Categorized | Opinion

Heartlander Abroad

By Josh Gowan

Brandon Fulgham poses with a 3.32-pound crappie from Lake Washington, Miss.

Brandon Fulgham poses with a 3.32-pound crappie from Lake Washington, Miss.

That’s right folks, my favorite title to write under, used when I chase fish or game out of our beautiful little chunk of America! I know many of you probably expected another elaborate plan with which to eradicate Satan’s favorite furbearer, Punxsutawney Phil, due to this arctic sleeper hold we’re all succumbing to, but not today! Late Saturday evening I left 76 degree weather in southern Mississippi and made it home just in time to chop a rank of firewood and put the chains back on the tires, but rather than be disgruntle, I’m going to spend these next few miserable snow days in a blissful ignorance, reminiscing about the Mississippi Delta!
Lake Washington, Mississippi is one of the most famous crappie fisheries in the country among anglers seeking huge fish. Located right beside the Mississippi River and a little further south than Grenada Lake (the most famous “huge crappie” lake in the country), this old river chute turned lake holds some giant fish.
Generally, BassPro Shop’s Crappie Master’s tournament trail is at Reelfoot the first weekend of March, but this year that date got switched to May, and when I saw Washington had replaced it, Chippy and I began making plans to be there. Neither of us had ever been there before, and we were excited to not only fish a big tournament, which is always a blast, but even more-so to visit a new lake and a new area, and the opportunity for a chance at catching crappie bigger than anything we see around here was just a bonus!
We arrived in Greenville late Wednesday night and were on the water on Thursday on one of the nicest days I’ve experienced this year. Whenever going to a new lake, especially for a tournament, gathering as much information as possible is a must. I reached out to everyone I knew that had been down there fishing, and after asking if they were fishing the tournament (because if they were my questions would only consist of where to stay and the best place to eat and buy minnows, which is how everyone entering a tournament should act, although it’s not always the case) I grilled them on everything I could think to ask.
The lake is very much like Reelfoot, most of the water is 4-8 ft. deep with a few areas of deep water, and it is mostly surrounded by cypress trees with some areas fairly thick with cypress groves. The one glaring difference that was hard to wrap my head around is that there are no “stumps” throughout the lake. You could be right in the middle of a few cypress trees and open your boat up and run wide open all over the lake!
A fellow fisherman and hunter I met through Facebook, Brandon Fulgham of North Mississippi Guide Service, contacted me when he saw that I was coming and told me to look him up. Although we are represented by rival sponsors and would be competing against each other in the tournament, he showed me the lay of the land and how he fished the lake, and was extremely helpful (maybe he sensed I wasn’t a threat and pitied me…)
After exploring the lake some on Thursday, and checking out the cypress groves (although we knew the water was too cold and the fish wouldn’t be there yet) we met up with Brandon who was already out on the main lake filling his livewell. We were spider-rigging side-by-side shooting the bull and had veered apart some to get around other fishermen, and he started yelling for us to come over. When a Mississippi crappie guide is yelling for you to come here when you’re crappie fishing, you waste no time! He caught the biggest crappie Chippy and I had ever seen, a 3.32 (that’s in tenths, so around 3  pounds 5 ounces) behemoth. The fish was only 16 ¾ inches long, but was shaped like a football!
Friday was pretty rough with high winds, rain, and a random hail storm that caught us right in the middle of the lake with 8, 16 foot poles out, and nothing to do but wait it out! The seminar and meal was at the Trop Casino and they rolled out the red carpet for the 92 teams in the tournament.
Saturday was a pretty nice day, and got into the mid-70’s that afternoon. We spent the morning slow trolling with the armada on the vast flats with the rest of the boats, but the wind and the two tournament’s worth of bass fishermen flying all over the lake were rocking us more than I could stand. Most of the tournament guys have big glass boats, which are a lot heavier and sit lower in the water than my aluminum boat, and after watching some of those guys netting big fish while we were snagging ¾ pounders, I’d had all I could take and headed for shallow waters out of the wind and boat traffic.
As soon as we got there and put the poles out I hooked a 2 pound 4 ounce fish, a giant by Midwestern standards and the biggest fish we’d caught yet. After adding a 1.75 and a 1.25 fish, everything else we caught were cookie-cutter pounders.
The weigh-in was on Main Street in downtown Greenville, and rather than get in line with your 7 fish in a cooler as usual, you pulled your boat through the line between the scales and the bleachers where a host of spectators looked on. Mike Vallentine and the crew from CrappieMaster’s really knocked it out of the park, and are working extremely hard to take the tournament trail and its television show to the next level.
My buddy Brandon was in front of us in line, and at one of the extended stops he waved for us to come up and look in the livewell. He had another monster crappie, this one weighing 2.99 pounds and taking the coveted “Big Fish” prize!
The veteran tournament team of Whitey Outlaw and Mike Parrot won the tournament weighing 16.13 pounds in 7 crappie, and Kyle Schoenherr and Rodney Neuhaus took 2nd with 16.04 pounds. As for us, well, we learned a lot, and I filled five gallon bags with filets and can’t wait to get back down there for the classic!
For a guided trip to the “land of the giants” with Brandon, call 662-417-9117, and if you’re looking for something further north, call Kyle Schoenherr, owner of All Season’s Guide Service one of the best tournament anglers in the country, at 618-314-2967.
Josh M. Gowan, Outdoors Writer, Crappie Angler Magazine,

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March 2014
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