The Future of Crappie Tournaments: Part 4…Clubs, Fair Play & Sportsmanship

By Tim Huffman


            Part 4 continues with national circuits. This issue looks effects of local and regional clubs, cheating and fair play, and sportsmanship. 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 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 that are available. Tournament fishermen have added volumes of fish-catching information that is used in everyday fishing.

Whether fishing a local club event or a national tournament, getting a good one in the boat is always a fun time.

Whether fishing a local club event or a national tournament, getting a good one in the boat is always a fun time.

Local & Regional Clubs

Local and regional clubs have boomed in the last decade. The Magnolia Crappie Club in Mississippi is one example. It’s based in the big crappie corridor, has dedicated fishermen, and a good backing of sponsors. It also has a quality newsletter. The club has a few ups and downs like any organization, but their regular tournaments have big draws with their Big Momma tournament being open to non-club members making it a good, big event.

Most states have fishing clubs. In the past few years clubs in Arkansas and Alabama have formed and are doing well. Jonathan Phillips and Dan Dannenmueller from central Alabama says, “Many of our fishermen have never competed. It gives them a low-cost format with little travel so beginning fishermen can get in and learn. It gets them prepared to move up and fish national circuits and several of our teams are doing that already this year. The bottom line is they can compete without facing all the national sponsored teams, they can learn and they get a foundation for fishing bigger tournaments if they choose. The final end result for a club fisherman is learning how to catch crappie and the friendships made in the club.

Charlie Hildredth, Indiana, has been fishing tournaments for many years and approves highly of them. “I’ve watched teams join smaller clubs and improve by being exposed to a lot of fishing knowledge and learning from the experienced members. A fisherman can learn new ways to fish and learn tips for catching more crappie for serious competition or just for fun.”

Conditions can get crowded in open water or as in this photo, along a fence row at Truman Lake. Sportsmanship and following rules are required to avoid problems.

Conditions can get crowded in open water or as in this photo, along a fence row at Truman Lake. Sportsmanship and following rules are required to avoid problems.

But do these tournament hurt the national trials?

Van Vactor believes clubs help the sport of crappie fishing. They definitely hurt the national tournament numbers because members can fish close to home. Crappie USA works with some of the clubs by allowing them to send a few of their top teams from their classic to the national classic.

Vallentine says, “Local and regional clubs are growing. A fisherman can compete local, have a lot of fun and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. There have been a lot of people saying the clubs are killing us but I don’t agree. Any attention to the sport is good for crappie fishing, allows people the opportunity to fish and compete, and it brings new fishermen into the sport. We see some of the people who start with the clubs come and fish our tournaments. We really appreciate their participation.”

According to Morgan, local and regional clubs are stepping stones to work up to the national trails. “I’ve seen teams get better through local clubs and move up. Our overall goal will be to work with some of the crappie clubs to find a way to include them in our trail. Bass does this and it works well to introduce more fishermen to bigger competition.

A fisherman can learn new ways to fish and tips for catching more crappie even when pleasure fishing.”


Fair Play

Years ago during a classic in Tennessee, I was told about a phone call that came into the office about a team who would be cheating during the classic. The cheating team would be bringing fish with them in a tank in the back of the truck. We will call them Cheating Team #1.

The next step came on practice day when a team came in describing a jug in a cove with a big crappie tied to it. Plans were put into place to catch the cheating team. At three o’clock in the morning on the next day, an observer hid on a nearby bank and waited to observe the jug.

Opening morning began with a boat (we’ll them Cheating Team #2) came flying into the cove and went straight to the jug and picked it up. The fish had died so they did not take it. The police couldn’t arrested them because they did not bring the fish in to illegally gain money, but Team #2 was thrown out of the tournament and prohibited from fishing any more tournaments. The interesting and funny thing is that Team #2 is the same team who had called to report that Team #1 would be cheating.

So Team #2 is disqualified. Team #1 was being watched by binoculars throughout the tournament from a boat on the water. With only minutes left in the tournament they had not caught a limit of keeper fish and had spent most of the day relaxed and smoking cigarettes. They headed for weigh-in, ducked out of sight into a little cove by a tree for a couple of minutes, then pulled out and headed to weigh-in.

Other fishermen had come through the weigh-in with average size white crappie. Then Team #1 came to the scales. Unlike all the other stringers, this team came in with beautiful, black crappie that beat all other weights by several pounds. The difference in weight seemed almost too good to be true…and it was.

After the fish were weighed and winners announced it was time for the polygraph. The warning came that it would show on the polygraph if they had cheated, one team member immediately stated he had heart trouble, was taking medicine and couldn’t take the polygraph. Once told that they had been observed, someone had called stating they would be cheating and that a federal officer was there to arrest them should they fail the polygraph, the second fisherman chose not to take the test.”

In more recent years, the 2015 Crappie USA Classic had a winning team fail the polygraph. Crappie USA states that a “polygraph test and/or any other test deemed necessary to determine compliance with tournament rules. …If that member fails the test the team will be disqualified and neither member of the team will be awarded the prize.”

Crappie Masters and the American Crappie Trail have similar rules. The basic purpose is to ensure honesty and integrity. Alcohol and non-prescription drugs are not permitted during tournament hours.

Trails often require that teams allow a spotter/observer in the boat. These are usually for a top few teams in a tournament on day two of a two-day tournament. Having an observer witness a team’s catch is an excellent method to ensure honesty.

The bottom line is that some people are dishonest and will attempt to cheat whether playing marbles or competing in a tournament. Every trail makes a strong effort through polygraphs, observations boats and observers to prevent and catch those who do not play by the rules.



Van Vactor:  “We’ve had very few instances of poor sportsmanship. We get a few complaints and it’s usually on the same fishermen for getting too close. But complaints are rare and I’m proud of the group of fishermen we have.”

Crappie Masters rules state: “…unsportsmanlike conduct may be disqualified and/or have their membership revoked.”

Sportsmanship is often subjective and has been a small problem in tournaments. Some people are rude and others are not. Some tend to exaggerate situations so determining the truth, who was right and who was wrong, and what should be done is often difficult.

The American Crappie Trails states: “Contestants in ACT tournaments are expected to follow high standards of sportsmanship, courtesy, safety and conservations. Any infraction of these fundamental sporting principles may be deemed cause for disqualification.” They go further about public conduct. “Contestants will not do anything which shall be detrimental to ACT, its sponsors or competitive fishing in general.” Also, “Contestants agree not to engage in any conduct that will reasonably tend to degrade him/her or bring ACT into public hatred, contempt or ridicule or tend to offend the fishing community or integrity of competitive angling.”

Morgan says, “Sportsmanship often depends upon the lake and how visible you are. In the fall we had two boats around us on the first day of the Crappie Masters Championship. After being successful on day one, we had 35 boats around us on day two. That’s not sportsmanship and it’s difficult to control. The teams are not doing anything illegal by the rules but it isn’t sporting when they are moving from their area to an area where the leader is fishing. I actually had to cut crankbaits out of our lines from a fishermen who cut across too close.”

A positive note is that most trails acknowledge good sportsmanship through awards. The awards are prestigious because it has little to do with fishing but more about the person or team being helpful to others and being good representatives of the sport of crappie fishing.


Next issue will be Part 5 in the series. It will feature care and release of fish, effect of media, and what it means to win the Classic Championship verses Angler Team of the Year.

Profile: Matt Morgan

Title: Co-Owner of the American Crappie Trail
Age: 39
Home lake: Kentucky Lake
Other occupations: Morgan Striping
Fishing background: Grew up fishing the Tennessee River. Has fishing competitively for 12 years.
Fishing highlights: Florida and Alabama State Championships; 2008 Adult-Youth Championship with son Drew; Grenada 2009 Crappie Masters National Championship;; 2016 Crappie Masters National Championship.
Tournament partner: Kent Watson
Biggest crappie: 3.12
Favorite lake to crappie fish? Any place in Mississippi: Grenada; Sardis; and Ross Barnett
Any fishing superstitions? None
How spend time when not fishing or working? I like spending time with my family.
Favorite boat food? Use to be all the snacks and stuff that’s bad. Now it’s fruit.
Favorite sports teams? St. Louis Cardinals
How would you like to be remembered? As someone who gave it all, competed and let the cards fall where they fell, and left it as that.