State and world records

Mike McMurtrey and Paul Johnson show off some Barnett crappie. No State or World Records here, but there is a box full of slab white crappie.

How many record crappie are there?

When checking out at the Academy Sports & Outdoors store in Ridgeland recently, the cashier put a free copy of “Mississippi Outdoor Digest” magazine in my sack full of crankbaits. This magazine is produced by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks once a year.

I thumbed through the magazine when I got home, and settled on the section where they listed the current Mississippi State Records for Freshwater Fish. Since this is a column dedicated to crappie fishing, I focused on the state records for crappie.

I found several interesting entries — some things I knew; some things I did not know.

Here’s an interesting fact I did not know: The state of Mississippi recognizes three — that’s right, I said three — different crappie records. We all know the Mississippi record for white crappie is also the World Record, right? Caught July 31, 1957, by Fred Bright out of Enid Reservoir, that 5-pound, 3-ounce monster record still stands.

Seems all I catch during the hottest days of summer run a little smaller in average size than at other times of the year. Specifically, pre-spawn, which is February through March for most of Mississippi’s lakes and reservoirs, yields heavier fish for me than the hot summer.

And the fall or autumn season, when crappie start feeding up for the winter, brings huge fish to my live well.

But, July 31 — amazing, simply amazing and almost unbelieveable.

Okay, I said I noted several interesting facts from the state-records list.

The white crappie record is the largest at 5 pounds, 3 ounces; followed by black crappie at 4 pounds, 4 ounces; followed by (and this is the interesting part to me) the Magnolia crappie at 3.46 pounds.

Gerald Conlee caught the state-record black crappie out of Arkabutla Reservoir on March 19, 1991. Now that one is a little easier for me to personally comprehend. Arkabutla is full of monster white and black crappie today — I know because I’ve caught some as big as they grow out of Arkabutla.

And, it was March, people, when Mr. Conlee caught that record — pre-spawn, right? I’m guessing it was a great big ole pot-bellied female carrying a full load of ready-to-lay eggs. Man, I sure would love to have seen that!

And, here comes the really interesting part. We actually have a state record for a laboratory-produced fish in the Magnolia crappie. I’ve stated on these pages in previous issues the misunderstanding that surrounds what a Magnolia crappie actually is. I’ve even gotten different explanations from different fisheries biologists with the MDWFP. For a while there, they hadn’t quite defined what makes a crappie fit the “Magnolia crappie” label.

Here’s the latest, and I believe the state-record Magnolia crappie fits this description: Laboratory-produced crappie that are purposely bred and then re-bred in the fish hatchery at Enid Reservoir for the sole purpose of producing heavy crappie that can’t reproduce in the wild — early on, and still in some fish-biologists circles today, it also is called a triploid crappie.

The idea is a good one, as far as I am concerned. You see, since these hybrid crappie can’t reproduce in the wild, they can be stocked in smaller lakes without the worry of these crappie over-producing and becoming nothing more than a lake full of little-bitty crappie. Hey, a 3.46 crappie by any name is one big white perch, right?

Now, the argument that still goes on today whenever the mention of Magnolia Crappie comes up is that some biologists believe there is a naturally occurring cross-breeding going on between white and black crappie in some lakes in Mississippi. Personally, I’ve caught many crappie with that distinctive black stripe that runs from the fish’s lips all the way to the tip of his tail at Barnett, and that’s the only lake where I’ve caught these fish.

Sometimes, the black streak down the back only goes part of the way. Sometimes the streak is nothing but a black dot on the upper and lower lip of the naturally cross-bred fish.

My theory is that, indeed, some natural cross-breeding occurs, and that as each new generation appears each spring, some hatchlings — which I see as catchable-size fish — are a limb or two or three down from the first generation of naturally hybridized parents. It’s like me saying that I’m 1/8 Choctaw Indian, right? I don’t have the full features of a half white, half Indian offspring — but I’ve got some little genetic feature that came from my great-great-great-grandmother who was Choctaw. Get it?

My point here is that there needs to be at least one more category of record-size crappie. The next time I catch one of those crappie with black dots on her lips, I think I’ll take it to Turcotte Labs at Barnett Reservoir and ask them to declare it a world record.

It’s not a white crappie. It’s not a black crappie. It’s really not even a Magnolia crappie because, to me, it appears to be the result of several reproductions of what once was a naturally occurring cross between a white crappie and a black crappie.

What should we call it? I’m going to catch one as big as it grows and see.

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