Warmer, sunnier days are bringing cautious anglers out of hibernation to seek fish across the state. However, climbing air temperatures don’t necessarily translate into the higher water temperatures that make most species of fish more willing to bite. Thankfully, there is a fish with a decided preference for the tepid. It is the state’s native black crappie, which woos and wows Lake Waccamaw anglers in late winter and early spring.
One angler who fishes for them at least once a week starting in January is Larry Williamson, 70, a retired concrete and block mason from Hallsboro. He was fishing from his 14-foot aluminum johnboat on a windy February day.
“I caught them really good back in January,” he said. “But, then, a cold spell came through and shut them off. Now that the weather is getting warmer, they are beginning to bite again.”
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Williamson was using live minnows purchased at a bait shop to fish for crappie and had caught three that morning. He was fishing with four telescoping fiberglass poles with float rigs. He sculled with a one-handed paddle, keeping the lines tight to prevent the fluorescent floats from coming into contact with each other.
“Sometimes, I hook a bowfin,” he said. “When that happens, the rod takes off and I have to chase it down. When it floats back up, I usually catch the fish anyway. There is no telling what might eat a crappie minnow.”
While his catch sometimes numbers in the teens, he said anyone who catches a half-dozen crappie should consider himself blessed.
“They are so picky, I am happy if I catch only one,” he said.
Two anglers who were not having as much luck were Trey Nye, 28, a schoolteacher from Chadbourn, and his father, Ben Nye, 57, who works at International Paper and lives in Lake Waccamaw. They were fishing in Trey’s 16-foot G3 aluminum boat.
If you leave the lake, you won’t catch any. You can’t catch a crappie if you are sitting at home on a couch.
Angler Larry Williamson
“The fish spawn the last of February or first of March, so we were hoping they would be biting today and bought three-dozen minnows,” Ben Nye said. “We have caught only one small crappie.”
The two anglers had been fishing since daybreak and had tried several spots. They were getting a few bites, so their confidence was high. Ben Nye recounted a better day about 20 years ago when he caught 17 black crappie.
“Three of them weighed more than 3 pounds each,” he said. “They were such nice fish that I had them mounted. I was fishing at a dock that had some Christmas trees tied under it. I have never caught crappie like that, again.”
“They are about as picky as speckled trout,” Trey Nye said. “Some days they bite. Some days they don’t. We fish for trout in Brunswick County and they are so much alike it is probably why I like to fish for crappie.”
Eventually, most of the anglers left the area. It was nearing noon and time to eat lunch. Some headed home and others to different parts of the lake. The lake is nearly 9,000 acres and has many places where crappie can hide.
“I am an old-school fisherman,” Williamson said. “I figure they are always close by. It is just that they might bite and they might not. If you leave the lake, you won’t catch any. You can’t catch a crappie if you are sitting at home on a couch.”
As testimonial to his can-do attitude, one of the floats started wiggling from side to side. Then, it took off at an angle to the surface, wobbling as it submerged.
Williamson lifted the rod to set the hook with the rod extended back over his shoulder. The fish put up a long struggle as he steadily worked it around the boat. Eventually the fish was in front of him rather than behind. He picked up the rod, the tip of which had bent nearly all the way down to the water, and swung a crappie over the side. Deftly, he unhooked it and put it inside a cooler filled with water to join the others splashing around.
“He weighs about three-quarters of a pound,” he said. “That is the perfect size to take home and eat.”