Delaware, Ohio – It was one of those perfect May days when the
afternoon melted into the evening on the water of Delaware Lake,
just north of the city of the same name in central Ohio.
As the shadows crept further into the water, turning daylight
into dusk, Wayne Cooper of Marysville tipped his small jig with a
crappie minnow and pitched it next to a submerged tree. The result,
preceded many times by similar actions, was a crappie over the side
of the boat. As Cooper measured it, the fish checked in at 11
inches, well above the 9-inch keeper requirement here.
Delaware Lake was the first in Ohio to be regulated by a minimum
keeper length for crappies, originally a 10-inch mark but
subsequently reduced to 9 inches.
“What we saw in Delaware that was really interesting was that
catch rates were increasing quite a bit,” after the minimum was put
in place, said Scott Hale, an inland fisheries administrator for
the DNR Division of Wildlife. “And those fish, because they had the
right combination of biological attributes, would grow quickly to
decent size without being too crowded and folks could catch a lot
“Interestingly enough, the (anglers) we were surveying were
telling us that it was OK to release a lot of fish in addition to
being able to keep the larger ones,” Hale said. “With crappie
fisheries, you’d almost expect that (anglers) wouldn’t want to
release anything. But, that wasn’t the case.”
As a result of Delaware’s example and the top-notch crappie
fishery that it helped produce, minimum length limits were added at
five other inland lakes in 2001 and more may be in future plans.
The crappie keeper minimum at Alum Creek, Tappan, Seneca, Deer
Creek, and Caesar Creek is also 9 inches.
“Each of those had characteristics that made them good
candidates (for crappie minimums) based on the biological
information we were collecting in our trap nets,” Hale said. “I
think you’ll find across the country that at most places it’s a 9-
or 10-inch limit on crappies,” he said. “The southern states have
10s, but that’s asking a lot of these fish.”
Since the additional lakes were added in 2001, the program has
been particularly effective at Seneca and Tappan, Hale said.
“The fish continue to grow well and we continue to have good
reports from fishermen,” he said.
At Tappan Lake in northeast Ohio where the Division of Wildlife
rates the crappie fishing as good, white crappies were sampled with
trap nets in fall 2007. Approximately 88 percent of fish sampled
measured at least 8 inches, with almost 11 percent of the fish also
measuring a minimum of 10 inches. White crappies averaged 9 inches,
based on 2007 creel survey results.
Crappie fishing is rated as excellent by the Division of
Wildlife at 3,058-acre Seneca Lake in southeast Ohio. Last fall’s
trapnetting efforts, according to Division of Wildlife reports,
produced crappies averaging between 8 and 9 inches.
At all six lakes in the program, crappie fishing is rated as
either excellent or good, and Delaware Lake is arguably the best
inland water for crappies in Ohio.
Research is under way now, Hale said, to see if more lakes could
benefit from crappie minimums.
“We’re in the process of stepping back and not only looking at
those lakes (that already have a crappie minimum) but looking at
all the crappie lakes in Ohio to assess if there are other places
that might benefit from a 9-inch length limit,” he said.
Hale declined to name any of the potential lakes, citing the
ongoing research, which hasn’t produced conclusive findings to this
“Our plan is at the end of this year to have some ideas that we
can discuss in house and then move forward with adjustments where
they may be beneficial,” he said. “There’s no real timeline there.
The analysis is going on as we speak.”
So, why doesn’t the state just institute a statewide keeper
requirement on crappies and apply it to all inland reservoirs?
Because not all crappie populations and habitats are made equal,
“The thing you’re looking for is good growth and good survival
from one year to the next,” he said. “There are crappie populations
where length limits simply will not help.”
A good example of such a lake would be Burr Oak in southeast
Ohio, Hale said.
“We have sampled crappies down there that might be 7 inches long
and they’re 13 years old,” he said. “That means those fish are so
crowded and slow growing that a length limit wouldn’t help because
they would never reach a size where you would want to harvest them.
Even though you can catch a large fish down there every now and
then, you’re not going to see many of them. It doesn’t make sense
to prevent people from keeping any fish they can catch.”
At other places, fish will die of natural causes before they
ever reach 9 inches. The fall trap-netting survey work provides
this biological data that is so crucial to management lakes for
crappies as well as other fish, Hale said.
Before length limits were put in place at Delaware, “fish were
stacking up right below 8 inches because people started keeping
crappies at 8 inches,” Hale said. “Once we protected those fish,
their natural survival is good enough to allow them to grow to
Leon Cole, who owns Cole’s Bait and Tackle in Bainbridge, Ohio,
said Paint Creek Lake in southwest Ohio would be a good candidate
for a crappie minimum. It is not regulated now.
“I think (a minimum) should have been in place a long time ago,”
said Cole, who not only runs his bait shop but does a fair bit of
fishing for crappies. “Just like now, (fishermen) are catching
these 8-, 81/2-inch crappies and they’re keeping them by the
hundreds. Sometimes we need to release some of those fish.”
Cole said fishing is different today than it was 20 years ago
when not many Ohio anglers would fish through the winter.
“We’re putting pressure on our lakes now,” he said. “If the
lakes aren’t frozen or aren’t flooded, we’re fishing. Back in the
old days, come along November we were putting the rods up and
bringing the guns out. We’re no longer doing that. We’re fishing
year around and catching a lot of fish. You’re just putting an
enormous amount of pressure on these lakes.”
To let the Division of Wildlife know about your fishing
experience on inland lakes and reservoirs in Ohio, log onto
www.dnr.state.oh.us, click on fishing and fill out the online