By Keith Sutton
During 50 years of crappie fishing, I’ve seen three crappie exceeding 4 pounds.
One was a 4-pound, 2-ounce slab, a former Arkansas state record, caught in the early 1970s by a friend fishing a northeast Arkansas farm pond. Mr. Mills, who caught it, brought the fish to the pool hall for everyone to see. I remember marveling at the enormous size of this “barn door,” which was mounted and displayed in the local café. It seemed like a freak of nature.
I never dreamed I might see a bigger crappie, but I weighed two more monstrous slabs while serving as Arkansas’ state fishing records coordinator. One was 4-pound, 4-ounce white crappie caught in 1985 in northwest Arkansas’ Fayetteville Lake. The other was a 4-pound, 7-ounce white crappie—the current Arkansas record—caught by a fisherman casting into east Arkansas’ Mingo Creek in 1993. Unlike most crappie, these weren’t panfish. The fillets would have lapped over the sides of the biggest skillet.
Since I held up Mr. Mills’ 19-inch-long crappie four decades ago, I’ve hoped to catch a comparable slab. But crappie that size are as rare as 20-pound largemouths. Despite hundreds of hours trying, I haven’t hooked one that big.
My personal best was caught in April 1977 in Mellwood Old River Lake, a Mississippi River oxbow in Arkansas once well-known for producing 3-pound-plus crappie. I had fished the lake many times, and on nearly every visit, someone in my party caught one or more barn doors exceeding 3 pounds. During 20 years fishing Mellwood, I often caught slabs near the 3-pound mark.
On this particular day, a friend and I were fishing live shiners along a buckbrush thicket when my cork shot out of sight. The fish tangled me in the dense cover, and it seemed I would lose it. But somehow I pulled the slab from the gnarly bushes, near enough for my friend to net. We knew immediately this was an exceptional fish—perhaps even one of the fabled 4-pounders. So we quickly motored to a bait shop where the proprietor weighed the slab on a certified grocery scale. The 18-inch-long white crappie—a female full of eggs—weighed 3 pounds, 11 ounces. I’ve never caught one bigger and don’t imagine I ever will.
What’s the biggest crappie you ever caught? I asked that question of several pro anglers, guides and fishing companions. Here are some stories they shared.
It was spring 2013. A cold front had rolled in. It was cold, windy and raining. I went to a spot I had never fished and started there. I had caught several small fish when suddenly this giant got on my line. It was the day before a tournament, and I was prefishing. It was special to me because this was the biggest fished weighed all week by any tournament fisherman. She weighed 3.43 pounds, was 17-7/8 inches long and was caught trolling double-minnow rigs with 2-1/2-inch, blue Crappie-Zillas.
–Brandon Fulgham, Mississippi crappie guide/tournament angler
On a calm, blue-skied afternoon near Mount Ida, Arkansas, I plucked from Lake Ouachita the largest crappie I ever saw on the end of my line. My equipment: a St. Croix panfish series rod, a Humminbird fish finder and a serious combination of metal and plastic—a 1-inch, shad-colored, curly-tailed plastic with a silver head to look identically like the shiners crappie were feeding on in deep brush piles. Following the information provided by sonar, we moved into very deep water. There were fish here, but would the crappie I sought really be in these cold depths? I soon had my answer. Her strike was fierce. My rod immediately bowed. What type of beast did I have on my line? It’s couldn’t be a crappie at this depth and with that type of fight—or could it? After a tug of war, I prevailed. To my surprise, it was a beautiful 2-pound crappie! I’d like to say I was able to practice “catch, photo, release,” as was my intent. However, crappie taken from those depths often do not make it. It sacrificed itself and made a hearty meal for three.
–Dena Woerner, writer/strategist, Traditions Media
Spring 2006. Grenada Lake, Mississippi. My partner and I were prefishing for a tournament, working double-minnow rigs on creek ledges leading into spawning areas. When one rod tip bent toward the water, I set the hook and immediately could tell this was no ordinary crappie, if a crappie at all. Seconds later, I had the fish to the surface and, to our surprise, the biggest crappie we’d ever seen—a 3.67-pound slab—was in the net. While we admired this fish, another pole went down, but we didn’t see it. I turned and noticed the buried pole, figuring it was hung up. But when I grabbed the pole, line went out, and I could tell this was a giant as well. Just as I got the fish to the top of the water, the pole went slack. I had just lost my second 3-pounder, or did I? My partner, ready for action, made a scoop with the net, hollered “I got her!” and the second 3-pounder of the day came into the boat. We spent several minutes trying to continue fishing, but the urge to show these beauties off took over, and our prefishing ended. In hindsight, we should have kept looking for fish because we didn’t do well in the tournament the next day.
–Hugh Krutz, crappie tournament fisherman/guide/blogger
I never fish on Sunday, but on Easter Sunday 2009, after fishing a Crappie Masters tournament on Grenada Lake, the fish were biting real well, so I took my wife Brandi fishing. We caught 40 fish but kept the legal limit, including five crappie over 3 pounds. The biggest weighed 3.46 pounds! Any time you mix Grenada Lake with B’n’M poles, Vicious fishing line and minnows, you’re gonna have a good day!
–Whitey Outlaw, South Carolina crappie pro
It blows my mind how shallow Grenada Lake crappie are in spring. I guide on Pickwick Lake in Alabama, which led me to think I could catch these fish in water deeper than 20 feet on a visit to Grenada five years ago. Wrong! Crappie like to have their backs sticking out of the water over there. So I tried something my friend and well-known guide John Harrison said would work. I tied on a ¼-ounce hair jig, tipped it with a minnow and hit the shallows. It worked. I soon was catching fish two feet deep and shallower, including the largest crappie I have ever caught, all running between 2 1/2 and 3 pounds! It’s a day I will never forget.
–Brad Whitehead, Alabama crappie guide/tournament pro