Bass may be prize fish, but crappie is king food fish in Oklahoma
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
2/20/13 at 8:18 AM
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Bass may be the prized trophies of Oklahoma lakes, but anglers don't catch these fish for dinner.
Even though bass are plentiful in our lakes, catching and releasing this species of fish is a practice that goes back decades.
So what are the top fish sought for food in Oklahoma?
Crappie, followed by catfish, according to Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"Crappie is the top fish list when we do the angler preference surveys," Gilliland said.
Channel or flathead catfish are also at the top of the list.
And although the lakes in the northern part of the state don't have many walleye, Gilliland said they are also a sought-after fish for food.
"They are, in my estimate, the best tasting fish. There are not as many places in Oklahoma that have them, not like crappie and catfish."
As Tulsa prepares to host part of the Bassmaster Classic from Friday through Sunday, Gilliland explained why the bass that are sought in this event aren't considered a food fish by many of the professional anglers.
"About in the early 1970s, the fellow who founded the BASS - Bass Anglers Sportsman Society - Ray Scott, he pioneered the idea of catch-and-release for bass tournaments and the thought that these fish were too valuable to be caught and kept and eaten. If you can catch them and turn them loose, someone else can catch them another day."
Gilliland explained that during the tournament, the anglers will catch the fish at Grand Lake and bring them back to the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa to be weighed. The fish should be alive, or the anglers will lose points.
The Wildlife Department will be responsible for bringing the fish back, alive, and returning them to the lake in hatchery trucks.
"For the folks who know and love Grand Lake, that is a very important part of what is going on," Gilliland said.
The concept of catch-and-release has become so ingrained with bass anglers that the harvest of bass nationwide has drastically declined, he said. But releasing the fish is not a requirement of the Wildlife Department.
"From the Wildlife Department's standpoint, we don't begrudge people for keeping fish. We have a limit of how many and what size of the various species they can catch and keep. Those limits are set up to help sustain the populations over the long term," Gilliland said.
"So if people want to keep bass to eat, there is nothing wrong with it."
The Wildlife Department has even made some steps toward encouraging more people to catch and keep bass, in particular spotted bass, as they are abundant in a lot of area lakes. "We would like people to keep more to balance the populations out," he said.
"Small spotted bass, especially during the winter, are an excellent eating fish," Gilliland said, explaining that fish taste better when the water is really cold and the flesh is a lot firmer and more appealing.
Top fish sought for food in Oklahoma
Crappie - White meat with delicate, sweet taste
Catfish - Earthy, but milder taste when taken from clean waters
Walleye - Prized for its great tasting, flaky white flesh. Walleye are not very prevalent in the northern part of the state.
Trout - Firm flesh, sometimes compared to salmon
Read the WEEKEND magazine Thursday for a special Bassmaster roundup of things to do in Tulsa.
Original Print Headline: Bass is a prize, but crappie is king food fish
Nicole Marshall Middleton 918-581-8459
A basket of crappie on the dock and ready for the fillet knife is a wintertime draw for many Oklahomans. KELLY BOSTIAN / Tulsa World
Gene Gilliland empties a bag of fish back into the release truck during the 2010 Sooner Run Elite BASS tournament on Fort Gibson Lake. Tulsa World file