A CRAPPIE WAY OF LIFE: On Lake Eufaula, crappie is king fish
LAKE EUFAULA — “Don't be taking our brush out of here,” a local fisherman quipped as I tugged on my fishing line to retrieve yet another crappie jig from one of the many former Christmas trees that had been immersed around the dock.
“Hey, you got that quick release down pat!” another witty crappie angler shouted as I missed a chance to land a fish.
The verbal barbs on the fishing dock Tuesday morning were as sharp as the ones on the fishing hooks.
It was all in good fun, of course, and there is nothing more fun than catching a mess of crappie in the spring when they are easy picking.
April is the time of year when the crappie move into shallow water to spawn on Oklahoma lakes and they are easier to catch, at least for those of us who are not spending most of their fishing time battling brush and retying crappie jigs.
There is no busier place in Oklahoma for crappie fishing in April than at Lake Eufaula. Even the lake nicknamed “The Gentle Giant” gets crowded when the crappie are biting.
On the south end of Lake Eufaula near Crowder, the long line of vehicles parked on the side of U.S. 69 Highway is a sure sign that the crappie bite is on.
“Right now, the crappie are really biting,” said Connie Morris, executive director of the Lake Eufaula Association. “It's been really busy for the last two or three weeks. I had somebody yesterday tell me that everybody they know is bringing in baskets of crappie.”
Lake Eufaula is on almost every outdoor magazine's and website's list of the top 10 crappie lakes in the United States. Heck, people make life decisions based on the crappie fishing at Lake Eufaula.
Take my friend, John Meyer of Midwest City, for example. John loves to fish. He owns two bass boats and can't even count the number of fishing rods in his arsenal.
When John decided he was going to buy a mobile home on a lake, he considered Grand Lake for the bass fishing and Lake Texoma for the striper fishing. But the crappie fishing helped tip the scale in favor of Lake Eufaula.
John was kind enough to invite me and his former Midwest City classmate, Gary White of Edmond, to come down and fish with him one day last week at the mobile home park's private fishing dock near Duchess Creek.
He didn't have to ask twice. Gary and I drove down Monday night so we could get up early Tuesday, as John had informed us the fish bit the best starting around 6:30 or 7 in the morning before turning off by midmorning.
Armed with a mug of coffee in one hand and a crappie pole in the other Tuesday morning, I marched across the bridge from the mobile home park down to the boat dock in hopes of catching some slabs.
Along the way, I passed a sign that read “Old Fisherman Crossing.” It seemed as if it were speaking specifically to me, although I believe I was the youngest of the crappie fishermen on the dock that morning.
After all, who can spend their Tuesday mornings crappie fishing except old geezers, the unemployed and outdoor writers?
I claim to fit only one of those criteria at present, although my children likely disagree. On Tuesday morning, retiring to the lake and becoming an old crappie fisherman was looking more and more enticing.
We had a basket-load of crappie by 9 a.m., and after the cleaning, the fish remains became bait for any catfish lurking about the dock.
I caught a couple of channel cats, but no keepers, so there would be no catfish on the supper table, only crappie, which was just fine. The rich folks can keep their caviar. Crappie is a delicacy to me.
Did I say there was nothing more fun than catching crappie? I was wrong. Eating them is even better.
That afternoon, we feasted on baked and fried crappie until all the fillets were gone, then headed back down to the dock to try and catch some more fish. The only bad part of the trip was having to come home.
Life at the lake ain't bad at all.
JULIE'S BAKED CRAPPIE
Prepare long grain and wild rice according to package directions. It takes about 45 minutes to cook, so start early.
Preheat oven to 410 degrees. Drizzle olive oil to thinly coat the bottom of a glass baking pan. A 9 x 13 pan will hold 8 to 12 crappie fillets.
Sprinkle your favorite seasoning(s) over the pan: seafood, Cajun, herb and garlic, salt and pepper. Nothing with MSG.
Arrange the fillets in the pan, then drizzle a bit more olive oil over each one. Lightly sprinkle seasoning(s) on fillets.
Bake for five minutes. While the fish is cooking, mix up at least ¼-cup white wine with ¼-cup lemon juice.
After five minutes, pour liquid over the fillets then slide pan back into oven. Cook five more minutes, then remove from heat.
Serve fish over the rice and pour pan juices over both.
Recipe courtesy of Julie Meyer