Camping with Friends: Crappie and Wipers

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Finally this weekend, I had the pleasure of eating some fresh springtime crappie, and I couldn’t have had a better time – even though I didn’t catch a single one of the tasty fish – only a puny bluegill that I only cleaned because he took the hook and minnow I was using all the way down into his gills … a mistake a bungling fisherman makes if he looks away at the wrong time.

This past weekend, 20 or so friends and I went camping out at Clinton Lake, near Lawrence, Kansas, and had a wonderful time. We stayed Friday and Saturday night, and fished about all that we could Saturday.

It was 75 to 80 degrees for most of the day Saturday, so we couldn’t have picked a better time to head out camping. The forecast had called for rain Saturday night and into Sunday morning, and we felt a few sprinkles, but the rain never hit until Sunday evening.

Saturday, right after I went up to the bait shop and picked up a dozen minnows, about four of us – three adults – headed down to the water to see what we could get into. Our friends who had been there before us had already put one wiper into their fish basket.

After a couple of hours, frustration was building since we couldn’t seem to get a bite. That’s when Gwen and I headed over to Heidi (wife of my pal Kenny, and mother of their four kids), who was using worms to no avail. She threw out a minnow and quickly reeled in a wiper (which is a hybrid breed of fish, identifiable by the broken horizontal stripes, that is a cross between striped and white bass), and it’s hard to say who was hooked more – Heidi or the fish.

After another hour or so with no action, we determined we’d go back and have some lunch, and maybe hit it again later in the day. That was when Heidi surprised me by going over and checking a limb-line she had set, which she called a set-line. Whatever you want to call it, it worked and there was a 1-pound to 2-pound channel cat that we added to the stringer.

Once back to the campsite, I started cleaning the catch with my new Buck Knives Model 223 fillet knife that our friends over at Buck Knives had in my hand in about two days. Right out of the box, it cut through the scales, skin and meat very smoothly, which made me antsy to use the Alpha Hunter skinning knife that I also recently acquired.

I’ve always used an electric knife to filet fish – they glide right down the backbone – and the 223, with slow, back-and-forth strokes, moved down the backbone very smoothly. I was impressed, especially considering the knife goes for $35.

While I was doing that, Heidi and the kids went back down to the water and hauled in another couple of wipers and an even larger catfish.

After she got done cleaning those, I realized this was a hobby she truly loved because she said she was headed back down to the water’s edge.

Gwen, Heidi, two of her kids and a couple of their friends, and I went straight back down to the sunken brush pile we’d been fishing all day and got back to work.

Kenny and Heidi’s 11-year-old daughter, Leah, started pounding them right away, and reeled in three crappie by the time it was getting too dark to see.

I think it was about at the point of crappie No. 2 when I turned to Gwen and apologized for not getting her into fish, but I was genuinely happy Leah was having the luck. Seeing children catch fish, and the excitement that brings, is always pretty awesome.

She carried them all the way back to the campsite, taking them directly to Kenny to show her prowess on the water.

Later, after we grilled them using a little tinfoil and oil over charcoal, she was pretty quick out of the tent to get a taste. The wipers were good, but as I’ve said before, crappie are right up there with walleye according to my taste buds. And seeing a youngster so proud to provide food made me thankful for good friends and simple pleasures like camping on a June weekend. I’m thankful to enjoy rural America every time out.

Caleb Reganand his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on .