Everybody brags about catching two-pound crappie. They also talk about all the five-pound speckled trout or six-pound largemouth bass they catch. But, they don't fool me because I know for a fact that fish that large are as scarce as teeth on a turkey's beak. Take crappie, for example. I have caught thousands of them in both their black and white persuasions and may have caught a handful that beefy. However, either I did not have a scale that was accurate enough at the time of the catch, or it was part of a cooler full of fish that included crappie caught by other anglers and I could not be certain one of the honest, two-pounders may have been mine.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will issue an angler a North Carolina Angler Recognition Program (NCARP) certificate for a black or white crappie that weighs at least two pounds or measures 16 inches long. The state record black crappie weighed 4 pounds, 15 ounces and was caught by Dean Dixon at Asheboro City Lake No. 4 in 1980. With those statistics as incentive, each spring, I make crappie safaris to fabled waters around the state, hoping to catch one that I can prove weighs enough to earn a NCARP award.
I already have a NCARP Master Angler certificate for catching six noteworthy fish and those fish have included muskellunge, white perch, yellow perch and American shad. I have caught others, including blue catfish, channel catfish and largemouth bass that probably would have qualified, but for one reason or another neglected to weigh the fish or measure them. Numbers don't lie. Anglers, well let's just say they stretch the truth.
I met a longtime crappie angler, Larry Williamson, at Lake Waccamaw last week. He was coming off the water as I was launching my boat. When I asked if he had caught anything his lips curled a crafty smile. Dipping his hand into his live well, he hauled out a 2.2-pound black crappie. I know, because I weighed it. I had seen him catch larger fish in the past and weighed one that bested 3.2 pounds his brother caught last year.
On Tuesday, March 8, I cleared my calendar of deadlines, set the cell phone alarm for 4:30 a.m. and loaded the boat. The Waccamaw Speedy Mart sells minnows and opens at 5 a.m. I figured I was ready.
I was on the road between Wilmington and Lake Waccamaw when I called with the vital inquiry. However, as so often happens when a hot crappie bite collides with gorgeous spring weather, the answer was, "I'm sorry, but we ran out of minnows yesterday."
It was the same everywhere I called. Therefore, I kept driving and eventually launched the 16-foot Alumacraft johnboat into the lake. I had plenty of my favorite jigs and AWD Crappie Delight soft plastic trailers in various colors. Daybreak was barely a yawn and a stretch and I had beaten every other angler but one to the ramp.
I set two rods and began trolling, using only the electric motor on the bow. I hadn't trolled 20 feet when a big fish struck. I was so excited I hit the reel handle on the side of the boat when pulling the rod from the holder. The fish stayed on a few seconds and was so weighty I wondered if it was a bowfin. The hook fell free and I tried to convince myself that it was not a crappie, but the adrenaline shakes in my hands and shortness of breath said otherwise.
Eventually I calmed down and, shrugging off the missed goliath, I trolled on. The first fish I landed went on the digital scale. It weighed 1.5 pounds, but it sure looked bigger.
I kept trolling along the grassy edges and cypress knees, catching a fish here and there. Then, I missed another nice fish, before catching several that weighed the better part of a pound.
Other anglers kept arriving, hoping to catch a few fish and enjoy the beautiful day. I trolled past the spot where I had missed the big fish at dawn and the rod bent down again. It is not often that a crappie is large enough to put so much pressure on a rod that it is difficult to pull it from a holder. This one was.
I had the drag knob twisted out until it was just light enough to keep tension on a big fish with a paper-thin mouth without the hook flying free. The reel screeched a tiny tune as I played the fish. When I saw her, the adrenaline rush fired again.
If you think a lowly crappie won't get your blood pumping, you haven't tried to catch one that weighed an honest two pounds for decades. Before I had even untangled the landing net from around the fish, I was reaching for the digital scale.
The huge female black crappie weighed 2.4 pounds, which translates to 2 pounds, 6.4 ounces on a NCARP form. It will be nice to see another Duwane Raver painting of a fish when the certificate arrives in the mail. This time, it will be a black crappie.