The sun was gone and the water was calm. The ice chest was full of crappie. But still, Sondra Gray clutched that rod, casting mechanically, landing one fish after another, a wild look in her eyes.
“She’s addicted to it,” Rich told me. “I’ve heard of it before, but never saw it until now. I think if we put her out on the bank she would still be right there at sunrise, casting and talking to the fish.”
Rich Abdoler is one of my regular fishing partners who writes articles on a regular basis for my magazine. Sondra works as the editor of Lightnin’ Ridge Publications, normally just as solid and regular acting as anyone else. But when she starts fishing, something comes over her and she slips off into another world, snarling at anyone who casts near her spot, laughing uncontrollably at each big fish she lands, talking to them… that wild look in her eye that I already mentioned. Fishing takes over her normally normal attitude and converts her into something dangerous. If you get in the way of one cast, she growls at you.
It began a couple of years ago when in that very spot where we fished last week, she hooked and landed a 17-inch lunker crappie. I saw it again when she landed a dozen or so four-pound smallmouth in Canada that summer and tried to push her husband, David, out of the boat so she could fish without competition.
It has only gotten worse, and that afternoon, with crappie feeding voraciously, it became apparent she will need help. The whole thing started as a mushroom hunting trip. Rich had been finding a hundred or more mushrooms each day in cedar glades around the lake, big beautiful morels that were still erupting overnight on the 14th of May in almost any type of cedar glade. Sondra came over from her home at Mansfield, wanting to find mushrooms for her brother, whom I think trades her fishing lures for morels.
I never thought I would be writing about mushrooms in the middle of May. I don’t remember ever finding any morels so late. Many of us, upon finding so many small gray mushrooms the last week of April, figured we were seeing a situation where the late cold and rain would limit any development of large morels, but big ones began appearing later than normal, and everyone who works at it says they ate more mushrooms this year than ever before.
So Rich and I took Sondra out in my boat and traveled to a previously unchecked cedar glad, where she collected a whole bagful. We found about 40 in an hour or so, a trip highlighted by a frantic search for Rich Abdoler’s keys, which he had lost in the woods, who knows where. Sondra and I waited in the boat, knowing the futility of such a search. You’d have to be the luckiest guy in the world to find your car keys in the middle of a cedar glade. Then we heard him yelling and hollering way up in the woods, and I told Sondra that either he had been bit by a snake, attacked by a wildcat or he had found his keys. It proved to be the latter. Rich Abdoler is the luckiest guy I ever met. If it was me, I couldn’t find my keys if I lost them in my front lawn.
In mid-afternoon, we decided to stop feeding the area ticks and call it a success, in terms of mushroom hunting. I headed my boat up the creek where we had been catching lots and lots of white bass. That’s when I first noticed Sondra beginning to change from normal to whatever it is happens to her when she starts to fish. But the white bass just weren’t there. The water had dropped, and was so clear you could see the creek bottom at its deepest point. She grew cranky and bellicose (hard to get along with).
Back to the main lake we headed, to that spot where Sondra had caught that huge crappie a couple of years before. The crappie should have been on the banks, spawning. They weren’t. Why at this late date they would be out in deep water, down six or eight feet around flooded trees, I do not know. But that’s where we were, and by casting around those stick-ups out in 15 or 20 feet of water, we began to hook some really big crappie.
That’s when Sondra got that wicked smile on her face, catching two fish to my one, bragging about some silly looking little blue and white jig she was using that her brother had given her. I told her that it was ridiculous to assume that one kind of jig, homemade by one of her brother’s friends, looking like some little wad of deer hair attached to a painted lead head, would outfish my Walmart tube jigs, produced by professionals. Rich agreed, and then asked her if he could borrow one of hers. In 30 minutes we were both borrowing those jigs from her, and the fish we were putting in the ice-box were huge. There were none under 11 inches, and a couple up to 14 inches. When you are catching crappie that are 12 to 13 inches about every four or five casts, it can do something to you, but still, seeing Sondra turn into that fishing monster was a disturbing thing.
As it became dark, she hooked four straight crappie that we had to return to the water because she had already doubled her limit. Rich finally grabbed her from behind and I wrenched the fishing rod from her hands and hid it. We duck-taped her to one of the fishing seats and headed for the boat ramp in the dark. She finally came to the realization that it was so late she wouldn’t get home until midnight and calmed a little.
A couple of nights later I took her and her husband, David, back to the same spot and those crappie, full of eggs, were still there, big and scrappy. Seeing her like that, David agreed we are going to have to get her some help. We have to find a fishing disorder therapist of some kind, or maybe a phishycologist. Either that, or we just need to see to it she gets to fish more often. Anyway, this month’s Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor magazine will be a little late. We should be able to get her back to work when the crappie go deep, the mushrooms are gone and it gets too hot to fish.
You, too, can take advantage of the late crappie spawn, by perhaps looking for them in water a bit deeper than normal. If you could get one of those silly looking little jigs Sondra has, you might catch a limit in a hurry. But I don’t have any I can give you and I had to pay too much for the ones she gave me to resell them.
I would tell you that the mushroom season is over, but you just never know. You might check some cedar glades in your area. If you find some, call me Sunday morning when I do my “outdoorsman” radio program, from 8:06 to 9 on KWTO 560 AM. You can hear it on the computer no matter where you are, by going to the website, radiospringfield.com.
If you know a really good fishing therapist, write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613 or e-mail me at email@example.com. My website, where you can see pictures from recent fishing trips, is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.
BLACK CRAPPIE – Larry Dablemont with one of the blackest black crappie he ever caught.