White Oak Mountain Ranger: Old School Crappie
Thursday, March 25, 2021
A few days back I was graciously invited to fish with a couple of friends that were survivors of our years spent incarcerated in a school in Hixson. These guys are dedicated crappie fishermen who often tell me tales of freezers full of slab filets.
I jumped at the chance to fish with these guys for a couple of reasons. It’s always a good thing for a small reunion, a chance to catch up on who’s doing what and how many grand babies are running around, or how many big bucks were put on so-in-so’s wall.
But there were more devious motives for my acceptance of their most generous offer to accompany this dedicated duo.
In the back of my mind there was a nagging doubt about the reports of “some of the biggest crappie we’ve ever seen,” and all dubious credibility aside, I felt that I needed to see this rare phenomenon for myself.
My buddy, who hosted us on his boat, has a long and colorful history of stretching the truth and I highly suspected the “biggest slabs in recorded history!” part of the invitation. More importantly, I wanted to see how they were accomplishing such a feat on our local waters. My recent attempts at filling the freezer, as usual, seemed to be coming up a little short.
We launched at daylight, and for once, I felt like we had all of Chickamauga to ourselves. This good feeling that there were no crowds, no skiers or frantic Sea-Do traffic, and the fish-for-money boys weren’t ripping by in their muscle boats at 60 plus MPH made the early morning start an immediate and rare success in my mind.
My friends are the kind of fishermen that get up early to bake good home made biscuits filled with deer sausage, still warm in a foil wrapper. A fishing partner that will get up early to furnish some home crafted biscuits is another thing that’s getting harder to find these days.
I know a lot of folks that now no longer visit the lake in our backyard on weekends due to the intensity of traffic and high waves. We had it to ourselves.
As the cool morning unfolded, I witnessed a lesson in “Old School” Crappie fishing like most of us were taught some 60 years ago. Slip bobbers, split shot, #6 gold hooks (custom bent to the proper angle) and a lively minnow.
“Old School”; no need for a $2,000.00 fish finder, no trolling motor with computer/GPS assist directional devices, no need to calculate trolling speeds to the micro MPH, no racks full of long trolling rods; just cast and watch a bobber.
“Old School” like we practiced with Zebco 303s, way back when we could walk to a downed tree in the lake and string up a mess of fish for the proud stroll back to the house like trophy hunters of old.
A time when neighbors, sitting on the afternoon front porch, would jump out of their chairs and stare longingly at big stringers with envy, and say things like, “Now son, the next time you catch a mess like that, I sure would appreciate it if you’d drop off a few here. I’ve been craving a good mess of fish all winter.” We shared our bounty when possible with good neighbors.
Those were the days when we predicted Crappie slaughter by the specie of trees that were in early bloom. My particular “optimal-time to-Crappie-fish” tree bloomed yellow and my mother called it a Forsythia. My budding expert fishing buddies swore by the willow and some predicted the flowers of the Dogwood were the peak times for Crappie spawn.
Today it appears that Bradford Pears are pretty decent indicators of pre-spawn Crappie action.
Somehow I don’t seem to be able to remember Bradford Pears some 60 years back.
As we pitched an occasional Crappie in the live well, we relived last fall’s deer hunts, misses and hits. We showed each other pictures and talked about when it was best to quit hunting and start chasing Crappie. December was declared to be the best month for starting early morning Crappie fishing. Duck hunting was declared no longer necessary in December around this lake and any decent shooter should have three or four deer in the freezer by late November,
As the morning unfolded we discussed how May was the time to rotate to wading for bass and locations where that particular pursuit had turned up some large bass in the seven plus pound class.
Once again this effort at snagging big bass started in the pre-daylight weeds before the crowds got out of bed. I noted a comment made that people from all over the country had targeted Chickamauga as a premier fishing hole, making for more competition than any of us have ever witnessed, or for that matter, need. I guess being marketed as a “world class” fishing hole is just another one of those negative sort of things that comes with fame.
It appears to me that going back to what worked years ago is not necessarily a bad thing. High-Tech is ok if you can manage to justify it; but maybe we really don’t need all of this technology as much as we think do when trying tp fill a freezer with filets.
But; one cool, recent morning, “Old School” and good home made biscuits revisited were just about what the good doctor ordered.
Thanks to good friends and revisiting a lesson in “Old School,” the crappie fried up about as good as a slab Crappie filets can be fried.