One of the most interesting aspects of writing an outdoors column for
newspapers has always been the questions that people ask after reading
The most interesting question I have received this spring revolves
around the possibilities of differentiating between male and female black
crappies without checking body cavities for egg sacs, which are sure-fire
A Kokomo reader posed this question via e-mail, and I (being right
next idiocy in matters related to electronics--including computers) promptly
lost the communication soon after reading it. But the question was interesting
enough to whet my appetite on the subject.
Bill James, chief of the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Fisheries
Section, came to the rescue in this matter by explaining that separating
male from female black crappies is easier at this time of year (when fish
are spawning) than at other times.
Bill says male black crappies are even blacker than normal during the
spring nesting season, especially around the head and gills. An extremely
black crappie probably is a male, he says.
However, nature has a big bag of tricks and the safest way to differentiate
between male and female black crappie--or most other fish species--is noting
the presence (or lack) of egg sacs when fish are "cleaned."
In some fish species, as in animals and birds, Mother Nature paints
the sexes differently. But as James explains it, this may be dependent
upon which of the two has the greater responsibility in raising young.
Among waterfowl, males of the species--mallards and wood ducks are
prime examples-- have little to do with incubating eggs and protecting
the young. Mallard drakes, for example, telegraph the fact that their
mates are on the nest by congregating in bachelor parties.
Incidentally, if you have ever observed a female mallard or wood duck
move her young across a large expanse of deep water, you will have noted
that the adult female leads the parade, and the young swim closely (single
file) behind hers. Naturalists believe this maneuver is designed to leave
the illusion to would-be aquatic predators that this is something big,
not several bite-size morsels.
When feeding or playing close to shore ducklings may swim helter-skelter
and the female may have a tough time keeping them congregated. But when
peril looms, the old duck sends her young into hiding and lures away the
would-be enemy with a flopping, flouncing broken wing act that stops me
in my tracks every time I see it. This broken-wing maneuver also is a favorite
of killdeer and quail on land.
Interestingly enough, when you are cleaning bass, bluegills, crappies
and other members of the sunfish family, the finger-size egg sacs (they
come in pairs and I pull them apart to puncture the sacs), should be saved.
The egg sacs could explode if they trap steam.
Just rinse the egg sacs (orangish in color), in running water, and
fry or bake them (in the sacs) just as you prepare the remainder of the
fish (my procedure for frying
mushrooms and fish will be found on this website). But do not try this
with catfish eggs. They explode with fury.
I emphasize the fact--and it is factual--that catfish eggs (and probably
the eggs of some other species) should not be cooked because of an experience
many years ago when I was camped at Starve Hollow (Driftwood) Lake near
It was late afternoon and I was "cleaning" a nice catch of bluegills
and bass at the fish-cleaning station.
Some very nice Indianapolis residents (camped next to us) watched me
clean my catch and asked why I was saving the sacs of bluegill and bass
"The Russians eat fish eggs (caviar)," I said, "they're good enough
for me . . . when you see us (my family) eating dinner, come over and I
will show you how good fish eggs are."
We dined, they came, and I let them sample the egg sacs that had been
fried right along with the fish (same breading . . . same procedure). They
liked fish eggs just as much as I did.
That could have been the end of this story. But it isn't.
A few years later, when I had to be at the Indianapolis Sports Show
every night of its 10-day run, a lady stood among others who had things
to talk about with me.
"You ornery puke," she said. "Do you recognize me?
"Sure," I said, anticipating some happy talk about my expertise. "I
fried fish eggs for you several years ago at Starve Hollow Lake."
"Yes," she said in something of a huff, "You taught us to cook fish
eggs, and last summer my husband brought home some catfish and we saved
and fried the eggs . . . Our kitchen was like a battleground," she said,
recounting how the eggs started exploding in the skillet and wreaked $1,500
in damages (cleaning bills) to her kitchen.
"Well," said I, weaseling out of the predicament as best I could, "I
didn't tell you to cook catfish eggs."