Crappie USA 2016 Championship…How They Fished

By Ron Presley

Crappie tournaments always offer a challenge of one kind or another. This year’s Crappie USA (CUSA) Classic on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes was no different. The lake was pulled down to “rock bottom” according to a local marina operator. He advised anglers to observe and respect the channel markers to stay out of trouble. “I saw birds standing in the middle of the lake,” said Matt Morgan, a Classic competitor. “I can’t remember when I saw it like that.”

Semi-Pro Champs. Kyle Schoenherr and Rodney Neuhaus showing off some of their winning crappie at the Crappie USA Classic.

Semi-Pro Champs. Kyle Schoenherr and Rodney Neuhaus showing off some of their winning crappie at the Crappie USA Classic.

The 2016 Cabela’s Crappie USA Classic marked a milestone for the popular crappie trail as anglers, sponsors and officials celebrated 20 years of CUSA Classics. There were a record 209 teams from 18 states competing. In this landmark year, as in years past, the anglers stepped up to the challenge and delivered plenty of crappies to the scales. Ninety percent of the Semi Pro Division came to the scales with fish on day one. In the Amateur Division 82 percent of the field weighed in fish. The same percentage of boats weighed in on day two.

Three-time National Champions

            Not many anglers can claim the title, “Three-time National Champions.” That is exactly what B’n’M prostaff anglers Kyle Schoenherr and Rodney Neuhaus earned at the recent Crappie USA Classic when they weighed a two-day total of 21.58 pounds. After sweeping the Crappie Masters and Crappie USA titles in 2015 they came back to win CUSA again in 2016.

Taylor and Keel congratulate each other on the CUSA Amateur Division win.

Taylor and Keel congratulate each other on the CUSA Amateur Division win.

The First-Place Strategy

            The extreme low water did not have a big impact on Schoenherr and Neuhaus. “There were a few areas that were border line shallow for holding good fish,” reported Schoenherr. “Other than knocking out a few spots where we would normally find good fish, the low water did not affect us.”

            “This is a basic river system that mirrors the landscape around it,” explained Schoenherr.  “There are lots of valleys and steep rises and steep drops – a lot of contour.”

Wayne Goodall won the CUSA Kayak División with a total length of 81.00 inches.

Wayne Goodall won the CUSA Kayak División with a total length of 81.00 inches.

Their strategy was a result of years of fishing the Kentucky/Barkley Lakes area. “We have spent years scouting to find the areas that will produce the 1.50 to 1.80 size fish that you need to win,” continued Schoenherr. “Our biggest challenge was finding a place where we could get out of a north/south wind. Over the years we have found good fish out in the main river only to get blown off by the wind. We wanted to avoid that.”

Semi Pro Division – How First Place Fished

            Once their areas were located the three-time national champs spider rigged with B’n’M poles. “We used straight double-hook minnow rigs with ½-ounce weights and Tru-Turn hooks,” said Schoenherr. “Our target was natural wood structure and man-made structure. To be specific, we fished the thickest wood cover we could find.”

            “B’n’M poles are one of the best weapons in our arsenal,” added Neuhaus. “We never leave home without them. We fished with16-foot Bucks Graphite Jig Poles (BGJP 16-3). We were spooled with Gamma Braid before adding the double-hook rig tied with Tru-Turn hooks. We were fishing 6 to 12 foot water. The fish were right on the bottom.”

“The bite changed throughout the day,” continued Neuhaus. “We would fish one bed and they were hitting the rigs hard, like they should. Then, on the next bite you wouldn’t know they were on. They just slowly grabbed the minnow and held it. It would look like you were snagged on a limb or stake. When I lifted the pole, I felt the bagginess of it and set the hook. The reaction in the BGJP’s were the key to getting those fish in the boat.”

B’n’M prostaff anglers Jim and Barbara Reedy won Big Fish at the CUSA Classic with a 2.37-pound crappie.

B’n’M prostaff anglers Jim and Barbara Reedy won Big Fish at the CUSA Classic with a 2.37-pound crappie.

“The bite was pretty grueling,” confided Schoenherr. “We just kept hopping from structure to structure until we scraped out close to ten pounds on day one. We went back on day two and found a more aggressive big fish bite. We were kicking out good fish with the same style and in the same areas we fished on day one.”

“In tournament fishing anglers are always thinking they need just one more good fish,” concluded Neuhaus. “It doesn’t usually happen to us, but it did this time. We rolled up to a spot and caught a 2.03 about five or ten minutes before we left. It was a spot we did not get a good fish from on day one. It was a great way to finish.”

Amateur Division

            The Amateur Davison was won with a different fishing method. Local anglers Ronald Taylor and Ronald Keel weighed in a two-day total of 17.00 pounds to claim the win. “We just fished hard,” said Taylor. “The bite was ok. We caught a lot of fish, probably 40 each day. It was the big ones that were hard to get.”

They caught their fish over structure in 5 to 15 feet of water, tipping with Crappie Shad Scales. “We were one-pole jig fishing,” reported Taylor. “I have been doing this about 30 years now and that’s the way I like to fish.”

The Tennessee team was fishing crappie mats they made and deployed themselves. “This area is full of shallow bays, a lot of drops and creeks running into the bays,” explained Keel. “ We get along the drops and put frame beds on them. We like to fish the stake beds we make ourselves.”

 “We jigged one pole each and had one more laying down in the boat,” revealed Keel. “I was using black and chartreuse and Taylor was using red and chartreuse. I lay that one pole down beside me and we both watched it.”

“Our biggest challenge was keeping the fish alive,” said Taylor. “The hot weather required us to keep cool water on them and run the aerator. We also put some bait saver in the livewell.”

The low water had minor affects on the team. “We had to be careful at the boat ramp because of the low water,” said Taylor. “We also hit a stump we didn’t know was there. We hit it today because that water was real low. We didn’t tear anything up.”

“This feels really good,” said Keel. “That boat is nice (referring to the Ranger boat they won), but that trophy is really nice!”


Championship Top 10
Semi Pro Division
21.58 K Schoenherr – R Neuhaus
19.85 J Freeman – G Bridges
19.17 J Trimble – C Edwards
18.49 T Elliott – J Elliott
18.43 R Capps – S Coleman
17.73 P Turner – L Turner
17.63 W Hendren – R Logan
17.12 TJ Todd – B Hatch
17.02 RJ Pope – S Deitz
16.82 T Hankins – R BilbreyChampionship Top 10
Amateur Division17.00 R Taylor – R Keel
16.72 M Arnold – B Arnold
16.31 T Barker – J Barker
16.26 R Milby – R Brown
16.13 H Martin – B Gentry
15.75 K Mann – T Mann
15.65 R Turner – C Turner
15.51 C England – B Williams
15.02 J Clary – D Craig
14.86 J Yeakle – J Brumley

Championship Top 5
Kayak Division
CPR Method (inches)

81.00 Inches – W Goodall
71.25 Inches – T Bedell
68.00 Inches – D Sweet
64.75 Inches – D Giovenco
30.25 Inches – J Ruwoldt

Final Comments

            After early worries about the low water conditions, CUSA Anglers were not severely challenged by the extreme low water conditions. Anglers in the Kayak Division (won by Wayne Goodall, from Mt. uliet, TN) were most affected. They were forced to fish more open water than in the past. Some of the creeks that they would fish during normal water levels were dry this time around.

            Congratulations to the top finishers Kyle Schoenherr and Rodney Neuhaus for their third national championship. Congrats also to Ronald Taylor and Ronald Keel in the Amateur Division and Wayne Goodall in the Kayak Division. Their performances proved just how good a crappie destination Kentucky and Barkley Lakes are.

Congratulations also to the Crappie USA organization as they complete 20 years of successful tournament trail fishing. “We are very pleased with our history of tournament fishing,” said Darrell Van Vactor, CUSA Operations Manager. “Anglers are going to be pleased and surprised with what we have in store for them in the future.”

CUSA History

Crappie USA was formed in October 1996 when the last Crappiethon Classic in east Tennessee left a void in tournament crappie fishing. Darrell Van Vactor organized a group of crappie anglers to form a new crappie trail. The result was Crappie USA, with a purpose “To establish and expand a family-oriented, cost effective and competitive arena for amateur and semi-pro crappie anglers as the foundation to promote and market products and services.”
The new trail was up and running by January of 1997 with a series of events that ended with the first CUSA Classic on Truman Lake, MO. The trail has grown from that humble beginning to a successful national tournament trail that averages 17 events per year in plus or minus 15 states. The trail accommodates about 5,000 anglers each year.
Now, some 20 years later, Van Vactor gives credit to its member anglers and their loyalty to the national and local sponsors that support the trail. “Our Crappie USA anglers realize that without national and local sponsorships the trail could not exist,” said Van Vactor. “For 20 years they have remained the most sponsor loyal group of people I know.”
Van Vactor is proud of the association’s conservation efforts over the years. “During the past 20 years our association has been proactive in policy changes pertaining to our favorite fish,” declared Van Vactor. “We helped get Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to stop allowing crappie to be taken and sold commercially around Reelfoot Lake in TN and also on Lake Champlain NY. We supported law changes pertaining to limit and creel limits to insure the quality of some of our nations fisheries. We also started the live release program in crappie tournaments when few thought it would ever work.”
Van Vactor is also proud of the impact CUSA tournament crappie fishing has had on product development. “Due to the interest in competitive crappie fishing we have seen many outdoor merchandise companies develop new and better products geared specifically for the crappie angler,” he said.
Beyond reaching anglers and product sponsors, CUSA also reaches youth. “One of our biggest highlights is donating over $334,000.00 in college scholarships,” reported Van Vactor. “The monies were raised through donations from our anglers and our companies. Our education program has been managed through our non-profit corporation, Kids Outdoors Inc. Every dollar donated to this program goes to fund scholarships.”
The total purse available to CUSA Classic anglers has grown from $65,000 in the 1996 Classic to over $100,000 in cash and prizes that were distributed at the 2016 Classic.