No one else has done it, at least not any who have come forward. But Dennis and Donna Miller have. The Livingston, Texas, couple have each caught a crappie in all of the lower 48 states. By the measure of any fisherman, it is quite a feat.
Donna had the upper hand in the quest to catch a crappie in 48 states. There are no crappie waters in Alaska or Hawaii. At one time Donna had a seven-state lead but Dennis wasn't about to let that stand for long.
"He's more of a serious fishing person than I am," said Donna. "I was ahead of him for quite a while but he finally caught his West Virginia crappie."
The Crappiebusters, Donna and Dennis Miller, of Livingston, Texas, have caught crappies in all 48 states where they are available. The Millers sell several items at their booth in the Commercial II building, ranging from a product called “rescue tape” to fishing lures.
While Donna prefers fishing with live bait, Dennis opts for homemade lures. His favorite is a small jig with a yellow head and skirt and brown body.
"I make them myself," said Dennis. "The crappies are in the brush and so forth, so if you are not losing lures, you are not catching crappies."
Dennis was born in Mott. He is retired from the Air Force. A hobby of his has long been as a ham radio operator. In fact, said Dennis, he has talked to somebody in every county in the United States 3,076 of them. It was a natural for the avid fisherman to carry over his state fetish to catching crappies.
"It took us nine years," said Dennis. "Our third from the last state was Nevada. We tried nine different places out there. Four or five of them didn't even have crappies in them anymore."
The Millers didn't give up. Not a chance. They got a tip that there might be decent crappie fishing in a remote Nevada lake, but getting there proved to be an adventure. A hitch on their trailer broke and dumped the trailer into a ditch.
"We didn't catch crappies there either," said Dennis.
Later, though, at another Nevada lake, they did catch a few of their favorite fish.
"No one knew they were in there," recalled Dennis. "The water was 5 feet deep and the weeds were 4 feet tall, so you can imagine how tough that was."
After Nevada the Millers got back into their vehicle and ventured into New Mexico for, what else, another crappie fishing excursion. They have also fished crappies in alligator-infested waters in Florida and in the north woods of Maine.
"We have fished in some beautiful places and one that really stands out was in Maine," said Dennis. "We fished there last summer for the prettiest crappie you've ever seen. Just gorgeous."
Most of the Millers' fishing has been from a canoe or inflatable boat, which allows them to get into a lot of places a regular fishing boat may have difficulty getting to. Dennis prefers using a 12-foot to 16-foot-long fishing pole for crappies, which he says allows him to work an area very gently.
"A lot of the time you have to hang the bait right in front of them to catch them," explained Dennis.
While the Millers call Livingston, Texas, home, they are really full-time RVers. Dennis said the couple really hasn't been to Livingston more than four times in the last 12 years. Recently their RV was parked near Lake Metigoshe, a lake with a decent population of crappies. However, said Dennis, the wind was blowing too hard to allow fishing. No matter. The Millers had already hooked crappies in North Dakota, having accomplished that at Northgate Dam.
Next up for the Millers is another fishing accomplishment that very few fishermen have likely achieved the catching of freshwater fish in all 50 states.
"Next year we are going to Hawaii to catch fish in freshwater. There's only one guide on the island," said Donna.
Surrounded by an ocean of saltwater, Hawaii does have at least one inland lake filled with fresh water and that is where the Millers are headed. The lake was stocked with peacock bass many years ago. It also boasts a fishable population of other bass species.
The Millers have a booth in the Commercial II building at the State Fair. There Dennis and Donna talk fishing, sell a few fishing lures and other items ranging from a utility tool to "rescue tape."
"It actually had its genesis in the Air Force," explained Dennis. "It is a pure silicone tape. It can fix any kind of leak, holds up to 700 psi and will tolerate up to 500 degrees. It has 8,000 volts of insulation versus black tape with 600. Basically it is duct tape and electrical tape on steroids."
The Millers said they enjoy events like the North Dakota State Fair, not only to sell a few products but to visit with people. More importantly, to find out where the local fish are biting, especially crappies.