If the face of crappie fishing in the Tarheel State had a face, it would bear a striking resemblance to Ed Duke of Concord, who, as founder of the Southern Crappie Association and its tournament series, has been a major player in the state's crappie fishing community for over 20 years.

Through the years, Duke said he's seeing an alarming trend occurring on many of his beloved lakes, particularly smaller impoundments such as Blewett Falls, northwest of Rockingham.

"For years, Blewett Falls was the premier, unnoticed fishing lake in the Carolinas. It is a small, 3,200-acre reservoir where, if you ever wanted to catch a 3-pound crappie and possibly a 4-pound crappie, that was the lake to fish," said Duke, who believes part of the problem is smaller reservoirs can't withstand the fishing pressure they can receive.

"It's nobody's fault," said Duke. "With today's modern technology – the information highway, all these different web sites and chat rooms – as soon as the fish start biting in one location, the next day there's a crowd."

Duke also points out that crappie can be severely overfished in areas where they seek refuge.

"For years, crappie on Blewett Falls always stop in a small pond on their fall migration route up the river," he said. "Ten to fifteen years ago, you could fish up there and never see another person, because it's hard to get to. But people have found out about it and go fish this little 2-acre pond and bring their limit home every day. That pressure has taken a toll on the fish population in this lake, and we've seen the results in fewer fish this spring."

Opponents may point to the crappie's cyclical reproduction schedule and suggest that Blewett Falls may just be having an off-year. Duke indicates that's not the case.

"I feel certain this is a sign of overfishing," said Duke. "I've seen lakes go through their 5-year transition before and come back. This lake is steadily dropping off, and it's more than just a cycle."

Duke said he would like to see some controls instituted on Blewett Falls, controls that have been shown to work on other lakes.

"I've pleaded with wildlife officers," he said. "I think the biologists are out of touch and not listening to the fishermen. My personal suggestion is drop the limit to 10 or 15 fish and a minimum of 10 inches. I know the wildlife officers are doing everything they can. This spring they found two guys that had 236 fish when they were checked. And thank the Lord, they got caught, and they paid the price for it."