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Larry Woody: Over-fishing raises crappie concerns

Larry Woody • Updated Jun 29, 2017 at 9:30 AM

A recent suggestion that the limit on crappie should be cut from 30 to 20 a day on Percy Priest and Old Hickory lakes admit concerns about over-fishing touched some nerves.

It reminded me of the response of many fishermen who were peeved over the imposition of a 10-inch size limit on crappie decades ago. They didn’t think they should have to throw back a crappie just because it was under 10 inches long.

Today, however, most crappie fishermen support the 10-inch rule.

Releasing small crappie has resulted in more big crappie. The only reason to keep a little crappie was to eat it, and there’s more meat on one thick slab crappie than on a half-dozen skinny little nine-inchers. Putting little crappie back puts more meat in the skillet.

Cutting the creel limit is more ticklish. One reader said he gets to fish only a few times a year and wants to be able to fill his freezer when he goes.

A couple of points:

First of all, even with the 30-fish limit he can’t “fill his freezer” without breaking the law. The possession limit is 60.

Secondly, as I pointed out, nobody enjoys dining on fresh crappie more than I, but the days of freezer-stuffing subsistence fishing are over.

There’s no question that urban lakes like Priest and Old Hickory are being over-fished. It happened to Kentucky Lake, according to guide Steve McCadams who has fished the lake for 50 years.

McCadams says Kentucky Lake’s crappie have declined drastically in both number and size in recent years, which is why he supported this year’s reduction in the lake’s creel limit from 30 to 20.

If it can happen at Kentucky Lake it can happen – and is happening -- on Priest and Old Hickory. Veteran crappie fishermen on Priest reported fewer fish caught last year, and this spring catches were down even more.

You don’t have to be a professional fisheries biologist to grasp the problem: during an average spring week thousands of crappie fishermen are on the water. And not just crappie fishermen, but GOOD crappie fishermen, equipped with the latest electronics, depth finders and other fish-finding gadgets.

It’s a miracle that a crappie can survive the two or three years necessary to grow to keeping size.

And when a keeper-size crappie is caught, it’s usually kept. Crappie are such prized eating fish that, unlike some other species, few keepers are released.

Also, as McCadams points out, nowadays crappie are fished for year-round. Used to be most crappie fishing was done during the spring. Now high-tech fishermen catch them 12 months a year, regardless of how deep and secluded they are.

Would cutting the limit from 30 to 20, or even 15, solve the problem? Not entirely, because few crappie fishermen bring in a 30-fish limit every trip. But cutting the limit might encourage more fishermen to keep fewer fish and better distribute the resource.

Crappie once were as plentiful as the thundering herds of buffalo that stretched for miles across the plains. The supply of crappie – like the supply of buffalo – was thought to be inexhaustible.

We know how that turned out.

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