I Crappie fishing on Clearwater Lake is back to normal, and that’s a bit disappointing. But after what went on for about 12 months in late 2011 and early 2012, it is almost unbelieveable that crappie haven’t crashed.
The 2011 season came on with a huge crop of crappie that had moved into a desirable size range. A terrific season was already coming. Then the lake was high for an extended period in the spring and the shad spawned again and again, furnishing crappie with a tremendous supply of food. The crappie exploded, and fishermen found out about it by late summer.
Crappie up to 15 inches long were downright common, being caught all over the lake. By “all over the lake” we mean they were even in the deepest parts of the lake where there was no structure. Fishermen could troll big bass plugs and catch all they wanted. Some fishermen went every morning for weeks. There were big fish fries all over the Clearwater region.
It had trailed off some by late spring 2012, but even then, Conservation Department biologist Paul Cieslewicz said his sampling found 76 per cent of the crappie were over 10 inches. Indeed, there are STILL some very large crappie in Clearwater.
But numbers have dwindled and now we are trying to look ahead. Paul says the crappie population is back closer to normal, in size and numbers, with a few of those very big crappie mixed in.
For several years, biologists have used a trawl net to capture a sample of the smallest fish in the lake. Electrofishing is still the standard for measuring the fish population, but trawling captures fish too small for electrofishing.
The results from 2012 show a good crop of young-of-the-year crappie, which means the outlook continues to look good for the years ahead.
Paul says there’s not much to be said about bass. He says it is simply awesome. The lake consistantly has 35 per cent of the adult largemouth population over 15 inches in length. The lake also has spotted bass and they run somewhat smaller. But it is pretty much the same, year after year.
Biologists don’t have a good way of monitoring catfish size and numbers in lakes. So they go by fishermen satisfaction. Clearwater ranks about 60 per cent on a statewide scale.
Paul says he was unable to get a handle on white bass in 2012, but late in the fall, some good catches were being reported. The outlook for this spring is probably rather good.
Below the dam, walleye and paddlefish are the big news. Walleye numbers - and catches - have more than doubled in recent years, thanks to a stocking program by MDC. Paul’s sampling has turned up walleye over 13 pounds, with a fair number in the eight to 12 pound range.
The river is scheduled to be stocked again this spring with 40,000 fingerlings, if the hatchery can produce them. Black River walleye are a breed apart and MDC uses Black River walleye as brood stock. Paul says if more than 40,000 are raised, the excess will be stocked in the St. Francis River, which flows past Sam A. Baker State Park. (79,000 fingerlings were raised in 2012. Most of them went to Current River, which shares the special breed along with Eleven Point River. )
MDC has also been stocking paddlefish below Clearwater Dam for a number of years and a considerable snagging season has developed. Fish up to 60 pounds have been taken so far. Season opens March 15.
Flathead catfish seem to have had a very good year a few years back and currently they are showing up at good sizes on fishermen’s stringers. Channel catfish are still common above and below the dam, and there is a surprisingly good population in the upper Black River as well.
MDC has been attempting to establish more shoreline vegetaton in the lake. The extended high water of 2011 knocked things back, but Paul says the plantings are coming back.
Clearwater also has man-made brush piles. They get refurbished from time to time in a cooperative effort between MDC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are plans to add a few more brush piles in 2013.
If you have a question for Paul, you can reach him at 573-290-5730. Or email him at His office is located at 2302 County Park Road, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63701.
One more thing: Paul is doing research on walleye. If you catch one and clean it, he would like to have the carcass. You can drop the carcass by the MDC forestry office in Piedmont. They’ll put it in a freezer for Paul.