Another Crappie Day by James L. Bruner
It all started more than 30 years ago when my dad packed up the old rusty Chevrolet pickup truck with an assortment of sticks and buckets. My brother and I looked at each other like dad had finally fallen off the deep end on this early spring day. We hesitated when he summoned us to jump into the truck for we ourselves had no plans of being dragged down into the abyss that had taken over dear old dad’s mind. With nary a word he fired up the vehicle and we puttered down the alley towards the shoreline of Little Bay De Noc with our load of sticks and buckets. We braced ourselves against the large dashboard noting markers along the way in the event we had to make a quick escape from the stick-bucket demon behind the steering wheel. Without warning, the truck lurched to the right sliding to a stop in the loose gravel at the local bait shop. It seemed as though dad’s truck door had barely closed when he returned with a bucket of minnows and we barreled down the road again. Minnows. Sticks. Buckets. It doesn’t add up in my mind and my poor brother, barely able to see over the dashboard of the truck, looks in danger of losing a tooth or two as we grab a lower gear and recklessly parallel park in the ditch along the road just a half mile from the bait shop. Grab a pole and a bucket, dad says. We’ll fish here for now.
I guess my brother and I looked a bit puzzled because dad’s next orders were to follow him. Although I doubt we needed the instructions I was mildly curious how we were going to catch fish in this ditch with this hollow stick that was about 3 times longer than I was. Little did I know that just off the road was a small shallow-water inlet, later known as Holmberg’s Pond. It was hardly a dozen steps and we were literally on the bank sitting on a bucket with the sticks as dad fixed some fishing line to them as well as a small bobber, and a minnow. Cane poles. Had never fished with them before and had to admit that I felt like I’d fallen back into the stone age and was secretly hoping nobody I knew would suddenly pop through the bushes and see me partaking in this ancient ritual. How the hell do I cast this thing?
My brother and I were no strangers to fishing but this was a bit off the charts as far as we were concerned. I mean we hooked these minnows hardly more than a foot below the bobber when any other time we had a minimum of four feet of line dangling below the surface. Of course we also had a fishing reel in those days! I could see that my brother’s eyes, saw that my eyes, realized that the fish’s eyes, were likely to see the bobber. I think I was about ready to break out in laughter when dad’s voice thundered to attention proclaiming the spoken rule to watch him and learn. He more or less just stretched the cane pole out to arm’s length and dropped the bait gently in-between the limbs of the sunken shrubs that littered the shoreline. I swear, on my bucket and cane pole, that the minnow had barely dipped below the surface when dad lifted the pole and attached to the end of the line was a slab of a crappie that made any bass I had ever caught pale in size. Holy crap! Where do I fish?
Dad gave us two more lessons on how to place the bait using the cane pole. With each lesson he hauled yet another lunker crappie to his waiting hands in one fluid motion. Practically salivating by this point he finally gave us the go ahead and pointed in the direction where we should drop our bait. Dad sat back at this point more or less watching as we teetered on the edge of the pond trying to keep our feet steady while working the long cane pole through the limbs to get our bait to the waiting fish. This certainly was much harder than it looked. I realize now that dad probably took the back seat to let us fish but also figured it might be somewhat amusing. I’m sure it was.
It didn’t take long before our lines were tangled around the branches and my brother and I became impatient. With no feasible way to retrieve the tangled lines dad had his hands full retying and baiting hooks. Then it happened. My brother pulled up this really big crappie and as I recall, or as I recall now, everything began to move in slow motion for a moment. That huge crappie flipping around on the end of the line with droplets of water flinging in every direction highlighted by the dappled sunlight. Dad’s big weathered hand swooped in and grab the fish while patting brother on the shoulder. Brother looks up to dad briefly to soak in the accolades before turning in my direction and then, that’s when the scene comes back to regular speed. As we make eye contact he simply laughs. As anyone with a sibling knows there’s no need to announce a competition. A simple gesture is all that’s needed to kick the rivalry into high gear. It’s on now brother!
Apparently competition and desperation breed perfection because the two of us were soon hauling up enough fish to keep dad on his feet running from hook to hook. Losing interest in the current rivalry we began to concentrate on fishing and actually enjoy the simplicity of this relatively primitive method. Secretly we both knew that we would be counting to see who had the most fish in their bucket at the end of the day and that’s likely why dad chose to keep our fish in separate buckets. At the end of the evening we were seeing who could get a fish the closest to the surface of the pond and these big crappies didn’t hesitate to come right to the top and grab that minnow. I don’t remember who caught the most fish or what the grand total was. I just know for sure we had a lot of big crappies stacked up in our buckets and, unlike my brother, I was just as anxious to eat some of these tasty fillets.
I’ve fished crappies many times since those days but never remember any the size of those big slabs. In later years I would come to understand the nature of crappie fishing and how they suspend in schools and need a certain water temperature in the spring to kick-in the instinct to re-produce the cycle of life. The spawning season of these fish eager to attack any bait small enough for them to swallow is something to look forward to every spring. Besides. That’s the kind of crappie day of fishing we, as fishermen, really do enjoy.