- Great Lakes
- Great Plains
- Rocky Mountains
- Trophy Catches
Yet that's what we've got right now in the crappie fishery at C.J. Strike Reservoir. Just how big is it? Well, in 2009 anglers harvested nearly 250,000 crappie, and the harvest this year might be just as impressive.
Crappie populations are notoriously cyclic, and itís not uncommon to see populations ebb and flow over time. Just what controls those cycles is a bit of a mystery that fish biologists have been puzzling over for decades. Whatís really amazing about C.J. Strike is how quickly it went from being a fair crappie fishery to one of Idaho's best.
Crappie have probably been in C.J. Strike since shortly after the dam was built and the reservoir created in the early 1950s. Weíve witnessed boom and bust cycles in crappie numbers since then. In some years, crappie have provided good fishing, usually followed by several years of fair to poor fishing.
Then, in 2006, the stars lined up to produce the biggest year-class of crappie that anyone can remember. They have survived and grown well, and now those four-year-old fish make up about 95 percent of C.J.ís crappie population. Ranging in size from 9 to 11 inches, these crappie offer a great opportunity to catch some fish for dinner, and even put a few in the freezer for later.
The crappie population may be huge right now, but some anglers are concerned that heavy harvest will collapse the population. Idaho has no limits on crappie and other panfish in most waters, which is more liberal than most states. But knowing a little about crappie biology and the fishery helps ease those concerns.
Based on several years of tagging fish in C.J. Strike, we know that even with the incredible number of anglers only about 30 percent of the larger crappie were harvested in 2009. This leaves plenty of adult crappie to spawn since each adult female might produce 20,000 eggs. More importantly, itís generally the survival of young crappie that determines future populations rather than the number of spawners.
The spring of 2006 brought high off-color water and a flush of nutrients down the Snake River. Young crappie hatched that year may simply have survived at a record pace because they had plenty of food, and the slightly muddy water provided better protection from predatory fish. We donít know for sure, but interestingly, Brownlee Reservoir also had high inflows in 2006 that resulted in abundant young crappie. Other studies around the country found similar links between inflows and crappie production, suggesting that fish populations are influenced more by environmental factors than by harvest.
The one thing we can be sure of is that the current crappie boom wonít last forever. The life span of a crappie is typically only six or seven years, so the 2006 year class is already getting long in the tooth. While younger crappie also ply C.J.'s water, we donít see another giant year-class coming on.
Even while we encourage anglers to take advantage of the guilt-free harvest opportunity available this year, we also encourage efficient use of the fish resource. Please donít be wasteful. Keep only those fish that you are willing to clean and eat. Release the rest.
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