The Future of Crappie Tournaments: Part 5 of 7…Fish Care, Media & Tournament Costs

Story & photos by Tim Huffman

 

            Part 5 continues with national circuits. This issue looks at taking care of crappie, the importance of media and the costs of competing. Our series experts include Darrell Van Vactor, General Manager of Crappie USA; Mike Vallentine, President and Owner of Crappie Masters; Matt Morgan, Co-Owner of the American Crappie Trail; and tournament fishermen.

            The purpose of this series is to discuss the national trails, inside information and the future of the sport. Whether you fish tournaments or not, these national trails and the fishermen who fish them have an impact on the boats, gear and baits. Tournament fishermen have added volumes of fish-catching information that is used in everyday fishing.

 

Kevin Jones pulls a good crappie from the livewell on day two of the Crappie Masters Lake D’Arbonne, Louisiana State Championship. Keeping fish alive is as important as catching them.

Kevin Jones pulls a good crappie from the livewell on day two of the Crappie Masters Lake D’Arbonne, Louisiana State Championship. Keeping fish alive is as important as catching them.

Conservation, Fish Care & Release

“Our first importance is the health and well-being of our anglers,” says Darrell Van Vactor. “We warn them of potential dangers and encourage them to be safe. Our second most important item is the health of the fish. I’ve put together literature that has tips for our fishermen to keep fish in good health. The fish must be alive when they get to the weigh-in line. Our people have done a great job.”

Vallentine says the general public’s perception of tournaments is often bad. “It can scare them that 60, 80 or over 100 teams will come in and wipe out the fish. I understand that perception but we try to let the public know that most of these fish are being released right back into the lake. Most of the fishermen have no desire to keep fish while on the road traveling. A few do keep fish, but in general, I don’t think we see it much and the majority of our fishermen like to see the fish go back into the lake.”

A well-rigged boat from front to back is a big investment. Sponsored teams like this one typically receive help in expenses making it possible for them to travel and fish more tournaments.

A well-rigged boat from front to back is a big investment. Sponsored teams like this one typically receive help in expenses making it possible for them to travel and fish more tournaments.

Morgan says, “It’s critical for trails to observe the best conservation principles possible. Locals complain that we come in and take fish. We need to look at it like we are leasing their resources for five or six days and treat it with the utmost respect. We will use a release boat in our tournaments. Our weigh-in will be a two-bag system with the inner bag being mesh that will be lifted out and put directly on the scales. Fish care is an important issue along with other good conservation practices we’ll be encouraging.”

Magazine, Television & Social Media

Van Vactor: “It’s the blood that runs through the tournament veins. Social media has given us a way to reach people immediately. We have jumped our work in this area and in 2017 we will be podcasting and our weigh-ins will be streamed live. We are also doing video clips. Without all the media we couldn’t exist.”

Crappie USA is a charter member of Brush Pile Crappie with Russ Bailey. They are also doing a pilot for their own TV show.

Mike Vallentine says “The result of media is far reaching beyond the tournament trail. Social media, television and other things we do help build the sport of crappie fishing. We like to show it as fun and exciting.”

Television, streaming, video and photos from the media help tell the story.

Television, streaming, video and photos from the media help tell the story.

He says a goal is to make some of the crappie fishermen household names through social media, magazines and television. It has started with a core group of about fifteen fishermen and will continue to extend as it grows.

“When I took over we had a good tournament trail and we have worked to improve it. A good trail is great but in today’s world it is all about social media, impressions, getting as many people as possible if we are to reach our goals of promoting crappie fishing, our fishermen and selling our sponsors’ products.”

Matt Morgan plans to incorporate ideas that have been successful in bass fishing. For example, they plan major interaction with anglers on TV and will develop stories. They key is to provide a quality TV show. Another goal is to show care of fish with live release boats. Media will be important to promote conservation and stewardship of all waters.

Morgan says, “Media is critical for the trail. We hear complaints of too much advertising on social media so we will put moderate focus on it but key in on more fish-catching information instead of too many posts pushing products. For our tournaments we’ll do live feed and full live productions. People all over the world will watch it. In a step further we will showcase the communities. We are about excitement about our sport and what we are doing. Our TV program will be an exciting adventure showing good fish being caught. We will use as many fishermen as possible showing how they are doing it.”

Costs of Fishing Tournaments

…Are Tournaments a Rich Man’s Game?

Just read our articles and look to see what the experts are using. $8,000 worth of electronics on the boat, $2000+ trolling motor, at least three sets of eight poles, rigging and rod racks. Of course you can add Power Poles and other extras. Big boats require big motors to push them and big trucks to pull them. Tournament fees aren’t cheap. So how much should you spend?

Your budget and fishing goals must meet a happy medium. If money is not a major object just go for it. But if money is an object and you’re serious about your crappie fishing, determine what you need and find something within your budget. For example, you are techie oriented you’ll want a good graph. All the major companies are offering units in the $500-$700 range with bright, medium-sized screens with high-tech sonar, mapping, side and down imaging. If you want to go bigger you can spend thousands.

Is fishing becoming a rich man’s game? Bart Gillon, TN, says he drops a $1000 when going to an out-of-town tournament. “Our vehicle isn’t cheap, our boat and all the extras aren’t cheap. Technology evolves and so do costs. What it does is help us find fish faster and be more efficient. However, the truth is that basics are all a fisherman really needs to compete. A guy in a jonboat can compete and win. The common denominator is knowledge. You must have studied the species, studied the lake and put time on the water finding the big fish spots. If you do all of that anybody can win no mater how basic the equipment.”

Jonathon Sheridan, KY Lake, says, “I’m sure we spend a $1000 or more fishing an out of town tournament. The costs really add up quickly.”

Billy Don Surface, Missouri Corn Growers/Ethanol team, says, “Not counting lodging, we spent probably $800 to $900 going to Talquin, FL. We went thru 250 jigs while pulling. Add all the fuel and other costs and it doesn’t take long to add up. If I wasn’t retired I couldn’t do it.”

So what is the conclusion? Large glass boats add safety along with a heavy platform to navigate and fish rougher water. Advanced electronics, Power Poles, a good trolling motor and other goodies allow a fisherman the best chance for finding fish quickly and better boat handling. To compete consistently a fishermen must keep up with part or all of the products that help catch fish in some way or another.

Can more basic equipment and aluminum boats compete? Sure they can but they are at a disadvantage on windy days and on big, open lakes. Experience, luck and a lot of time on the water can help offset the difference.

Traveling to an out of town tournament requires money. Lodging, truck gas, boat gas and tournament entry can take a big chunk of money. License, eating out, bait, repairs, and other miscellaneous stuff adds up, too. Most fishermen say $800 minimum going as cheaply as possible. Most say $1000 to $1200 if nothing breaks down on the truck, trailer or boat. The positives are the fun of competing, days on the lake fishing and a chance to win money. Like everything else in life, a fisherman must decide his budget and decide how he wants to spend his money. With the upward trend of fishermen in national tournaments, it appears more fishermen are enjoying the competitive side of crappie fishing.

 

Next Issue, part 6, takes a look at the pro fisherman, what it really means to win a Classic or Angler of the Year Award, and the changing look of crappie tournaments.