Besides catching fish and keeping fish, I love eating fish. (Maruthu that Murrel on youtube looked delicious by the way)
On my long, long overdue trip to the US more specifically to visit my brother and his family in Houston there were two fish in that region that I wanted to catch, being a through and through salty, Tarpon was always at the top of my list, catching the next fish had everything to do with eating it, the Crappie, especially the Black Crappie.
I recall first seeing the crappie in an old Field and Stream magazine or fishing book that belonged to my neighbor, when i was a kid over 40 years ago and being intrigued with its colour pattern and while a crappie may not be the fish of dreams for most people, but for me it was something I always wanted to catch.
While the Tarpon trip was planned by my brother who is also a very keen angler, I was doing all the research on crappie that I could and on the forth or fifth day, my research pointed to Lake Houston which received a lot of positive reviews. From what I had read the best bait for Crappie is live minnow and though I favour lures, being just past the Crappie season, I decided to abandon the lure and go with live bait. We left at about 7 am, my daughter Danielle who is an equally keen angler joined us. The bait shop near the lake that we planned to get the minnows from was out of stock so it had to be lures, we drove to the a part of the lake that looked productive, only to find a big guy, sitting on his ice box fishing just feet from his car with all the doors open and rock music blasting from the speakers, welcome to America! The other thing that I noticed was the garbage people had dumped around the place, plastic bottles, bags and fishing line were all lying about, a striking contrast from what I had envisaged, it was disappointing to say the least.
He was a friendly, chatty guy and commented on my brother bringing his fancy car fishing but more importantly he told us where we could buy live minnows, and also suggested that we get him a few beers on the way back, information like everything else comes at a cost
. My brother left to get the minnows and beer. This spot seemed very popular with a lot of anglers arriving there in a short space of time, there were a few other Asian people, speaking Vietnamese who got out their nets and started to net a corner of the lake. I asked the rock-music loving American if they could do that, he said it was illegal. While I set up our rods with lures, this guy had a few questions for us and on learning we were from Hong Kong the conversation steered to politics. In a short while I was educated; why America was the greatest country in the world, why a “business man” is the best thing to run America, why Donald Trump is the greatest American president, why Kim Jong Un is terrified of the Don and why he is the world’s best politician. By that time my brother returned with the minnows and beer I wanted to get the hell out of there, don’t get me wrong this guy was very nice and stimulating as the conversation was, we had come here to fish! I guess he was just an American version of what we call a “Bhakt” in India. I asked him which was the best place to catch Crappie on the lake and he suggested a good spot (thankfully it was not the pond behind the white house). After thanking the dude for the information and armed with my newly acquired political acumen, we set off for the other spot.
The new location was better, but still not very clean, it was a wooden jetty and you had to walk well over half a kilometer to get there, it looked like a the perfect spot for Crappie, so we took out the minnows from the plastic bag and put them into one of the iceboxes we got for that purpose, we did not have an air pump to release the build-up of CO2 in the water so I suggested we chill the water down with ice so that it would retain more oxygen. Though that kept the minnows alive, the cold water caused them to become quite lethargic and they would not move much when we were using them.
After a couple of hours, the jetty was getting crowded, one of the guys on the jetty caught a bass using a minnow lure, but that was it and we called it a day, the minnows went home with us and a few still live in my brothers fish tank till today (8/8/2018)
My second foray fishing in America was on the disappointing side, the first one was on a Bayou very close where we lived, at least there we were hit by some alligator gar on lures but failed to connect. I took to youtube in real earnest and learned tricks how to catch crappie in summer, it turns out that you need to fish them deep when the water is warm but you do not fish them at the bottom, you need to find a balance with a bit of trial and error, but one thing was quite clear, it was not the best time to catch crappie.
My brother said that he would take me to Ravens Foot in Huntsville state park and that was sure to impress me, it was very clean and in his opinion it was charge at the gate, even though minimal, that attracted a more desirable crowd. So a few days later we were off to Hunstville, I suggested we go well after lunch and fish into the late evening if required but I had to catch myself a crappie, a bass would just not cut it for me. This lake was further away from where we lived. On the way to it I saw this massive sculpture of a rod and reel about 50 meters up and a truck hanging from it (like a lure) very impressive. I did not get a chance to take a picture of it.
We found a bait shop on the internet near the lake that was open 24/7 and boasted all kinds of bait, so we put it onto our GPS and drove there, it was way off, into real country, it looked like a place where you could get shot for trespassing or smiling at the wrong time
, we arrived at the yard entrance and hollered to no avail, the neighbor's pit-bulls on the other side of the road were in a frenzy, so we had to muster up some courage to walk into the yard, we could see the bait shop, it was a shed by the side of the house and no one was home. There was a sign that said “self-serve”, and a price list inside told us how much, and to take what we wanted, from lures to several types of live bait and different bait fish stored in large tubs, "count the minnows as best you can” said the sign, it told us where we would find the plastic bags, air compressor etc, and when done, to put the money in the “BLACK” box. The problem was that we could not find any “Black” box, the only thing that looked like something where we could deposit our money into was a sort of small safe with a slot which was welded onto a very sturdy pole, firmly bolted to the floor, but the damn thing was “RED”, bright crimson, so we put the money into the red box and left as fast as we could without arousing any suspicion. The people there may have been very trusting but I am not and was worried I could get shot for looking different or perhaps far worse, end up like Ving Rhames in Pulp Fiction!
Huntsville was remarkably different from Lake Houston, it was picturesque, spotlessly clean with stations to dispose fishing line very conveniently located. The wardens were very friendly and informative. The water was clear and there were “balling” minnows all over the place, clearly there was a lot going on. We found a nice quiet jetty very conveniently located, are started to fish there, Danielle who did not want to pierce a hook through a little live fish used spinners and promptly landed a small catfish, a little while later we had I had a couple small bass take my minnows but no crappy. Danielle was catching bass too. We soon found out that the jetty was a little too conveniently located and it began to get crowded, there were more catfish on the bite and my brother suggested we move on to another jetty that he knew. So off we went, when we arrived at this jetty there was a couple fishing there who were calling it a day, they wanted catfish for the pot and were very sorry to learn that we had released ours. They wished us well and left. The only thing that looked a little negative was the two alligators that were about six feet away from the jetty, too small to cause us any harm, but large enough to chase any fish away.
A little while later another guy joined us to fish off the jetty and you could tell he was trying to catch crappie with his short rod and crappie lures that he was bouncing about and around the jetty. At that moment I could see that my minnow was getting spooked by something and the float went under I struck after a few seconds and was on to a nice little bass again. Frankly I was getting tired of bass and was getting a little frustrated. I put on another minnow and dropped it over, the minnows this time were lively we did not chill the water and instead changed the water a regular intervals. I walked over to that guy to ask him about crappie in the lake, he told me that the fishing was slow for crappie and no one had caught any in week. Disappointed, I walked back to where my rod was resting picked it up and within a few seconds the float went under, I struck and voila, finally I caught my elusive black crappie. It just about made the legal size so I could take it home. The guy said well you we just asking me about them and you got one. I just smiled.
A little while later an Alligator took that guys lure, and he was complaining about it to me. Danielle told me that we had been deliberately casting just in front of its nose and he was trying to catch it.
We fished some more, I think I caught another small bass, I cannot remember, it did not matter, I got my Crappie and tried for another one, but it was not to be, still, I was very satisfied. I had beaten the odds, the god of Huntsville had smiled on me and I smiled all the way back home.