Crappie are king on Mississippi's northern flood control
reservoirs: Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid, and Grenada Lakes. Enid
produced the state and world record white crappie (5 lb 3 oz) in
1957, while Arkabutla's headwaters gave up the state record black
crappie (4 lbs 4 oz) in 1991. MDWFP creel surveys show
crappie make up 80% or more of these four lakes' harvests, and
anglers take home about a million crappie from them yearly.
These people are serious about their crappie fishing.
Crappie anglers on these lakes usually fish one of two
ways. Some use a single pole to dunk a jig and/or minnow
around standing timber, brush tops, or other cover. Others
use multiple poles to drift baits with the wind or to troll them
under power. These "spider rigs" (so called because of the
appearance of several poles sticking out of the boat) have been
around for many years. Historically, pole anglers fished in
spring and fall. A few die-hard anglers trolled for schools
of crappie suspended in deeper water in the heat of summer.
Neither angler had any problems with the other.
In recent years, competitive crappie fishing has grown like
tournament bass fishing did 20 or 30 years ago. Crappie pros
have found that the best way to bring fish to the scales is to
troll baits with several poles through productive spots. Just
as professional angling profoundly influenced bass fishing, crappie
anglers have taken notice of the pros' tactics, resulting in a
proliferation of trolling rigs on these lakes. They aren't
just trolling in summer anymore; you can find someone trolling for
crappie about any day of the year.
With tournament results posted on internet sites within hours of
the weigh-in and feature articles in numerous outdoor magazines,
these lakes have gained national attention. And for good
reason; they have some of the best crappie fishing in the
country. Grenada produced a 7 crappie limit weighing an
astounding 20.46 lbs in March, 2005; nearly a 3 pound per fish
average. This would be like a bass tournament won with the
average fish over 12.5 pounds! Tournament catches on Grenada
have declined since.
At the same time more folks were trolling, more folks were
fishing. Media exposure resulted in fishing pressure on some
lakes more than doubling in a few years, disgruntling local
anglers. To the single pole angler fishing alone or with a
buddy in a john boat, a fleet of boats with several poles each may
raise his ire. Phone calls are made, letters are written, and
MDWFP is urged to do something.
MDWFP Northwest Regions fisheries biologists Keith Meals and
Arthur Dunn have been monitoring the fisheries on these lakes for
many years. When complaints started coming in, Meals and Dunn
realized they could answer their own questions about the two
fishing methods and tell both anglers and other fisheries managers
what they found.
While performing creel surveys in 2004, 2005, and 2006 on Enid,
Grenada, and Sardis Lakes, respectively, they recorded whether each
crappie fishing party was pole fishing or trolling. On
Sardis, the number of poles fished per boat was counted.
Interviews determined anglers per fishing party, number of crappie
caught and kept per hour of fishing, etc. During these years,
regulations on the lakes were the same: a 10 inch minimum size, 30
fish daily limit, and no pole limit. Patterns emerged that
weren't restricted to just one lake. In 2007, Dr. Steve
Miranda at Mississippi State University's Department of Wildlife
and Fisheries helped analyze a small mountain of fishing data.
Crappie populations and the number of "short fish" that had to
be returned varied from lake to lake and year to year. For
this reason, all fish caught, whether released or not, went into
the analysis. Results were similar but more variable just
looking at "keepers". Because trolling is increasing on
crappie lakes around the country, comparing all crappie caught
would better benefit fisheries managers on waters with different
Despite complaints of trollers with boatloads of people, we
found no difference in fishing party size among methods, lakes, or
years. There were always about 2 people per party.
Again, contrary to many complaints, over 80% of trollers were
Mississippi residents. Pole anglers predominated in spring,
but trollers outnumbered them the rest of the year. Because
there are more crappie anglers in spring, the proportions for the
year were about 50:50 on Sardis in 2006.
Crappie catch per fishing hour differed by lake, fishing method,
month, and party size. During the survey years, catch rates
were higher on Sardis and Enid than Grenada, but those trends can
change over time. Over the 3 lakes, trollers averaged
catching 2.2 times as many crappie per hour as single pole anglers.
MDWFP biologists rate crappie fishing from poor to excellent
based on angler catch rate and average size. Trollers'
crappie fishing rated 1 to 2 levels higher than pole anglers'
fishing because of greater catch rates. Even though catch
rates for both fishing methods varied month to month, the
difference in catch rate between the two methods stayed about the
same. It wasn't that one method worked better during a
certain time of year, but that trolling worked better all the
Lone anglers caught more crappie per hour with either
method. A single angler just concentrates on fishing.
With a buddy along, they compete with each other for fish and
distract each other with conversation, etc. Parties of 3 or
more often included inexperienced anglers and fared even more
poorly. However, fishing "efficiency", or crappie catch rate
times number in the party (which equals fish in the boat), rose
with party size for trollers, but remained stable for pole
Dividing poles by number of anglers, trollers fished 1.3 to 12.0
poles per person, with an average of 4.5 poles per angler.
Few anglers fished more than 6 poles. There was a predictable
increase in catch rate with the number of poles fished; more poles
meant more fish. On Sardis, trollers kept smaller crappie
than pole anglers, but there was no size difference on the other
So, what does all this mean? Unlike some anglers'
preconceptions, trolling isn't confined to big fishing parties or
nonresidents. Trolling is a better way to catch crappie
throughout the year, and more poles mean more fish. That idea
has spread to non-tournament crappie anglers. With better
ways to catch bass, bass fishing became more about catch than
harvest, until most bass fishing today is catch-and-release.
That's not likely to happen with crappie fishing.
Even if the number of crappie anglers stayed the same, as more
of them switch to trolling, more crappie will be harvested.
Crappie size gets smaller as more efficient anglers keep more fish
at younger ages. In 11 years, a 30 fish limit shrank 5 pounds
on Sardis. Anglers had to keep more fish to fill their
freezers: a vicious circle.
Normally, as fishing effort goes up, catch rate goes down as
more anglers compete for a finite number of fish. Fisheries
managers adjust regulations, like size or creel limits, to spread
out the catch among more anglers and try to maintain catch
rates. However, changing fishing tactics throws a monkey
wrench into this relationship. If anglers find a better way
to catch fish, catch rates can remain the same, or even rise, while
the population is being depleted. Managers have to be aware
of this possibility.
Because more poles catch more fish, harvest can be regulated
with pole limits. Although some anglers may argue that it
doesn't matter how or how fast a daily limit is caught, creel
limits are not set so that every angler can catch a limit every
day. If a better method of fishing lets anglers catch fish
faster, more fish will be harvested and more pressure put on
limited resources. Also, if it takes only short a time to
catch a daily limit, some anglers may be tempted to catch another
one. MDWFP officers get numerous complaints of "double
dipping" on these lakes every year, violations that are hard to
catch or prove.
In recent years, lower water levels, higher fishing pressure,
and a more efficient way to catch fish have put a triple whammy on
flood control reservoir crappie. Fisheries managers have had
to respond with larger size limits, lower creel limits, and pole
limits to try to maintain the quality of crappie fishing in these
lakes that both local and visiting anglers have come to expect.