"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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The Questions Readers Ask
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

One of the most interesting aspects of writing an outdoors column for newspapers has always been the questions that people ask after reading one's work.
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 identity features.
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 Vallonia.
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 eggs.
"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."

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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