True Fish Stories: The Five-Gallon Bucket Crappie

     By Josh Gowan

     By now we’ve all seen it – an angler posts a picture of a humongous crappie, with more or less the following description: My brother’s cousin’s boss’s two-year-old grandson was ripping an Alabama Rig across a flooded baseball field with his Snoopy pole when this6.5-pounder came out from behind second base and nearly yanked the rod out of his hand.
While that may be a slight exaggeration, the picture is still a problem when you’ve seen that so-called second-base crappie before, but with a caption about a different angler, usually from a different state and body of water, and nearly always with a different weight or length.
     Jeremy Aldridge, owner of Reel Deal Guide Service in Grenada, Mississippi, is one of the best tournament anglers in a state that is stuffed full of really solid tournament anglers, which makes it no surprise that he is the actual fisherman behind one of the most wrongfully attributed crappie photos on the internet. Here is the true story behind the five-gallon bucket fish.
     It was May 4, 2017, and, after leaving work, Aldridge drove his Jeep up to Arkabutla Lake in northern Mississippi for a little afternoon wade fishing. “The fish spawn late at Arkabutla,” said Aldridge. “They don’t start holding water until mid-April, so those fish won’t run in and spawn until there’s a decent rain and the water starts coming up. We’d finally gotten some rain, and the fish were coming up the creeks to spawn. I walked through the woods to a little creek and started wading. It was still shallow, but any cover in at least knee-deep water had a fish on it.
     “There was a place where the creek split, and there were two or three stakes and six or eight canes in this spot that looked perfect, but I didn’t get a bite on it. I walked out, dragging my stringer, adding an occasional fish, until I got into the main lake and the water started to get near the top of my waders. It was getting dark, and I turned around to fish my way back.
     “When I came back to that spot at the fork in the creek, I was like a bird dog on point. I sat there dead-sticking that spot for at least a solid minute, and, when he hit, it was like a cannon going off. I set the hook, and it felt like I was hung.
     “When the fish came to the top of the water, he went nuts. I only had 12 inches of line out at the end of an 11-foot rod, and as I backed the pole up to get ahold of him, I thought I had a huge female. I couldn’t get my hand around its back, and the fish wasn’t colored up at all. It was getting pretty dark, but I’ve caught some 3.5 pound females before, and I was pretty sure this one would be as good or better.”
     “That fish was so mean, I put two stringer hooks in his mouth. I’ve never done that before,” Aldridge laughed. “I wasn’t losing that crappie. I threw the fish in a 5-gallon bucket and walked up to my Jeep to get my scales. I came back and looked for the big female in the bucket, but there weren’t any females in there; it was a male, and he’d gotten darker in the bucket. He only weighed 3.02 pounds, but it was the biggest framed fish I’d ever caught. He was monstrous from top to bottom.”
     When asked how many times he’s seen the bucket fish photo shared by other anglers taking credit for it, he guessed around seventy. “I don’t say anything. I guess I kind of feel sorry for them,” he said. “And someone else usually calls it out pretty quickly.”
     Aldridge caught the fish on a black and pink Muddy Water bait (and he said he was fishing some extremely muddy water), eight-pound Stren, and an 11-foot B’n’M Buck’s Custom rod.