Crappie U.S.A. Tourney Returns

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

The lakes were free of ice early this year, and open water brought out the crappie fishermen. All of the Canal Lakes have been producing fish, and right now St. Marys seems to be at the top of the list. Limit catches have been common, and the keeper ratio is extremely high. Of course, unsettled weather, cold temperatures, heavy rains, snow, and anything else Mother Nature can throw at us often killed the fishing, but fishermen were still catching some quality fish when the weather settled down. Last weekend, 16 teams fishing in the first Grand Lake Crappie Series tournament of the season dealt with steady rain for six hours. Eight of the 12 teams that weighed in had eight-fish limits, and the winning weight was 8.94 pounds. Crappies averaging a pound show that Lake St. Marys can produce some quality fishing, especially for the minority of fishermen who seem to catch the majority of fish.

The high quality of Lake St. Marys crappie fishing has continued for a number of years now, and the word continues to spread. In spite of the blue/green algae problems turning some fishermen off, the crappies evidently didn’t see the memo. They’re big, healthy, and numerous, and the good news continues to spread, mostly by word of mouth. Other sources are also having an impact on promoting Grand Lake crappie fishing. For example, NKTelco and Brushpile Fishing are again hosting the Crappie USA Super Tournament at St. Marys for the third year. Although Crappie USA tournaments were on Grand Lake in the 1990s up until 2006, it took some salesmanship and arm-twisting to get the crappie circuit to return. NKTelco saw the potential to promote Lake St. Marys and also showcase their highly successful fishing production, Brushpile Fishing. Discussions with Crappie USA, site visits, attending sport shows in neighboring states, and other activities paid off, and a new super event was born. The 2016 and 2017 tournaments were huge successes, and last year’s tournament was declared to be one of the most successful of all of the Crappie USA Super tournaments. With the success of the first two events, NKTelco General Manager Preston Meyer expects the 2018 event to be even bigger this year. He also plans to walk the walk and fish this year’s tournament.

Russ Bailey, host of Brushpile Fishing, knows crappie fishing and Lake St. Marys and from his travels has learned the tactics that win tournaments on all types of water. According to Bailey, knowing the tactics doesn’t make a winner; applying them does. Spring fishing is always susceptible to the weather, and fronts can shut the fish off. Even though that happens, it’s good to know that the fish are there. Getting them to bite then becomes the issue. Most good tournament fishermen like it when conditions are tough. According to Bailey, when the fish are on, all of the fishermen will bring in good catches. When the fishing is tough, only the good fisherman will produce. The secret to catching fish when they aren’t cooperating is to be patient. Although some disagree, tournament time is not the time to hunt fish. Bailey also predicts that if the water temperatures remain cold, fishermen who are more comfortable spider rigging will be seen trolling down the middle of channels rather than dipping a jig in the brush or along a metal boat lift. Often bigger fish are caught this way and that’s important. The winning weight is based on a seven-fish limit not on large numbers.

There is no doubt that a lot of big crappies will be caught during this 2018 Crappie USA event. If the current fishing season is any reflection, the big fish are there. All the fishermen have to do is find them and put them in the well. The weigh-ins on both Friday and Saturday will take place at the pavilion on Lakeshore Drive on the Northwest corner of the lake in Celina. Start times for fishermen will be announced at seminars prior to the events. End time for fishing is 3:00 pm. If you want to learn something about crappie fishing, attend the weigh-ins. If you don’t get the opportunity to talk to some of the fishermen, walk by their boats and sneak a peek at their gear. Of course, use common sense and keep your distance. Even crappie fishermen can get cranky after a long day on the water. And speaking of gear, products from the Brushpile Fishing store should be on site.

Finally, to all of the fishermen coming to the area, enjoy yourself and be safe. Follow the no-wake rules and respect private property. No matter how limited or unintentional, touching private property is criminal trespass. Right or wrong, I imagine that a minor complaint might be enough to earn a disqualification. You can fish any water on the lake. Just don’t tie up to someone’s dock to take a snooze. Hopefully, the fishing will be more exciting than that.