By Keith Sutton
Since I was a young boy, I have loved books. It is quite natural that this is so, for my mother was a librarian. Every day she brought home a new book for me to read. This continued from the time I was six until I was well into my teens. On those rare occasions when she was unable to do this, I felt neglected until I got my next literary fix.
There are many books and magazines that contain within them great writing about crappie fishing.
I became a book junkie, prowling dusty shelves for hardback highballs and soft-cover fixes. And like most junkies, I eventually narrowed my choice of poisons to one in particular that gave me the biggest rush. I got hooked on books about fishing and hunting.
I never made an attempt to kick the habit, and to this day, I’m strung out on the words of people like Ernest Hemingway, Zane Grey, Havilah Babcock, John Madson, Charlie Salter and more.
My years as a bibliophile have led to some unusual quirks, including one in particular—bookmarking or turning down the corner of each page where I chance across some magical combination of words that says something special about the pastimes I love. Last night, for example, I was compelled to bookmark a page where President Herbert Hoover was quoted as saying: “Fishing is the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air. It brings meekness and inspiration, reduces one’s egotism, soothes over our troubles and shames our wickedness.”
My God, I thought. Those words say what I wish I could say, and they say it better than I ever could. It is a line that is magical and unforgettable and insightful all at once. When I read it, I wondered if President Hoover, an avid fisherman, had to struggle with the words as he tried to connect them in just the right way, or if he put them to paper with hardly a second thought.
For some, such things come easy, like turning on a faucet. For others, like me, the words never seem just right. We sweat blood to create sentences with far less permanence and perfection.
In this article, therefore, I have decided to give you some of my thoughts about crappie fishing, but not in my words. Following are some of the many unforgettable passages about our sport taken from the dog-eared pages of my books and magazines.
Successful crappie fishing can be compared to making love. If you go about it in the same mechanical, predictable manner every time, you’re going to miss out on a whole lot of fun. -Buck Taylor, Buck Taylor’s Practical Guide to Catching More Crappie, 1983
The annual spring crappie run is a fishing fever that collectively infects more Americans than any other outdoor event. Why is it so popular? Every crappie fisherman would probably have his own unique answer. But for most, it offers the first chance to wet a line after many months of doing nothing but watching an endless parade of football, basketball and hockey games for excitement. Now is their chance to compete in person against something, instead of battling the opponent vicariously. Now is their chance to take in the fresh spring air, to see warblers returning from winter homes and to watch migrating arrows of waterfowl pierce the springtime sky. -Dan Gapen, Crappie: A Fish for All Seasons, 1974
This may be the modern era of fishing, but our image of the crappie fisherman has changed little over the years. We still see him as a simple man sculling a johnboat with one hand, a cane pole in the other. A bucket of minnows rests at his feet. It is an image of a sport that seemingly has been bypassed by sophistication. To many, crappie fishing will always be the humble sport of the masses. -Bill Dance, Bill Dance on Crappie, 1995
… a golden brown fillet of crappie. Ooooh! It is the food of gods. -Jim Robbins, Crappie! 1991
Crappie are as erratic as a “Flapper” with three pairs of silk stockings—you never can tell what to look for next! -“El Comancho,” Pacific Motor Boat, Volume 14, 1921
Take, if you please, a beautiful bay on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, a sunny day in May, no hotels or cottages in sight, with red-winged blackbirds singing “Ok-a-lee!” in the cattails, and the Calico Bass becomes one of the prettiest fish you can pull out of the water. Each time it gives a firm and vigorous bite, and leaves the water with a swish that once heard under proper conditions lives long in the memory. -William Temple Hornaday, The American natural history, 1914
A fish does not pick up the universal moniker “papermouth” just because, every once in a while, an occasional angler loses one because his hook pulls out. That name was earned over several decades as thousands of fishermen watched millions of hooks pull out of the mouths of millions of crappie. -Cliff Hauptman
“What’s Black and White and Caught All Over?” Field & Stream, June 1986
There is one thing about a crappie—it likes company. Catch one and you will likely catch several without moving. It is similar to pickles in a jar, however. Get the first one out and the others come easy; it’s the first pickle—or crappie strike—that’s the problem. -Russell Tinsley
“Fooling Crappies,” Field & Stream, May 1983
One morning in Everett Beal’s drug store … several fishermen were comparing their scores on nearby Lake Sidney Lanier. One of them shook his head and confessed he barely caught enough crappie to grease his skillet.
Bill Nichols, a truck driver, chuckled and said, “You must have been using ugly minnows. That’s what was wrong. When I got to the bait shop, I push the ugly minnows aside. I want the pretty ones.
“I look for pretty minnows with smiles on their faces. They know I’m gonna use them, and I know they’ll smile when I get back to the lake and put them on my hooks.” -Charles E. Salter, Bent Poles & Tight Lines, 1982