our luck here?”
Proving he was a chip off the old block by asking that particular question, he dropped the trolling motor and we began casting around the pilings. He used a Beetlespin, while I cast a small jig with a blue grub tail.
“There’s a fish,” he said. “It felt like a crappie flicking it.”
A couple of casts later and we still had only a “skunk” in our ice chest, rather than a crappie. We could see fish swirling the surface in the shadow of the bridge, but couldn’t seem to get a hook into one of them.
I began using the “secret” retrieve, typically reserved for short-striking crappie, giving a tiny twitch of the rod during every turn of the reel handle. I also snipped off the nose of a grub so it would slide it forward on the jig, making the hook point protrude closer to the tail.
On the second cast using this refined retrieve, a fish bit the lure and I set the hook. Reeling the fish to the boat, I expected to see a black crappie. It took a few seconds to decide it was not a crappie at all, but a flier.
Many novice anglers mistake a flier for a crappie. However, the darker sides and the asymmetrical eye pupil are dead giveaways the fish is a flier. No one knows why the flier is called that particular name. It could be because the fish has a generous supply of fins around its perimeter so appears to be able to fly through the water. The fish doesn’t jump, so it’s aerial abilities do not account for the moniker. Some fishermen compare the fight of a flier to the sensation of reeling in a sopping wet leaf. The flier turns onto its side and is easy to skip along the surface all the way to the boat. Perhaps an angler making the fish “fly” across the top gave the its name.
But a flier by any other name would still taste as sweet. We caught some fliers and while they weren’t the crappie or white perch we came after, no one can tell the difference when they are headed and scaled and set on a plate, hot from a frying pan.