The wind was blowing a gale, turning the Spanish moss that normally hangs limply from the limbs of the cypress and gum trees along the bank into waving flags. A cold front was blasting through, which had not been an unusual event for February. However, it was the first weekend of March, and anglers were tired of the wind and cold, itching to go fishing.
Fewer than a half-dozen boats were battling the wind in the protected canals and creek channels surrounding the western and northern sides of Lake Waccamaw. The anglers were using float rigs to dip small shiners into the water, hoping that they would entice a bite from a crappie.
“I caught a few crappie back in January,” said Larry Williamson, 68, a retired concrete and block mason from Hallsboro. “The best time to catch them is usually February, but I fished a lot of days in February and hardly caught a thing.”
Williamson was fishing from a 14-foot jon boat. His brother, Ron Williamson, was fishing nearby in his 12-foot jon boat. Both anglers were using long, telescoping fiberglass poles. However, while Ron was using an electric trolling motor to keep his lines tight and his floats resting in just the right spots, Larry Williamson used a paddle whittled out of a plank to keep his boat oriented, just so.
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“I’m just about beat because, ever since the wind got up, it’s been tough paddling,” Larry said. “But, I have caught a mess of fish. They really started biting until the wind switched directions then they shut down. I’m an old-school fisherman, so I like using a paddle. It helps me keep the float standing straight up so the minnow swims naturally. If a crappie feels any resistance when he bites, he will spit out the bait.”
Larry was also using a cork float about an inch long, in contrast to his brother’s use of a Styrofoam float twice that size. When one brother caught a fish, the other brother soon matched it, tit for tat.
“Larry has been fishing all of his life,” said Ron Williamson, 62, a semi-retired wood-chip operator for Georgia Pacific who lives in Whiteville. “But I’ve only been fishing for two years. I spent my life doing other things and working. I fish docks and piers mostly, but today I am fishing in the canals because of the wind. There is also lots of structure – tree limbs, cypress trees, stumps and logs. If you aren’t hanging up on the structure, you are not going to catch many crappie.”
The anglers were fishing during the full moon phase, which Larry Williamson thought might increase the chances that the fish would enter the shallow water areas to spawn. The temperature of the water was also approaching 50 degrees, which was also a good sign.
Lake Waccamaw’s crappie are native fish, unlike the white crappie that have been stocked into Piedmont reservoirs with much success. Black crappie usually occur in lower numbers, but in larger sizes in their native habitat, which is any tannin-stained fresh water along the coast.
“I caught 15 fish a couple of days ago and have caught a half-dozen so far today,” Larry said. “I caught a really nice one that weighed nearly 3 pounds. That’s a nice crappie anytime, anywhere. But if I get to catch only one fish, I’ve had a great day.”
Ron’s float wobbled. Then it just meandered cruising away, sinking beneath slowly the surface as it moved. He lifted the long rod, which bent back down toward the water under the weight of a fish.
“It’s a really nice crappie,” he said. “I’m playing him easy so he won’t pull loose.”
In a minute or two, the crappie tired. Ron slid a landing net under the fish and lifted it into the boat.”
“Man, that looks like a nice one,” Larry said. “How much do you think it weighs?”
Ron weighed the fish on a digital scale. It weighed 2.8 pounds. An angler can earn an NCARP award for any crappie that weighs 2 pounds, so it was an exceptional catch.
“The one I caught a couple of days ago would shade that one,” Larry said. “But it’s still a nice fish.”
Larry dropped another minnow into the water. Ron accepted the challenge and did the same.