Crappie Men (and Women)


I have enjoyed the good fortune of having known and shared a boat with some good crappie fishermen—Billy, Scott, Dean, Elizabeth, William, Capt. Dan … it’s a treasured list. But two of the best crappie anglers I’ve known—L.D. Davis and Mike Morris—lived in Missouri but did the bulk of their crappie fishing in Kentucky, on Kentucky Lake. So impressed were they with the fishing that both men secured property near the state’s namesake impoundment, the primary requirement of which was to provide a secure and close-to-the-water place to house their boats and fishing gear—and quick access to the fish.

Neither man cared much for bass or catfish or any other finned critters that prowl the watershed’s sometimes murky waters. They were crappie purists.

Crappie (pronounced “crap-ie” in a few outlying regions of the country but “crop-ie” in and around Kentucky and across the Southeast) are members of the sunfish family. There are two versions: whites and blacks. Whites are silvery and generally slightly thinner than their black cousins.

Black crappie are relative newcomers to Kentucky Lake but currently make up the majority (or a large minority, fisheries being an inexact science) of the lake’s crappie population. Blacks sometimes favor more rocky shore cover and clearer water than their white relatives, but, particularly in the early springtime, both are easily found and sometimes easily caught. Bag limits are generous.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources identify the two fish this way:

White crappie—“A silvery sunfish with a deep body that is very thin from side to side.” The dorsal fin also has six spines.

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Black crappie—“Silvery olive in color with numerous black spots irregularly spaced over its body.” The dorsal fin has seven or eight spines.

Crappie do not grow to eye-popping size. A 3-pounder is a trophy by any measure. The Kentucky state record crappie (the state wildlife agency does not recognize individual records for white and black crappie), set in 2005, is 4 pounds, 14 ounces. That’s an impressive panfish. Most anglers fish a lifetime and never land a 4-pound crappie. Few see a 3-pounder.

The International Game Fish Association does keep separate records for white and black crappie. The current world record black crappie is a 5-pound, 7-ounce fish taken from a Loudon County, Tennessee, pond in 2018. The world record white (5 pounds, 3 ounces from Mississippi’s Lake Enid), while slightly smaller than its black record-holding cousin, is something of a legendary fish. The record has stood since 1957.

In the current sportfishing world dominated by the sometimes overly employed catch-and-release mantra, crappie are outliers. They’re a meat fish. Crappie fishermen fish for food.

Officially considered a sportfish, when it comes to fighting ability, crappie are lightweights. Super lightweights. If you want a fish that will put a bend in the rod, cast for bass, trout or catfish. However, crappie are one the best of the best-tasting fresh-water fish.

Crappie can be caught year-round, but April is prime crappie time in Kentucky and especially on Kentucky Lake. That’s not because the fishing weather is often ideal (crappie don’t particularly care if the day is 72 degrees and sunny with a light south breeze). It’s because in early to mid-April, water temperatures usually are in the high 50s to mid-60s, which is just the right temperature to trigger crappie spawning activity. Fish move into shallow water—typically 2 to 6 feet deep—to spawn. They are easy to find and sometimes easy to catch.

See also  Nuisance Wildlife

Spawning crappie are generally a shallow-water pursuit. A bass boat, jon boat, canoe, kayak, float tube … anything seaworthy will generally handle crappie water conditions. Pick spots that can be reached from the bank or by wading.

Crappie can be caught just about any way you like to fish: tightlining live bait (or a jig) or casting a small jig under a bobber. A fly rod can be an effective tool for spawning crappie. A cane pole works just fine, too.

Mike and L.D. were dual-hook live-bait men, favoring a tightline bottom bouncing rig with minnows hooked through the lip for bait. Before the days of eyes-in-the-water quality fishing electronics, Mike’s wife, Liz—a superb angler in her own right—would, working from the bow, sound the bottom with an anchor so the boat could easily follow the edge of the creek channel into prime crappie cover. It was surprisingly effective.

• • •

Kentucky’s 2022-23 sporting license year began March 1. Licenses are available at the office of most county clerks, sporting goods retailers and online at

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>