The Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters National Championship began with nearly 160 two-angler teams competing for the prestigious title of national crappie champion. When time ran out and the weigh-in was complete, the team of Alan Carter and Tony Sheppard had claimed the title.
Anglers could fish their choice of six local lakes in the competition. They were Lake Washington, Lee, Paradise, Ferguson, Whittington and Chicot Lakes. Although a couple weeks of prefishing produced good numbers of big fish from most lakes, the actual tournament fishing days became frustrating for many competitors.
The Mississippi River rose at least 5 feet and then began to fall during the tournament. The falling water influenced conditions in the connected lakes and probably the location of the fish.
Crappie Masters’ Angler Team of the Year was Whitey Outlaw and Mike Parrott. Outlaw recounted, “This has been a good week, especially before the water came up. We were averaging 11 to 12.5 pounds everyday. We never did break 13, but then the water came up. It started falling back, and you know what falling water does to any kind of fish, when the water falls the bite falls off.”
Parrott confirmed the observation, concluding, “In the end it was just an educated guess as to where to fish on tournament days because of the changing conditions. Sometimes you make the right decision and sometimes you don’t.”
Considering that the proof is in the pudding, Carter and Sheppard made the right decision. They fished Lake Washington both days, probably influenced by their second place finish on day one behind the leaders, Ronne Capps and Steve Coleman.
“We decided to fish Lake Washington and stick with it,” said Sheppard. Carter chimed in saying, “It turned out to be the right thing to do.”
The team claimed the championship crown by only .14 pounds. Their winning weight of 24.56 pounds beat the 24.42 posted by Capps-Coleman who finished second. “We fished a little different than everybody else,” stated Sheppard. “Everybody around us was using double minnow rigs and we were using Crazy Angler jigs, Lil’ Rascals.”
Both Carter and Sheppard were still processing their achievement. “Maybe on the 6-hour drive home it will hit me,” said Shepard. “It just hasn’t soaked in yet,” replied Carter. “Right now it’s still just a haze.”
Third place went to the team of Rod Wall and Joey Hilton with a weight of 22.91 pounds. When asked by master of ceremonies, Brian Sowers, if he would do any thing different, Wall jokingly replied, “Heck no, this is the best I have ever done.”
The male/female team champions are Jay Don Reeve and Rhonda Reeve. “Crappie Masters is, bar none, the best tournament we have ever fished, said Rhonda. Validating the changing conditions she said, “It was sporadic for us. One day we caught, I don’t know how many fish, probably 80-100. The next day we’d catch 10. Day one we caught really good fish, but day two we could not get em’. We were using Lake Fort Trophy Lures, tipped with minnows on tandem rigs.” Jay Don commented, “Black and chartreuse bodies and bluegrass seemed to be the best colors. We caught a lot of fish on bluegrass.”
The big fish award went to Jerry McCready and Ken Stauffer with a 2.35-pound slab. “After a horrible day one,” said McCready, “and No fish to weigh in most people would have packed it up and went home. Not me and my partner. We went after the only check we could still reach…and we nailed it.”
That competitive attitude is prevalent among the participants at the championship event. Some describe it as competition among friends, but as Whitey Outlaw concluded, “You come here to go to the top or flop. You don’t play for 2nd. You play for first.”
Image courtesy Bass Pro Shops/ Crappie Masters