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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I've Never Eaten Crappie

Mark Twain Lake near Hannibal, MO

“You haven’t eaten crappie?”

“Nope.”

“It’s the sweetest meat you can eat,” my fishing guide, Ken Erb, couldn’t quite fathom my lack of good food knowledge.

“I didn’t even know people ate crappie,” I admitted.

At that point, I think he almost gave up on me. He shook his head. “Well, we have to educate you.”

Spence Turner, the other outdoor writer in the boat, agreed with Ken. “You have to try it. He’s right, it’s sweet meat.”

Ken’s love of Mark Twain Lake showed in his knowledge of its features, good fishing spots and consequences of floods and droughts. By the time we arrived at one of his favorite fishing spots, we’d spotted a bald eagle, an osprey and a couple of herons. Ken maneuvered the boat in close for some good photo shots.

“I take a lot of birders and sightseers out too,” he told us. “Now let’s fish.”

Spence's first crappie of the day
The crappies were biting. Spence no sooner got his hook in the water, than a hungry crappie snapped up the minnow. He caught several more before I even had a fishing pole in hand.

Ken explained that with the floods several years ago, the fish didn’t spawn. We were now catching crappie between six and eight inches long instead of bigger fish. “In a couple more years, these guys will grow to about thirteen inches,” he said. “Crappies live about seven years.”

Spence and Ken reeled in and released more fish. “I’ve got to catch at least one,” I said.

To their credit, both gave me pointers rather than pitiful looks. “Just drop the line down about fourteen inches right by those limbs,” Ken said.
Ken Erb, fishing guide

“Slowly raise and lower your pole about a foot at a time, “Spence told me. “Slow is the key.”

Then it happened. I felt the tug and wanted to reel that crappie in.

“You don’t reel in crappie. Just raise the pole and bring him in,” Ken instructed. “It’s simple.” I loved the moment when my little six-inch crappie broke the water.

“You have to have your picture with your first crappie,” Ken said. Spence grabbed his camera and did the honors. I felt good.

Rock formations
As we continued to fish, moving each time the crappie stopped biting, Ken filled us in on the history of the area, the size of the lake (18,600 acres at conservation level; 32,000 at flood level), and the rivers that feed it (mainly the Salt River and thirteen feeder creeks).

Although walleye, large-mouth bass, catfish and white fish live in its waters, it’s best suited for crappie. Since the rivers flow through rich farmland, the lake becomes muddy after rains. Crappie love mud, especially for spawning.

After we caught around twenty fish (only three for me), we headed back. On the way we got some more good shots of eagles and herons.

It was a good day. Ken is a great guide blessed with both a knowledge and love of his lake. We released the crappie to bite another day and we took loads of pictures.

Maybe my crappie was about ten inches long - or longer. At least a foot. I'm sticking with that.



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