A few miles out
of Ashland, Ore. there is a reservoir that attracts a lot of old
folks—small-scale farmers reluctant to sell their 40 acres, pensioned workers,
retired husbands and wives trying to squeeze by on Social Security checks. They
come to the reservoir to fish for crappies, which provides them with both sport
and a food supply.
In most cases,
meat fishing can't be morally justified these days—there are too many people
and too few fish. But as far as crappies are concerned, there isn't any
problem. In Oregon there is no bag limit on crappies, which are members of the
sunfish family, whose most celebrated members are the largemouth and
small-mouth bass. Indeed, they are so prolific that it is nearly impossible not
to catch them. During spawning, each female produces up to 15,000 eggs, and
apparently most of these hatch and survive. Stunting because of overpopulation
is common. In a reservoir's first few years, fish of more than two pounds may
be expected. But unless the angling pressure is extremely intense, the growth
rate falls off dramatically thereafter until each fish caught will be about the
size of a silver dollar with fins.
But if fishermen
turn out, the crappies will cooperate. They take spinners, small spoons, dry
and wet flies, popping bugs, jigs, worms, minnows, pork rind, yarn tied to a
hook—anything that they can grab with their fragile mouths.
The best time to
fish for crappies is through the spring and early summer. Because I fish with
flies, I usually go to the reservoir during the long, warm, languid evenings
around Memorial Day. The spring runoff is over by then, and the farmers haven't
started draining the reservoir for irrigation, so the water, its level
stabilized, is clearer than at any other time of year.
Last season I
drove out after dinner on the first really fine evening that came along. I
arrived an hour before sundown, with another hour of legal fishing—often the
most productive hour—available after that.
My spot is no
secret. At its east end the reservoir narrows into an arm about 100 yards wide,
and at the end of this arm a clear-flowing stream comes down from the Cascade
foothills. On the south shore of the arm, the banks are steep, the brush is
thick and the oak trees are in full leaf. It is an ideal spot, because with the
reservoir full, the brush grows right down into the water, and crappies,
seeking both minnows and cover, congregate around any sort of sunken
vegetation. Along the water's edge between the clumps of brush are large,
flat-topped rocks that serve as casting platforms.
I parked at the
end of a long line of cars and pickups, put my rod and reel together, tied on a
No. 6 white fly with a red shoulder, then climbed down the bank to claim a
vacant rock. I found a good one, close enough to the creek so that the movement
of the water coming in would give the fly extra motion.
The banks on both
sides of the arm were lined with fishermen and women; my nearest neighbor was
10 feet away on a rock to my left. A tanned old man, he was dressed and
outfitted typically: high-topped boots, loose-fitting khaki pants, a well-faded
work shirt and a cap with the name of a farm equipment company in front. He was
fishing with one of those spinning outfits sold in grocery stores, the ones
that come complete with rod, reel and line for $12. There was a small, plastic
tackle box at his feet. It displayed a tangle of plugs and lures, jars and
bottles. A wet burlap sack nearby appeared to contain a number of fish.
said. "Nice evening."
"Don't you be
casting over my line." he answered.