When I get back to Minneapolis, I call Gary Bernard, the Department of Natural Resources' fisheries director in Bemidji. The crappie explosion on Red Lake, Bernard acknowledges, took the DNR by surprise. In hindsight, he says, it makes sense that the crappies would fill the niche left by the walleyes, though no one anticipated they'd appear in such numbers.
"It's the best crappie fishery I've ever seen," he says. When I ask him about the story I first heard from Charlie Norris, about the pilot who'd spotted the giant schools of crappie in the shallows, Bernard pauses, as if he isn't anxious to dash a myth. "I've heard it before, and I'm somewhat skeptical," he finally says. "But it's not impossible. Maybe someone did see something. Maybe there was a school swimming very close to the surface."