Is the crappie limit too liberal? 

How many are too many?

With the prime-time spring crappie season underway, there is a debate over the creel limit for the popular pan fish.

The statewide crappie limit is 15 per day, but in most Middle Tennessee lakes, including Percy Priest and Old Hickory, it’s twice that – a liberal 30. Since most crappie fishermen fish at least two per boat, that means they can take home 60 a trip.

That’s a lot crappie, especially on heavily fished lakes like Priest and Old Hickory where this time of year there are hundreds of boats on the water dad after day.

Some fishermen favor reducing the limit to 20 per day, or even 15. Among those are veteran Kentucky Lake guide Steve McCadams, whose reputation for catching big crappie draws clients from as far away as Texas and California.

Steve, who has over a half-century of experience on the lake, says crappie have declined in recent years, due in part to over-fishing.

Several fishermen claim the crappie fishing in Priest and Old Hickory also has slumped, both in terms of size and number.

Crappie are extremely prolific, and in small lakes and ponds they can over-populate, resulting in smaller, stunted fish. But that’s not a problem in heavily-fished waters, where they can be caught faster than they can reproduce.

Unlike bass, trout and some other sports fish, few crappie are released, because they are delicious to eat. Most keeper-sized crappie (10 inches) go into the skillet.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says each lake is managed according to its merits – in some, 15 crappie might be too many, in others 30 is reasonable. But the later is debatable.

Some fishermen boast about filling their freezers with packages of crappie fillets. That’s against regulations, which allow only twice the daily limit to be possessed – a total of 60 crappie. But it would be impossible to enforce, checking a home freezer to see how many crappie it held. Obedience of the possession limit is a matter of ethics.

Some guides balk at the idea of reducing the limit. They say clients want to bring in a limit every trip. Others, including McAdams, notes that if every two-man boat brings in 90 crappie every trip (the guide can keep a limit too) it will eventually deplete the resource.

Also some guides, in order fill out limits, keep smaller fish that otherwise would be released.

The days of freezer-filling subsistence fishing are over. Fifteen or 20 big crappie a trip should be plenty for anyone.

Leave some for tomorrow, and a few for the other guy.

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