The late Gerry Damren said it to me first 20 years ago.

“I don’t understand,” he began, “why people want black crappie in Maine. We already have white perch.”

Because of the similarities between the two species, I have heard this thought myriad times since. For instance, white perch (Morone americana) and black crappies (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) often travel in schools, usually stay within 30 feet of the surface, hit bait, artificials and flies, fight respectively well and have white, flaky, delicious meat.

In short, if anglers know how to fish for and cook white perch, they have a knowledge base for successfully tackling black crappies.

(“Crappie” comes from the French-Canadian word “crapet” and has an odd pronunciation — “croppies” like “crop.”)

Lots of Mainers and tourists adore black crappies, so now this invasive species inhabits lots of flowing waters as well as 300-plus (and counting) ponds and lakes, thanks mostly to bucket biologists illegally spreading this fish far and wide in Maine.

Many Maine anglers take advantage of the bounty, too. Tom Seymour of Waldo enjoys crappie fishing, and the evening I interviewed him for this column, he had just returned from an outing.

Like many crappie anglers, Seymour disapproves of illegal stocking of invasive species, but now that this species has gained a strong foothold in Maine, he targets them for fun and food.

Seymour grew up fishing for white perch, but these days, he prefers crappies. This avid angler admits that pound for pound, white perch fight better, but crappies keep better in a freezer than white perch do.

Perch get fishy after six months, but crappies can freeze well for up to a year — important to a man who lives off the land like a 17th century settler.

Whether white perch or black crappies offer the best victuals will keep cracker-barrel orators going for the next several centuries, so that debate won’t be settled today.

Crappie anglers are quick to point out a fact about white perch: Black crappies may be invasive in Maine, but before Old World settlers arrived, white perch had a much smaller range near our coast. Native Americans had spread perch a little inland from its original range, but starting in the 17th century, folks from Great Britain and Europe really stocked white perch across the state in the next two centuries. In short, in most waters, white perch are invasive, too.

Crappies have one undeniable feature in Maine. They provide fast action and a guilt-free source for a fish fry or chowder. People accept catch and kill for crappies far quicker than for brook trout or landlocked salmon.

Black crappies range from silvery olive to golden brown on the back and have silvery sides with an irregular mosaic of black splotches. In many Maine waters, silvery is no exaggeration, either. They can be quite silver against the blackish design.

This crappie species prefers clear, clean water with little current, and it finds a safe haven in bottom weed beds. In summers, it hangs near drop-offs, by peninsulas or near any shallows descending sharply into depths.

Seymour made an interesting comment in his interview. He claims that in still water, crappies and white perch travel in segregated schools, but in rivers and streams, they do mix with one another.

The day of this interview, Seymour said that in sluggish sections of the Sebasticook River, he’d catch a crappie, then a white perch and then occasionally a largemouth bass. This gave him an excellent opportunity to compare fighting qualities, and he gave the edge to white perch.

Seymour was catching three species while sitting in one spot, casting two of his favorite lures with an ultra-light spinning rod — a chartreuse Squirmin’ Squirt or heavily weighted Golden Retriever nymph fly. He likes Trout Magnets for crappies, too.

The manufacturers of Trout Magnets also sell Crappie Magnets, but he finds the latter so small that crappies swallow the lure deeply, making it tough to remove the hook.

According to Seymour, crappies were striking the nymph so softly that he felt no resistance, calling for intuitive strikes.

The world-record black crappie, a Virginia-grown specimen, weighed 4 pounds 8 ounces, but according to Jim Lucas, a fisheries biologist at IFW, Maine crappies average 9.5 inches in length. Many Maine waters produce 7- to 10-inch crappies, but a 1.5-pounder raises few eyebrows.

The day of the interview, Seymour’s crappies averaged 1 pound. He claims most of his crappies taken in Waldo County exceed 10 inches, and Unity Pond ranks as one of his favorite spots.

First-year crappies eat zooplankton, small Diptera and so forth. As they get older, they concentrate on larger nymphs and eventually baitfish, particularly members of the minnow family.

The baitfish info reminds me of a quick anecdote. Many years ago, Val Marquez of Shapleigh told me that he does well on southern Maine crappies in Mousam Lake, using a Gray Ghost streamer around peninsulas.

This fly allegedly imitates a smelt, suggesting smelts comprise part of a crappie’s diet, but this streamer fly also resembles many minnow species.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]