By Jeff Dillon, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Who would have thought that Idaho would have one of the nation's best fisheries for a warm water species?
Yet that's what we've got right now in the crappie fishery at C.J. Strike Reservoir. Just how big is it? Well, in 2009 anglers harvested nearly 250,000 crappie, and the harvest this year might be just as impressive.
Crappie populations are notoriously cyclic, and it's not uncommon to see populations ebb and flow over time. Just what controls those cycles is a bit of a mystery that fish biologists have been puzzling over for decades. What's really amazing about C.J. Strike is how quickly it went from being a fair crappie fishery to one of Idaho's best.
Crappie have probably been in C.J. Strike since shortly after the dam was built and the reservoir created in the early 1950s. We've witnessed boom and bust cycles in crappie numbers since then. In some years, crappie have provided good fishing, usually followed by several years of fair to poor fishing.
Then, in 2006, the stars lined up to produce the biggest year-class of crappie that anyone can remember. They have survived and grown well, and now those four-year-old fish make up about 95 percent of C.J.'s crappie population. Ranging in size from 9 to 11 inches, these crappie offer a great opportunity to catch some fish for dinner, and even put a few in the freezer for later.
The crappie population may be huge right now, but some anglers are concerned that heavy harvest will collapse the population. Idaho has no limits on crappie and other panfish in most waters, which is more liberal than most states. But knowing a little about crappie biology and the fishery helps ease those concerns.