MADILL, Okla. (AP) _ Anyone who's fished at Lake Texoma knows it's a popular spot for bass fishing.
Frank Judkins knows that as well as anybody. He moved to Texoma 22 years ago. He fished for bass. He enjoyed it. Then in the fall of 1980, he saw a revelation and a species of fish he has since dedicated his time to catching.
For a long time, Judkins considered himself the best crappie guide on Texoma.
He was the worst crappie guide on Texoma, too.
He was the only crappie guide.
``The day I was introduced to them, I had a 5-gallon bucket almost full of big crappie,'' said Judkins, a retired insurance salesman who moved to the lake with his wife Alma in the late 1970s.
``I was bass fishing, and I was thinking I was seeing bass'' on sonar. ``It turned out they were crappie.''
He hasn't backed away from the species since, helping create habitat. But it's been a battle. Texoma was created 50 years ago, and all brush was cleaned out, said Paul Mauck, south central region fisheries supervisor with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Brush is what makes for good crappie habitat.
``That makes a tremendous amount of difference,'' Mauck said. ``You'll usually find crappie in rock formations, structures, over brush.''
Crappie fishing on Texoma is stable each year, Mauck said, but the population isn't large.
``Other lakes _ Hugo, Eufaula, Waurika, for instance _ have a higher crappie abundance than Texoma would,'' he said. ``They have a habitat that's better suited for crappie.''
Judkins has kept detailed records since Jan. 6, 1989.
``I have been actively fishing, and my records have been real inclusive of the activity,'' Judkins said. ``I have found that records are good regardless of what kind of luck you have. If you had bad luck, it tells you what not to do. If you have good luck, it tells you to keep doing it.
``What I've noticed is that the quantity is not there, but the quality has surely increased.''
Mauck said the growth rates have been better and that there is now a 10-inch crappie limit on Texoma.
``The overall population of the lake is not as high as it is on some other lakes, which is understandable with the high density of predators within that lake,'' Mauck said. ``The wildlife department has put in about 40 fish attractors in various coves on the Oklahoma side of the lake. We refurbish the brush in and around those fish attractors every other year.''
And crappie anglers have been a big help, Mauck said, because they have helped create habitat, like Judkins did in various spots around the lake.
``Crappie fishermen who put out the brush and know where it is can really do some good,'' Mauck said. ``In the springtime, there is some really great fishing. Some years the conditions may be a little better.''
Judkins is hoping for better. He considers crappie the ideal family fish.
``I would like to see people in the fisheries department be more interested in the crappie population of Lake Texoma,'' Judkins said. ``You can bring a young family out here with kids and fish for crappie all day long.
``I don't understand why we don't do more about it.''
He would like to see a netting program so biologists can determine the crappie population on Texoma.
Mauck said, though, that 70 percent of anglers on Texoma are seeking striped bass.
``Texoma has good bass fishing, be it largemouth, spotted or small mouth,'' Mauck said. ``We have a wide variety, which is what makes that lake so unique.''
Nonetheless, Judkins will be out on his boat regularly, trying to reel in as many crappie as possible. He hopes that his records will prove he has been a big part of enhancing the crappie population. But there's more to it.
``I love being on the water,'' Judkins said. ``I don't guide anymore; it's for pure enjoyment. It gives me a chance to meditate and pray. I get to be with God and his wonderful creations.''