ENID, Miss. (AP) — If you're fishing one of Mississippi's 19 state-operated lakes this winter and you catch a crappie with a dark stripe running down its back, don't worry.
There's nothing wrong with it. It's a relatively new breed of fish known as a "Magnolia crappie" that state conservation officials have been experimenting with for quite a while.
The stocked 18,000 Magnolia crappie into several state lakes this past week, and they plan to release about 200,000 of the strange-looking fish into lakes around the state by year's end.
"One of the reasons crappie don't do well in small impoundments is because they reproduce so fast," said Ron Garavelli, chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "They become overpopulated and they stunt. But since Magnolia crappie don't reproduce, they're a perfect alternative for small fisheries."
The typical black crappie and white crappie that inhabit most Mississippi fisheries are some of the most prolific fish in North America.
In major fisheries like Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid and Grenada, overpopulation is not a concern. Those lakes receive heavy fishing pressure, and they have plenty of predator fish to help with population control.
But when typical black and white crappie are stocked into smaller fisheries, they sometimes become overpopulated — and that creates a gigantic mess.
Overpopulated crappie usually don't get bigger than 3 to 4 inches. They tend to look sickly, and they don't serve much purpose at all to anglers.
"That's one of the main reasons we don't recommend stocking them in a lot of ponds," said Jeff Slipke of Southeastern Pond Management, a company that specializes in stocking and maintaining private lakes around the Mid-South. "Crappie are one of the best-eating fish in the water, but their numbers can get out of hand in a hurry."
Magnolia crappie, a hybrid cross between a female white crappie and a male black crappie, don't reproduce. That means when you stock 3,000, you're never going to have more than that.
That will make it easier for state fisheries biologists like Garavelli to monitor their progress in the state-operated lakes.
"It's a put-and-take fishery," Garavelli said. "We conduct annual creel surveys at all of our state lakes, and that will give us a good idea of how many of these Magnolia crappie are being taken out. We'll stock more into certain lakes based on the numbers from those surveys."
Garavelli said Magnolia crappie were stocked this past week into Lake Mike Conner, Lake Claude Bennett, Prentiss Walker Lake, Simpson County Lake and Lake Jeff Davis. They have previously been stocked into several other state lakes, and many more lakes are scheduled for stockings in the future.
The Magnolia crappie were raised at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery — and that's just one more good reason to be impressed with that place.
Located in Enid, the hatchery covers 58 acres and includes a state-of-the-art hatchery building, a maintenance shop and 12 production ponds. Three or four of those production ponds are filled each year with Magnolia crappie.
In addition to hybrid crappie, the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery raises northern largemouth bass, southern walleye, paddlefish, alligator gar, white crappie, black crappie, grass carp, bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcracker).
In the meantime, if you catch a strange-looking crappie from one of Mississippi's state-operated lakes, don't fret. It's part of an important project that could improve the quality of fishing in those lakes for years to come.