Our Man In Canada
April 19th, 2004

The Fraser Valley's Lonesome Crappie
By George Will

It has always seemed strange to me that black crappie, a game fish held in high esteem throughout most of North America, is looked upon with such disfavor by British Columbian anglers. If it isn't a trout or salmon, it's obviously a trash fish. Oh well.

Crappies are aliens. After their introduction into Washington state waters back in the 1930s, they swam north and discovered the lower Fraser River's shallow backwaters and tributaries were much to their liking. They have since found their way into virtually every shallow lake in the region.

My first encounter occurred when I started fishing Whonnock Lake. I was casting a Mickey Finn into small holes in the shoreline vegetation, hoping to entice one of the hog cutthroat I'd been told inhabited the lake. At one point my fly was suddenly engulfed, but by a very untroutlike fish. At first I thought it was a decent-sized smallmouth bass (of which there aren't any in Whonnock), but quickly realized it was a huge crappie. I measured it at 15" (38 cm) against my net. To hell with the cutts! Before that day ended my arms were like wet dishrags from catching similar-sized fish, but rest assured that enough were retained to provide a meal. They are delicious eating, and most eastern anglers rank them over walleye for flavor and texture.

I kept returning to Whonnock and started fishing seriously for crappies. Yellow was the main color that attracted them, and I eventually developed a killer bucktail pattern I called the Crappie Basher. On the shank of a No. 10, 3x long hook, wrap medium silver Mylar. For the wing, tie on a small clump of yellow hair, a small clump of white, then another of yellow. I prefer polar bear but anything seems to work. Build up a fairly large head of red thread.

Crappie are schooling fish, so if you find one you find them all. They really like the weedy margins of lakes, but I have also found them suspended mid-water, especially during their spring-spawning period. At that time a fast sinking line and a yellow or chartreuse jig-fly works well.

Because anglers rarely bother them, there are some truly enormous crappie populations in many Fraser Valley lakes. I recall days when I hooked one on every cast for hours on end, and some reached mind-boggling sizes. One day while my Dad and I were fishing a Pitt River backwater, we got into a pod of monsters. Several were over 15" (38 cm), and one nudging 20" (50 cm) went at least 4 Ib (1.8 kg), maybe more. That's rightóclose to the International Game Fish Association world record of 4 Ib 8 oz (2.1 kg)!

Here's another twist. Until recently, there wasn't even a limit on crappie - they didn't even rate a mention in the fishing regs. The limit is still quite liberal (20 per day), but they remain virtually ignored. Hey! I don't mind. Whenever I return to the Vancouver area for a visit, I think it's great having a fishery like that almost exclusively to myself. But I'd appreciate it if you'd keep it under your hat. ~ George Will

Credits: From Fly Fishing Canada, published by Johnson Gorman Publishers, Calgary, Alberta. We appreciate use permission.

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