No matter what you call it, this tasty fish is a favorite among some Maine anglers

Jul. 3—Matthew Rementer works 40 hours a week at a bait shop in the summer and 18 hours a week during the school year. In between all of that, Rementer fishes. And when the 15-year-old from Turner is in pursuit of a classic Maine fish fry, he often targets black crappie.

"It's a really tasty fish. A couple of places I specifically fish for it. It's really good," Rementer said while taking a break from his shift at Dag's Bait and Sport Goods in Auburn.

Despite its name, black crappie is a favorite for many Maine anglers who enjoy pan fish, those white fish many fry up for dinner, said Regional Fisheries Biologist Jason Seiders, who oversees many of the state's crappie waters in central Maine.

While not native to Maine, the freshwater species is a flaky, white, sweet fish many anglers enjoy.

"In recent years, we've seen this huge increase in the number of folks who just want to fish for pan fish, especially during the ice fishing season. We see a ton more interest in people fishing for pan fish, and crappie is one of them," said Seiders, who is based in in Sidney with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Black crappie occur naturally from the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes southward to the Gulf Coast, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Black crappie closely resemble bass, but have fewer dorsal fin spines, with six to eight. The species is silvery olive to golden brown with dark black mottling scattered across the body.

Black crappie is not a large fish. An adult black crappie in Maine will reach 6 to 10 inches long, although crappie exceeding 14 inches have been caught in Maine, according to IFW.

In the South where the species is native, it grows much larger, regularly reaching sizes between 12 to 18 inches in length.

The Virginia state record for black crappie, set in 1967, is 4 pound, 14 ounces. In Alabama, the record set in 1997 and tied in 2007 is 4 pounds, 5 ounces. And in South Carolina, the record from 1957 that still stands is 5 pounds.

In Maine, the black crappie state record is 3 pounds, 9.76 ounces, a fish caught in Messalonskee Lake in February 2012 by Quinn Warren, according to The Maine Sportsman, which keeps state records.

Another difference between black crappie in Maine and the South is how fishermen refer to it.

"Before I came to IFW, I was a fish consultant and worked with a bunch of southern states," Seiders said. "We're from Maine and we call them crappie. But where they are native in the southern states, they call them croppie. If I called them crappie down there, they'd look at me like I was a Yankee."

Part of the danger in anglers favoring an invasive fish, Seiders said, is that those species sometimes get moved around illegally, which will harm native fish populations. Seiders said in the past 10 years, there has been an explosion in the number of crappie waters that have come online in central Maine.

A tour of crappie waters in central Maine one weekend in early June revealed some enthusiasm among fishermen for catching crappie, but not eating them. Catch-and-release is a widespread practice among anglers in the state.

"I can show you some of the biggest crappie you ever seen near my house," said Scott Elwell of North Searsport, while fishing in Litchfield's Pleasant Pond. "I know they are good eating. I've heard people tell me that. I just don't keep any fish."

Nearly every cast will bring up a crappie in Webber Pond in Vassalboro, said David Coons, who was fishing there in early June. He said the species is worth eating during ice-fishing season, and he does. But he said in the heat of summer, they can be full of worms, so he throws them back

Don Beadle, co-owner of Beadles Tackle Shop in Shapleigh, said it's strange how people don't target many traditional pan fish as much as they once did.

"All these guys put them back now. I don't know why. I used to eat a ton of bass. But I stopped about four to five years ago," Beadle said. "Around here people would fish for crappie, sunfish, perch, pickerel and used to eat them."

But Seiders said plenty of pan fish enthusiasts still exist in Maine.

And the 15-year-old Rementer is one of them. The young fisherman targets a number of different species from lake trout to smallmouth bass and brook trout. He fishes the Rangeley region and up on Chamberlain Lake along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway for lake trout and brook trout. But his crappie fishing he does closer to home.

Rementer said whenever he and his father get into a school of crappie, they'll bring home a bunch — because there is no size or bag limit on the species in Maine — and he'll invite his friends over for a party.

And Rementer points out, he calls the species "croppie," as they do down South.

"My dad always says croppie, too. He's from New Jersey and has fished in Virginia," Rementer said. "It's fun sometimes to catch your own food."