As days grow shorter and water temperatures drop
a whole new ballgame starts for anglers with a great feature of hot skillets
and lip-lickiní chow. Itís crappie time as autumn nears--not quite as good
as the spring run, but still plenty exciting.
Crappies havenít been completely dormant even
through the hot months--they still feed a little--enough to get skinny.
Some say they get thin enough to read through them. But cooling water puts
them on the feed again and causes Ol' Papermouth to maraud for food. And
though small, live minnows are the most accepted fare for both species,
I have always pinned my bait hopes on live grasshopper--or crickets. Of
course live minnows are good--even small panfish or game fish are legal,
if taken legally.
Incidentally, if you hear someone talking about
fishing for calico bass or specks, he is referring to the black crappie,
and if he throws out the word papermouth he is referring to whites. There
are several differences in the crappie tandem, but the surest method of
separating them is counting the number of spines in the dorsal fin. (on
the back). The black will have 7 or
8 spines, the white 6. A lot of anglers rest their identification on
the color of the sides, but all crappies tend to be lighter in muddy or
murky water. That is largely the reason blacks are more at home in the
northern part of the state and whites in the south.
There is one undisputed theory on the two; in
the spring, and again in the fall, they offer wonderfully thick filets
that smell up the old iron skillet real good. They are just as tasty as
they smell. Looking back on my associations with crappies, I donít know
how we fried them whole as compared to those thick, boneless, beautifully
white filets. I can recall (with ecstasy) bringing in strings of crappies
that for frying would only fit two to the iron skillet so each would have
the benefit of the hot hog lard.
I learned about grasshoppers (the big yellow
hoppers), and those black crickets that live under dried-up cow pies as
a boy at Alfís Bayou on the Scott County side of the Muscatatuck River
east of Crothersville. I would load up my bicycle with my rifle, fishing
pole, some bacon, a can of pork Ďn beans, a couple spuds, and head for
the Bayou now and then for two or three days of solo camping and outdoorsing
while living on young rabbits, squirrels, and fish as staples. Thatís how
I came by my pen name, by the way.
Be that as it was (awfully good sleeping beneath
the stars), late one afternoon I caught some big, yellow hoppers for bait
and was tossiní them, and night crawler pieces, with fly rod to a bed of
lily pads near the far bank. I had one of those skinny bobber set two feet
above the hook, thinking I might connect with bullhead catfish for supper.
But on the first cast my bobber came off the line and was floating close
to the lily pads.
I wanted to retrieve the bobber. So I was casting
my baits over the bobber and trying to bring it in. I was making progress
when everything stopped and I thought I had hooked a limb. But it fought
back and I soon realized I was hooked for sure . . . to a fish. It turned
out to be an 8 or 9-inch crappie so I did a couple of instant replays,
maybe the original dittos. It was a good supper.
I use a long shank sunfish hook for hoppers,
starting the point of the hook in the bottom of the insect and bring the
point out at the rear end of the abdomen. I use only a very light split
shot or lead wrap-on sinker or no sinker at all. The big yellow hopper
casts well, especially on flyrod. The line is weight forward or a taper.
A two-pound coffee can makes a good storage place
for bait--better than a mayonnaise jar--because it wonít break if dropped
on a rock (and that happens)óa smorgasbord for fish. A strong cord can
be tied to the container to suspend it from the shoulder to always be there
when you want it. I punch air holes in the plastic lid and fill the can
halfway with dry, green weeds to keep the hoppers happy. They should, of
course, be kept cool, but not frozen--like in the frig (but I will vehemently
deny, if necessary, that I wrote that).
Hooked, as I hook them, hopper or crickets can
be fished like wet or dry flies, or deeper as live bait with, or without,
a bobber. It depends on many conditions, but mostly where the fish are
and Canada goose hunters must remember that early seasons end, respectively,
on Sept. 16 and 15. First segment of the dove season continues to Oct.