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
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
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 harvest
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 time.
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 anglers.
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 lakes.
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
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.