The calendar year isn’t measured by spring, summer, fall and winter, but rather by other seasons — deer hunting, turkey hunting and fishing. And right now it’s time for crappie season.

During the month of April, legions of anglers have this one particular species in mind. Most people target them for their characteristic as great table fare. The main reason, however, is this time of year they are the easiest to catch as they move towards the shallows for their annual spawning rituals.

Around other parts of the nation they are called papermouths, specs and calico bass. Around here they are crappies (pronounced croppy). Please don’t refer to them as something you may do in the bathroom. They deserve a little more respect.

Sure, other gamefish like walleyes may grow larger and smallmouth bass may fight harder but for non-stop action, especially now, you would be hard pressed to find anything beating a spring crappie outing.

The month of April and the first few weeks of May are the best. It is not uncommon to catch dozens of fish in just a few hours. There is always the possibility of hooking a true trophy weighing in excess of several pounds.

Although any fish stretching over 1 foot is considered more than respectable, they occasionally eclipse average weights. Indiana’s state record, taken by William Halcomb in 1994 from a Jennings County pond, stretched over 20 inches dropping the scales at 4 pounds, 11 ounces.

Fortunately, finding a place to try your luck for these tasty panfish is not difficult. They can be found almost anywhere. Many are taken from smaller lakes and ponds but our larger reservoirs and natural lakes provide plenty of numbers.

Crappies are actually a member of the sunfish family and are classified into two categories. The black crappie is darker, has seven or eight dorsal spines and is normally found in larger, deeper impoundments. White crappies are obviously lighter in color, have six dorsal spines and usually sport vertical bars on their sides. Both species can grow to several pounds, but fish in the 3/4 pound to 1-pound range are more typical.

Crappies are schooling fish so if you catch one chances are more will be close by. They can be caught fishing with a bobber, casting jigs, trolling or drifting. Crappies also love cover so locate some stumps, brush or rock piles.

A 6- to 7-foot light action spinning rod spooled with 6- to 8-pound line pretty much takes care of the equipment. Although they are taken on many types of live bait and artificial lures a live minnow or 1/16 to 1/8 ounce tube jig accounts for the majority of crappies taken. There are times the fish can become finicky so if the action slows don’t be afraid to change colors.

At dawn you’re likely to find them closer to the surface, but as the sun moves higher in the sky they will often times seek the shade and cover of deeper water.

One of the biggest advantages to this popular spring time fishing opportunity is your chances of bringing home a limit of tasty fish are at a seasonal high. And what better way to spend a beautiful spring day after our long, drawn-out winter!

DAY OF FREE FISHING

Looking to get outside and do some fishing? Saturday will be the first of four Free Fishing days in Indiana. On these special days Indiana residents will be allowed to fish public waters without the need for a fishing license or trout stamp.

If you already have a license then see if you can introduce a newcomer to our sport. Who knows, you may end up with a new fishing buddy.

John Martino is the Tribune's outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.

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