July 7, 2011

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

When the giddy giggling subsided, I had one of those moments of reflection, pausing to ponder at what point in our lives do we allow ourselves to become busy enough that we forget how much fun fishing really is?

I had lapsed into the child-like utopia similar to a kid in a candy factory after releasing the latest of what had to have been a dozen or so largemouth bass that easily would have tipped the scales at three pounds and up. If I'd been a cat I would have been purring.

The one hairball in the whole scenario was the fact I was trying to land some smaller fish to keep for a family cookout.

I'm pretty particular when it comes to fish cuisine. First off, I don't think big fish taste as good. Secondly, I know that taking too many of those big ones out is one of the quickest ways to ruin a good fishing hole. So while, it would have only taken one fifth of those lunkers to fill the live well, I was perfectly content to leave the storage tank empty and press on for the next hook up. Granted, I knew I still had tomorrow to fill my quota (and was armed with the knowledge I'd have to take off work to do it - which was a bonus). Still, it wouldn't have mattered, as there was no way I was going to pass on so much fun, even if it meant I had to fry up some shoe leather for the in-laws in lieu of fillets.

Fortunately for all of us, I didn't have to stoop to such lows. I didn't have to stop catching big fish, I just switched species.

After the strike, I felt like there was a difference in the fight in the fish, despite the feel of a fair amount of muscle on the other end of the line. I was shocked to lip a substantial crappie.

I was even more surprised when the next two casts netted identical triplets. I might have felt a bit guilty, but over the next 15 minutes or so, I had one break my line and four or five others slip the hook or administer some other last ditch escape routine.

Now, I'm no crappie fisherman (I know there's a joke there somewhere, or at least a few poor spellers arguing the contrary) so idle talk of fish of x-number of inches means little to me. I did a little research, and according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the average size of "keeper" crappie is 10-12 inches.

I knew the 10 crappie I kept on Wednesday evening were quite a bit bigger than that. I have to admit I was shocked when the first one measured 16 1/4 inches from tip of the nose to tail. All but one of my keepers easily exceeded 15 inches.

When I looked it up on the Internet this morning, I was surprised to learn that such a fish, a white or black crappie exceeding either 15 inches in length or two pounds in weight, qualifies its catcher as a Missouri Master Angler, an award offered by the MDC.

Once I get the paperwork filled out, I think I'll mount that certificate on the wall next to my Master Chef prize. Not only were those giant papermouths a bundle of joy to harvest, they were a hit at the dinner table as well.

Armed with intentionally artificially high estimates for the number of mouths we were going to have to feed at the fish fry, I was blessed to return to the scene of the crime with a family friend the following morning. (He's been sworn to secrecy on the pond's location and won't be returning from the witness protection program for at least a month just in case).

Unfortunately we didn't locate the king crappie, but the big bass were more than happy to oblige us with plenty of aerial acrobatic displays before being caught and released. Fortunately we caught just enough bluegill in between the battles with the bass to fill another container of fillets that were just enough to tide over the cookout crowd for another year.

Now I just hope I can remember not to be too busy fishing to finally go back to work.

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