Don’t bother asking Donivan Echols exactly where he caught that new state record black crappie on Lake Wilhelmina.
“It’s a secret spot,” dad Richard Echols chimed in as 11-year-old Donivan grinned.
Secret spot on a 200-acre lake?
It is a small area that crappie use for spawning, Richard Echols said. It has a peculiarity. You can go in by boat and not get a bite. But walk in quietly and fish from the bank and good things happen.
That was the case recently when Donivan, Richard and Donivan’s uncle, Lee McCandless, went after crappie. They parked their vehicle, walked the short distance and started fishing, using live minnows for bait. They caught a few small bream and a few small crappie over a two-hour span.
Then Donivan, fishing between the two close-by adults, got a big hit a little after noon.
“It nearly pulled the rod out of my hands,” he said.
What a crappie. Five pounds even officially, and that came after a wait of several hours to get it officially verified and certified. Ronnie Richardson of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission handled this, with the weighing at the Rocky Stop store not far from Lake Wilhelmina.
Donivan was 10 on that day and had a birthday a few days later. He will go into the sixth grade at Acorn School in August.
That rod the big crappie nearly pulled away from him was a brand-new one. So were the reel and other fishing gear Donivan had with him. They were purchases after he finished a project for his grandparents — digging a French drain three feet wide, three feet deep and 30 feet long. Plenty of robust grown men would shy away from a project like that. Not Donivan. He pocketed the $75 he earned and baptized the new gear with a state record.
Fishing and hunting are passions for rusty-red-haired, freckled faced Donivan, who says he wants to be a park ranger when he reaches adulthood.
“I liked to hunt for big deer,” he said.
“He’s the fisherman and the hunter,” Richard Echols said. “I just do a little, go along with him sometimes.”
Donivan’s black crappie broke the Arkansas record of 4 pounds, 9 ounces that had been in place for 36 years. That one was caught by Danny Burfield of Ola on March 29, 1976, on little Lake Oladale. Burfield’s catch was just a few days after the Arkansas record for largemouth bass, 12 pounds, 4 ounces, was set. This one remains the state record.
Keith Stephens of the Game and Fish Commission said Donivan’s crappie may set records beyond Arkansas.
According to the International Game Fish Association, the all-tackle for black crappie is a 5-pound fish caught April 21, 2005, by John R. Horstman from a private lake in Missouri. The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum recognizes a 6-pound fish caught Nov. 28, 1969, by Lettie Robertson from Westwego Canal in Louisiana.
Donivan’s fishing line was 12-pound-test. The 12-pound line-class record for both organizations is a 4-pound, 4-ounce fish caught by Sheril Harris, March 18, 1984, on Paint Creek in Alabama.
There are two species of crappie — white and black. To most people, they are similar except for the darker color of the black crappie. Both are found in abundant numbers in Arkansas.
Fisheries biologists say white crappie sometimes are found in water more shallow than black crappie prefer. Both are often found near underwater structure like stumps, trees and stickups. Both go for live minnows and for small jigs, with other lures like small crank baits and spinners occasionally used by anglers.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.