LITTLE ROCK – Crab cakes may be a Maryland treat, but Mayflower, Arkansas, lays claim to its own seafood treat – the Lake Conway slab crappie cake.
The recipe was concocted in the kitchen of Matt Schroeder, fisheries biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in Mayflower.
“I’d heard about people making crab cakes with crappie fillets, so I took a crab cake recipe and started adding things I liked and taking out things I didn’t,” Schroeder said. “The hard part was trying to assign numbers to the measurements because I did it all by taste.”
The first step is to get some crappie. You can’t buy crappie at a store, so you’re just going to have to get out and fish for them. Schroeder has some excellent advice about that step.
“The weather’s been a little up and down, but the crappie have moved shallow and are spawning right now,” Schroeder said. “We’ve had a few reports from anglers finding females in deeper water that have already spawned out, but the females really don’t hang around long. They move up, spawn and move out pretty quickly.”
Lake Conway is the perennial favorite, but Schroeder says another lake is beginning to get some love from avid anglers. Lake Overcup just north of Morrilton has rebounded and is turning some heads.
“People are catching so many big crappie out of Overcup right now,” Schroeder said. “We had a drawdown a couple of years ago, then we had a drought and some issues with the water-control structure on the lake, but it’s back now and people are really hammering them right now.”
One of the best techniques for catching shallow crappie also is one of the simplest – a jig or minnow suspended under a bobber.
“This technique is especially effective during the spawn in central Arkansas lakes,” Schroeder said. “Water willow lines the shore of many central Arkansas lakes, and anglers find a lot of success fishing at the edge of that water willow with a bobber-and-minnow or bobber-and-jig setup.”
Schroeder also mentions that yo-yos can work well to fill a live well, but strongly urges people to use them responsibly.
“We’ve had some issues with people leaving yo-yos behind on our lakes,” Schroeder said. “Abandoned yo-yos hanging from the trees or on a pole stuck in the lakebed are an eyesore, and they can really give a bad impression of angling to the public.”
Lake Conway Slab Crappie Cakes
1 pound crappie fillets
1 bag Zatarain’s Crab Boil
¼ cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Green onions, optional
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard Juice of half a lemon
1 sleeve Ritz crackers ½ stick butter
1 cup peanut oil
Boil crappie fillets with Zatarain’s Crab Boil until they float. Remove fillets; chill about 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat an egg; add celery, parsley, (onions and jalapenos if desired), seasonings, mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice; mix. Break crappie fillets into chunks; add to mixture. Add enough crushed crackers to mixture so it can be formed into cakes the size of hockey pucks. Roll cakes in crumbs on both sides.
Sauté cakes in butter and peanut oil until both sides are brown. Transfer to baking pan; bake 10 minutes.
This is one of 100 recipes found in the AGFC’s cookbook, “A Celebration of Conservation: 100 AGFC Recipes.” The book is available at AGFC nature centers for $10. You also can order it at www.agfc.com, and have it shipped to your home for $13.