By John KIlgore
Phoenix Outdoors Columnist
I always look forward to one of my Muskogee fishing buddy’s crappie frys. He makes homemade hushpuppies “with a little bit of jalapeno” and cooks up a great mess of crappie.
The cold days of winter may lead to some hot fishing for crappie at many Oklahoma lakes this year, thanks to habitat improvement efforts by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Fisheries Division.
In a recent press release, Cliff Sager, chairman of the Department’s Fish Habitat Committee and south central region fisheries biologist, said the Department manages fish attractor sites in more than 100 lakes throughout Oklahoma.
“The goal of this program is to improve angling success by creating man-made fish shelters for anglers to use,” Sager said. ”When water temperatures drop, crappie tend to be less active and hold tight to the brush. Wintertime crappie fishing can be hot around standing timber and sunken brush piles.”
Fish are known to gather around the attractors during colder weather, and by fishing near these attractors, anglers are likely to improve their odds of success.
Sager said the Department constructs and refurbishes underwater fish attractors using various materials including trees, rocks, pallets, plastics or a combination of items.
The Eastern red cedar tree, an invasive species in Oklahoma, is generally unwanted by landowners and is readily available. It is common for Department personnel to cut down these trees and use them at fish attractor sites.
The Department also uses artificial bush-like structures called spider blocks as fish attractors. Spider blocks are concrete blocks with eight to 10 black polyethylene pipes arrayed upward from the top, which makes them resemble a spider.
“These structures hold fish, don’t break down over time, and are virtually impossible to get a lure stuck on,” Sager said. For those reasons, spider blocks generally hold favor with fishermen and biologists alike.
During 2012, personnel with the department’s Fisheries Division rebuilt or added underwater fish attractors in several state lakes.
To see a list of all state lakes where fish attractors are installed and to download GPS coordinates for those attractor sites, go online to wildlifedepartment.com/fishing/wheretofish.htm and click on”Fish Attractor Locations.”
A slab provides some of the best eating to be had and they’ve also got multiple identities. I’ve heard crappie referred to as papermouths, speed perch, calico bass or sac-a-lait (sock-a-lay). In an article by Sugar Ferris, writer for America Outdoors magazine, he shares that the crappie is a member of the sunfish family and therefore is a first cousin to the largemouth bass and bream.
In the article, he adds that two distinct species of crappie exist. And both of these — black and white — are found in most southern waters.
“Their common names indicating color are not always a good way to distinguish between the species,” he notes in the article. “For positive identification you’ll need to count the hard spines on the dorsal fin. Black crappies have seven or eight dorsal spines while white crappie have only six.”
At www.wildlifedepartment.com, you can view the latest Oklahoma state records on game fish. The largest white crappie weighed in at 4 pounds, 15 ounces and the largest black crappie on record tips the scales at 4-10. On Lake Tenkiller, Fred Rose of Welling holds the record for a 3-2 crappie caught in March 2012 out of the Caney Ridge Marina area.
In April 2010, David Stringer of Coweta is listed as having caught the Fort Gibson Lake record, 3-7 out of the north end of the lake. Lake Eufaula’s record is a 3 pounder reeled in by Ryan Beel of Dewar. It was caught in the Graves Creek area in April 2012.
When the weather outdoors in January is not fit for man nor breast, a heated indoor fishing dock is a great way to introduce a youngster to crappie fishing. This indoor/outdoor entertainment opportunity only costs a few dollars for an all-day outing. Don Parisotto, who lives south of Braggs, fishes the heated dock at Greenleaf daily and says the crappie fishing around Christmas was “phenomenal” but lately, it has been pretty tough.
Parisotto recommends getting to the dock very early and fishing up to about 10 a.m. It tends to pick back up around 3 p.m. Although the later time is not as productive as the morning bite, you can still catch a crappie then.
Information concerning specifics on local lakes that offer heated fishing docks is available from Greenleaf State Park at (918) 487-5196, Lake Eufaula Marina at (918) 689-7337, Burnt Cabin Marina Resort at (918) 457-5421, or Caney Ridge Marina at (918) 457-4417.
When cabin fever sets in this winter, heading to a heated dock may just be the cure.
John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. You may contact him with news or other information at (918) 348-9431 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.