SANFORD – Jeff Lemay really just wanted to find out if there were any big crappie in his favorite pond. And, OK, he also wanted to fish.

So Lemay proposed that Sanford High School administration allow him to do an independent science project his senior year, give him credit for it, and let him fish.

“It’s for the good of science,” Lemay said, smiling.

Nine months later and with close to 400 crappie tagged, the project at his local pond is no joke.

Lemay and biology teacher Josh Delcourt put together a project for a population study of the fish in Bauneg Beg Pond and asked the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for permission to tag the fish, in order to determine the population size.

Crappie are not a species that the state manages as a game fish because they are not native, the population in Bauneg Beg having been illegally introduced years ago.

Since it is not a resource the state is managing carefully, the department agreed to issued a permit to tag.

Convincing the administration at Sanford High took a little more work, since independent projects are not typically done, said Delcourt, Lemay’s adviser on the project.

“There were quite a few skeptics. Other teachers asked, ‘Is he really going to learn as much as he would sitting in class?’” Delcourt said. “In 14 weeks he would sit in class 120 hours. Already in four weeks he has worked on this 70 hours. And he hasn’t started writing the report yet. He is learning science, math and language arts. He’s working on an Excel spreadsheet. He’s learning more than science.”

Delcourt fishes the pond that straddles North Berwick and Sanford, one of Lemay’s favorite places to fish for crappie. There, the population is ample, but the fish are small and never close to the 14-inch crappie that Delcourt has caught elsewhere.

The crappie he has caught in Bauneg Beg average only 9 inches.

Lemay wondered why the crappie elsewhere were bigger. Is the population in the pond too big? So he proposed trying to find out, rather than sitting in a classroom.

He goes to the pond after his other classes, working to catch crappie and tag them, meticulously writing the time he starts fishing, the time he finishes, the location on the pond where he catches each fish, and its weight and length. He also records the method used to catch the fish, the depth at which it was caught, and its tag number.

He’s all business, but he’s still having fun.

Any large fish is called a “slab.” If it’s between 11 and 15 inches long, it’s a “slab daddy.” If it’s more than 15 inches — and so far none has been that big — the fish will be termed a “Bruce Gooch.”

“He was my bus driver in elementary school. He was idealized,” Lemay said, grinning.

Joking aside, the state’s fisheries biologists were impressed after just a month of work.

“It’s kind of an interesting project. I think it’s the only one I’ve seen quite like it,” said regional fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam, who has been with the fisheries and wildlife department since 1995. “I think it will certainly give the student an appreciation for fisheries management. I haven’t seen a project of this scope at the high school level. He is learning fisheries conservation. These kinds of things are (usually) not learned until college.”

After Lemay spent the month of February catching and tagging, March will be spent catching and counting. The number of recaptured fish will help him calculate his population estimate.

It’s a lot of field work, but for the young outdoorsman who started Sanford High’s outdoor club last year, it’s a labor of love.

“I’m the Crappie Whisperer,” he said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph