True Fish Stories: The 4-pound 6-ounce Monster Illinois Crappie

     By Josh Gowan

   How big is big? How large, how long, or how heavy does a crappie have to be to be considered a trophy? The answer is completely subjective, and depends on where you live, how often you get to fish, and the size of the fish you normally catch.
     For many anglers, the three-pound mark is the magic number, and when Mike Zimmer caught a crappie just over three pounds on Kincaid Lake in Southern Illinois, he wanted to put it on the wall. His wife was firmly against it. “I already had a lot of mounts, so I didn’t put up much of an argument,” said Zimmer. “I’m glad I didn’t.”
     The next week, March 15th to be exact, Zimmer was back on Kincaid fishing the same area as the week before. “It was cold that morning, 26 degrees, and being the middle of the week, there weren’t very many boats on the lake,” said Zimmer. “I was fishing big treetops on a shallow ledge, pitching a slip-cork 18 inches above a 1/32-ounce Kelly Green Grizzly Jig tipped with a minnow. I pulled up to the first tree and caught ten keepers immediately. The bite was so good I started culling out the smaller fish.
     “The second treetop was loaded too, and I pulled a 3.25 and 3.5-pounder out of it,” said Zimmer. “I already had the heaviest stringer of crappie I’d ever caught. I had 18 fish over 2 pounds, including the two that were over three pounds. On the way to the third treetop there was about a fifty yard stretch, and I was pitching up to a shallow weedline on the way, basically just keeping my minnow wet, and about halfway there I missed a bite. I pitched back in and my bobber shot straight under. I set the hook and honestly thought I had a muskie; it felt too heavy and was fighting too hard to be a crappie. I was using a 12 foot B’n’M with 4-pound Mr. Crappie mono and all I had was a little short net, but I managed to get the fish in the boat.
     “I must have just sat in the bottom of the boat for ten minutes. I’d never seen anything like it. It was the biggest crappie I’d ever seen.
     Since there was barely anyone on the lake and I didn’t have a scale, I went back to the bait shop I’d bought minnows at and weighed it on their scales. The guy at the shop told me I should call the DNR and get it officially weighed because it was so close to the state record.
     “The DNR told me to take it to a butcher’s shop or a post office, and I remember thinking that those places wouldn’t want me bringing a fish in to weigh. I was wrong! The butcher was excited and welcomed me in, but his scale only went to tenths, so I left there and went to the post office. It settled at 4.375 pounds, a couple ounces shy of the record.
     “I got home and started pulling the fish out and my wife was freaking out before she even saw the biggest one. She never said a word about me mounting that one!”
     If Zimmer hadn’t started culling fish, he would have hit his limit before catching that once-in-a-lifetime crappie, and there’s certainly a lesson to be learned about keeping your bait in the water in between spots. In 2010, Zimmer didn’t have a camera-phone or Facebook, but the photo the owner of the bait shop took of the fish made it back to his brother within 48 hours, and over the next few years, the picture would pop back up, generally with a caption about a different state, different lake, and exaggerated weight, as if 4 pounds 6 ounces needs to be exaggerated!