Crappie Fishing from a Recliner

Sipping light beer and smoking a menthol cigarette, the woman wearing a blue NASCAR cap inside Peanut's Crappie House pulled her line from the murky depths of Lake Eddleman.

Not a bite. Nary a nibble.

"They're down there," Debbie "Peanut" Reynolds assured.

Catfish. Bass. White and black crappie galore.

Hercules, half-napping, looked up and barked as if in full agreement.

Three other mutts lay along the plank floor or sprawled on a dilapidated plaid sofa. On television the uniformed crew of the USS Enterprise faced another intergalactic crisis on a rerun of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Reynolds, 49, inspected her hot pink tube jig.

"I love sci-fi," she said, nodding at the screen.

Best of all she loves fishing and the ebb and flow of her uncomplicated life.

Peanut's Crappie House sits near the end of a winding, potholed dirt road north of Graham, about 100 miles northwest of Fort Worth.

The sheet-metal structure -- an enclosed dock -- isn't much to look at, but from the comfort of her favorite swivel chair the owner can fish all day, watch TV, talk to her pets ("Beethoven, be-have!") and welcome anglers of all ages as they renew their springtime pursuit of crappie, the most popular panfish in Texas.

"It's sad. There aren't many places like this left," Reynolds said.

Her business, open every day, and similar operations are slowly disappearing from the landscape. Rocky Creek Marina operates a crappie house on Lake Benbrook. Lake Weatherford Marina has one too.

"I'm told that as these places get old they aren't replaced," said Phylis McQuern, an employee at Lake Weatherford Marina. "Droughts and storms have taken a toll. There are very few to go to, now."

Lake levels have taken their toll as well, said Tom Hungerford, an assistant biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Fort Worth.

"The water level fluctuations over the last five years probably have made business pretty tough for those (crappie house) folks," he said.

Reynolds, an Amarillo native, spent many years in Phoenix and held various jobs while living there. She managed a grocery store. She drove a taxi and a city bus. After her parents died, she moved to Young County 2½ years ago and, on a whim, bought the crappie house from Cloyce Shadwick.

Cloyce and wife Lu now run C & L's Bait and Tackle, which is just down the road a bit. Both are partial to crappie.

"Best eatin' fish there are," Cloyce Shadwick declared.

Reynolds enjoys the delicate flavor of the white, flaky fish, too.

"You can deep-fry crappie. Bake crappie. Broil it. ... I put crappie in a nice pot of tater soup." The crappie house owner spoke in a measured cadence, like Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue reciting all the ways to prepare shrimp in the movie "Forrest Gump."

Under ideal conditions, Reynolds said, a person who drops a line in the 30-foot waters of her fishing house can hook a couple of dozen of the schooling fish in 90 minutes.

"If you can't catch them in here," she said, "then the fish just aren't biting."

In Texas, crappie are subject to a 10-inch minimum and a per-person daily bag of 25. White crappie weighing 4½ pounds have been caught in Texas waters, according to the wildlife department.

On Feb. 3, Reynolds said, she and her customers caught 85 "keepers."

She watched a local supermarket butcher reel in a yellow cat using a lightweight rod. The fish weighed 13 pounds, 10 ounces.

"It was like pulling a refrigerator up with a string," Reynolds said of the 20-minute battle of wills.

Fishing remains one of the least costly forms of recreation. Peanut's Crappie House charges adults $5 to fish all day; $3 for seniors and children.

"I don't sell bait anymore," Reynolds said. "But I'll keep a box or two of worms around for the little kids. Some of these parents are clueless. They bring kids out here with bass lures and giant minnows. They're not going to catch squat with that stuff."

Allen Shultz, 25, a self-described jack-of-all-trades, lives part time on nearby Possum Kingdom Lake. On a recent morning, before the wind picked up, he caught a string of crappie, enough to feed 10 people, including himself and his uncle's family.

Reynolds sees the economic hardships. Near the end of each month, more seniors living on fixed incomes appear at the crappie house to fish for food. The owner offers them fish she has caught, her way of being neighborly.

A pleasant woman with a husky laugh, she is a fixture there, arriving by dawn and staying until after dark. Her rules are simple: No running. No glass containers. No leaving hooks on the floor. Reynolds once had to dig a catfish hook out of Baby Doll's paw.

"This pays the bills. That's all I care about," she said happily.

She looked around the primitive setting. The furniture is old, soiled, showing age. The roof leaks. But Reynolds enjoys the sunrises and sunsets. She has birds to watch, and she owns the basic necessities: a TV, her movie collection, a hot plate, a microwave oven and a wood-burning stove.

Best of all she has her dogs to keep her company.

"Hercules, he fishes too," Reynolds said proudly.


"Dives right off the damn dock."

Debbie Reynolds -- "spelled just like the movie star" -- smiled at her big-pawed friend, fast asleep. "Caught an 8-pound channel cat last year. Fish looked big as he is."

More: Video of Peanut's Crappie Shack from Star-Telegram

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