There were a lot of smaller crappie in Clearwater Lake last year. That was bad news then, and good news now.
The bad part was that the little ones - 6-8 inchers - often beat the bigger ones to the bait or lures of fishermen.
The good part is that this wide spot in the crappie population has grown bigger 10fishoutlooksand this year, the percentage of nice sized crappie taken by anglers should be considerably higher.
Paul Ceislewicz, fishery biologist for the Conservation Department, said the most recent sampling of the crappie population found 56 per cent of Clearwater crappie to be over nine inches long - 41 per cent are over 10 inches. And there were quite a few more ranging up to 13 inches.
But the thing that has Paul excited is that he was able to catch about 250 crappie in the four-inch range this fall.
“A young-of-the-year crappie in Clearwater is about four inches long and we just hardly ever see them with our regular sampling methods,” says Paul. Sampling is done with a shocking boat that puts an electrical current in the water which temporarily stuns the fish. But young crappie apparently don’t live where the shock boats can operate.
Last year, biologists added trawling to their tools. Basically it is dragging a net through the water and is most commonly done in the ocean or in big rivers.
With this method, they can sample smaller fish. In this case, they can find out if crappie were successful at reproduction in the year of the spawn. It gives biologists an extra year notice of how they’re doing and what lies ahead.
Well, not yet. As this was only the first year, Paul says he doesn’t know how significant catching 250 small crappie may be. But he said they plan to use this method every year and the data will become increasingly important as a record accumulates.
Historically, crappie grow slowly in Clearwater but they live a long time. In 2010, however, there was an outstanding crop of gizzard shad, which is the main food for crappie. Paul says there were plenty of small bite-sized shad for crappie to eat and their growth should have accelerated into this year.
Last summer, a reddish blush in the Black River arm of the lake brought fear of a red tide - something that kills ocean life. But Paul says it turned out to be a kind of plankton - not only harmless, but excellent food for shad and other fish that eat microscopic critters.
Every year, biologists get requests for a length limit on bass in Clearwater, and every year Paul repeats that it is unnecessary.
A third of largemouth bass in Clearwater are over 15 inches, which is a better size structure than is frequently obtained with length limits elsewhere.
There are also spotted bass in Clearwater and they simply don’t grow as large - only three per cent are over 14 inches. A 15 inch length limit would needlessly place them off limits for fishermen’s stringers.
Another popular fish for Clearwater fishermen is white bass. Paul looks for at least a good crop of them to show up this spring. But low water last year made it impossible to sample them - he simply couldn’t take his shocking boat up into Black River far enough,
White bass fishing is always good, but sometimes it is outstanding in both numbers and the size of the fish. But “outstanding” is unpredictable without sampling the year before. So it may be outstanding this year, it may be only good.

Instead of catching, measuring and counting catfish in Clearwater, biologists use a fishermen satisfaction survey. And on that survey, Clearwater ranks with the best in the state.
The lake has a good population of channel catfish and fishermen catch several big flatheads every year - in the 50-60 pound range.
Another 500 paddlefish were stocked in Black River below the dam last year. Fish stocked here may range as far as the southern Arkansas, but at least some come back to spawn below the dam every spring. Only a few places in Missouri have big runs of paddlefish in the spring and this is one of them.
The Conservation Department also has a stocking schedule for walleye in Black River below the dam. Experimental stocking was done for several years to see if it would significantly increase the catch of walleye. It did. So now it is on a regular schedule.
MDC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placed several additional brush piles in the lake last year and will be doing more this year. They attract fish, making it easier for lake visitors to find fish.
Regular anglers use the brush piles too, as well as places they only learn by experience.