Categorized | Opinion

Tournament Time

By Josh McGowan

James R. Bramlett with a probable world-record striped bass at 70 pounds, caught in the Black Warrior River near Dora, Alabama.

James R. Bramlett with a probable world-record striped bass at 70 pounds, caught in the Black Warrior River near Dora, Alabama.

What a weekend for fishing! BassPro Shop’s CrappieMasters tournament trail came to town, and when that happens, deplorable weather generally follows, and this past week was no exception! Nearly 100 anglers toughed out some horrendous conditions at Reelfoot Lake over the weekend, and Chippy and I were right in the middle of it!

It’s a rare occasion when we get a weekday off, and two is just unheard of, but this past week Chippy and I descended on Reelfoot Lake on Wednesday night for two days of pre-fishing before Saturday’s tourney. Chippy just acquired a nice trailer at our favorite resort on the lake, Sportsman’s South, which is where we called home for the trip. The resort has a ramp that just happened to be very close to where we fished, allowing us to leave the boat in the water, which was extremely convenient.

We woke up Thursday to frigid temperatures and high winds, a preempt to what the next few days would bring. We immediately headed out to try “old faithful”, the area we’d been catching fish the last few weeks. We caught plenty of fish, but not any real big ones, which was what it would take to win. The crappie have been running really big this year, and we knew what some of the locals were catching, it was go big or go home! Around 8 a.m., Paul Alpers, the director of CrappieMasters and host of CrappieMasters TV called me and asked if it would be alright if they came out and filmed us for a while. After “mic-ing” us up and filming and answering some questions, they dropped the camera man, Eric Lynch, off in the boat with us and took off. Being amateur videographers ourselves, it was a blast having a professional camera man on board. We managed to catch a few fish and refrain from saying anything stupid, and picked up some tips on videoing.

We came in for lunch and drove up to the north end of the lake to search for black crappie. Although the tournament is usually won with big blackies, the multiple inches of rain over the last week had muddied up the water throughout the shallows, and no one that we knew of was catching any blacks. After trying a few spots, we cut through the woods in to Allen’s Opening at Walnut Log. As we emerged from the thick cypress trees, we saw my friend and guide John Fagan, owner/operator of Grey’s Camp, catch two good black crappie. It’s etiquette among tournament fishermen to stay off another fisherman’s spot, at least while he’s there! But knowing someone was catching specks inspired us to fish harder, and lingered in the back of our minds throughout the week. We managed to catch a couple black crappie, but nothing over a pound. We fished until dark, and retired to the trailer to make plans for the morning.

We awoke early Friday morning to find everything covered with snow. Although Saturday was colder temperature wise, the wet snow and wind on Friday made for a miserable morning on the lake. We’d decided to concentrate on white crappie in the south portion of the lake. The forecast for Saturday was northwest wind at 10-20, and although we added two batteries, chains, and a full live well to the front of the boat to attempt to keep our poles from bouncing, the high winds would negate those efforts, so we spent Friday searching for fish out of the brunt of the wind. We had a nice treat around 11am each day, the aching in our toes subsided to numbness, which was nice! It took all day Friday, and only a few hours before the 4pm deadline to stop pre-fishing, we managed to find some nice crappie in 4 ft of water partially protected from the wind.

Saturday morning we were at our spot patiently waiting on 7 a.m., which is when you can start fishing. Everything that was wet the night before froze overnight. The line was frozen to the poles, the reels wouldn’t crank, and everything had a hard coat of ice on it. We marked the spot with our gps the day before, but threw out a marker buoy to make it easier to fish around without having to watch the depth finder. We were spider-rigging using 1/4 ounce chartreuse jig heads with glow chartreuse LakeForks, tipped with a minnow, and as we eased up to the buoy, two poles slammed down. We missed a few and caught a few, and grinded out fish here and there throughout the day. It snowed most of the time, and the wind blew all day. In the 8 1/2 hours we were on the water, we had 15 bites and landed 10 fish.

Our biggest 7 fish weighed 9.06 lbs, which was good enough for 11th place and a new depth finder. The big glass boats took us to school, fishing in the brunt of the wind all day. Dan Porter and Matt Williams took first and $4000 check with their 11.58 pound stringer.

We recorded a lot of video of our trip, you can watch it at

Josh M. Gowan Outdoors Writer, Crappie Angler Magazine 573-579-0212,

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March 2013
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