White Oak Mountain Ranger: Shellcracker

Thursday, May 13, 2021

“Most of the world is covered with water. A fisherman’s job is simple: Pick out the best parts.” Charles Waterman

 

“Scholars have long known that fishing eventually turns men into philosophers. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to buy decent tackle on a philosophers salary.” Patrick McManus

 

There is something very special about being able to stand in one spot and catch multiple dozens of fish, never moving, except to gently pull a hook out of their mouth and toss one after another into a fish basket.

 

The most you have to move is when another worm is needed on the hook for the next cast.

Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, no real physical struggle, just cast back to the same spot and repeat.

 

I like to do this in a pair of leaky waders, thigh deep and as lazy as it gets. No boat, no boat ramp chaos, no gas, no trolling motors with questionable battery life, just mud about the ankles a sturdy fish basket and a can of worms from the horse stall.

 

Being able to catch one fish after another for hours at a time on an ultra-light rod, irrespective of the quarry’s size, is some strange dollop of ego salve. Once, fishing near a headstone in Mullins Cove, I announced to my partner that this Shellcracker on the end of my line was a new state record. He immediately threw cold beer on my fantasy, stating that the state record was 3lb. 6 oz., caught in a farm pond.

 

While the trophy was a pound or so shy I dropped the biggest Shellcracker we had ever seen in the live well with as much flourish as possible stating that it beat any of his scrawny fish by a good country mile. His particular ego apparently was such that I never got another invite to fish with him in the cove after that.

 

After an early spring that could sometimes be referred to as too many fishing trips where “SKUNKED” is an operative adjective or noun, this time of year seems to renew a badly warped ego centric sense of piscatorial skill.

 

When the Shellcrackers are making their beds and eating everything I throw at them I suddenly feel like I’ve finally mastered the strange art form of actually filling the freezer through the use of simple red wigglers and the subsequent delight of the fish fry. The ole ego is indeed a strange thing.

 

Over the course of many miserable duck hunts when the lake levels are low, I’ve managed to identify and actually remember some first class panfish spawning grounds. If you look hard enough on this lake there are a few gravel beds that traditionally allow anyone to lazily wade to one spot May after May and fill baskets of these tasty little fish with a minimal amount sweat equity.

 

Lazy is good this time of year. The corn and okra is up, the beans are up with minimal bugs and rabbits feasting on them, the squash is showing signs of being in need of weed removal and the tomatoes are trying to bloom. The horse stall have been mucked of their long winter deposits. After all that hard effort, lazy fishing seems to fit my physical agenda to a T.

 

Early morning, or near the end of the sunlight, seems to fit my lazy time schedule the best. No wind to speak of, carp thrashing in the shallows, giant Gar sliding by looking like gators, ospreys overhead trying to figure out how to feed their nest of hungry offspring and goslings behind two big Canadas worried about turtles join me on these lazy trips. Every once in a while a turkey taunts me from the distant wood line.

 

The whole cycle seems to be about ready to shift into third gear around May. At times, I wish I could see under the murky water and see the life cycle of the Bluegill and Shellcrackers fanning their nests and chasing away the predators that strain to keep their brood in balance. And there are times when I struggle with my own predatory impulses aimed at taking too many females from their spawn.

 

After years of spring trips doing this sort of thing; I manage to soothe myself with the thought that what little damage I’m doing in the name of a good fish fry hasn’t seemed to diminish this little fishes ability to re-populate this particular bed of gravel year after year. And, it’s just plain OK.

 

It’s not exactly like slaughtering buffalo for hides; but at times it seems to feel a little like It’s just too damn easy. A good fish fry should be easy, and as the next big scrappy fish comes to hand, it makes me smile to deposit him in the basket. Easy is good.

 

Over the years I’ve realized how tedious it is to fillet too many of these little fish, or how too many fish in a basket breaks me into a decent sweat when I have to make the long wade back to the horse. Limits of fish seem to come to me not from some obscure TWRA regulation but more from how long I think it will take to process the fish that have been tossed in the basket. I guess you could call it the lazy limit theory of fishery preservation.

 

I often wonder how limits on pan fish are established, who actually thinks they can count them all in order to establish limits to protect their abundance and where the Shellcracker disappear to when they are not in wading distance for lazy fishing.

 

A heavy basket of fish in the spring takes me to those thoughts when I run low on worms and I’m forced to think about where the nearest cricket dealer is located.

 

The fish and the birds are busy, the garden seems busy, but May is the time to stand in one spot, mud at the ankles, worms in a can and get in some lazy fishing for some of the tastiest fish that can be pan fried.


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The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has announced the application period for the 2021 Wildlife Management Area Big Game Quota Hunts, the regular elk, youth elk and WMA youth, is now underway ... (click for more)



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