The Future of Crappie Tournaments: Part I…Three Trials’ Histories & Goals

by Tim Huffman

            tourn-01-fYou may have no interest in crappie tournaments, or maybe dislike tournaments, but without a doubt they have an impact on how you fish. The first is knowledge. We’ve learned from tournament fishermen how to better fish different waters, seasons, weather conditions and water conditions. We’ve learned the importance of adjusting and adapting. Seasoned tournament fishermen have the knowledge and experience so listening to their stories, tips and tactics help us catch more fish.

Tournaments have influenced our equipment. Many boats have special features just for crappie fishermen. When tournament fishermen needed longer poles for spider rigging clear reservoirs and for super-shallow water, sensitive, strong 14- and 16-foot poles were designed. Special nets are available to net crappie caught on long poles. Jigs and terminal tackle are better. Tournament fishing helped gain the attention of manufacturers for the need of quality crappie-specific equipment.

Seeing fish come across the scales is part of the tournament fun. Brian Sowers announces a good weight.

Seeing fish come across the scales is part of the tournament fun. Brian Sowers announces a good weight.

            This series features three national tournament trails: Crappie USA; Crappie Masters; and The American Crappie Trail. Part I is an introduction to the trails, their history and their goals. The series will continue each month with discussions about today’s tournaments, wrapped boats, media, one-pole tournaments, male/female and adult/youth divisions, one-man tournaments, the future of national crappie tournament fishing and more.

Johnson Fishing


Crappie USA


Crappie USA is the oldest, active national crappie tournament trail. It was formed in after Crappiethon USA, who had held tournaments since 1983, decided to drop the trail. Crappie USA tournaments started in 1996.

            Crappie USA General Manager, Darrell Van Vactor says, “Johnson owned Crappiethon and was using the tournaments for selling their products like Johnson reels and Mitchell reels. The tournaments gave them a marketing driver for those products. They were getting rid of product lines so chose to discontinue the tournaments. We knew this was coming and many of us wanted the tournaments to continue. A group of us got together after the last Crappiethon tournament, burned the midnight oil, and decided to form Crappie USA.”

Catching seven good fish is the goal on tournament day. Here’s one just caught and headed for the livewell.

Catching seven good fish is the goal on tournament day. Here’s one just caught and headed for the livewell.

            Van Vactor says the format of one- and two-day tournaments, along with the goals, set up in the meeting two decades ago worked then and still does today. The purpose was to establish a family-oriented, cost effective and competitive arena for amateur and semi-pro anglers. Also, to promote and market products and services for sponsors.

            Accomplishments include: first and largest crappie tournament organization; founder of the American Crappie Association; publication “The Outdoor Journal Magazine”; crappie club affiliations; and the Crappie Kid’s Fishing Rodeos.

            “We are very proud,” says Van Vactor, “that we’ve donated $334,000 in college scholarships. I have met so many wonderful friends in the press, sponsors and fishermen so for me personally it has been a great ride. We have national sponsors who once did not know how to spell crappie now making wonderful products just for crappie fishermen. Kids scholarships, great crappie products and promoting the sport are a few of things we are very proud of.”

           Driftmaster There are typically 16 to 17 tournaments annually. Tournament costs are $100 amateur and $200 semi-pro. There are Super Events with $10,000 guaranteed paybacks. Their 2016 Classic recently at Kentucky/Barkley Lakes paid back over $100,000 in cash and prizes.

            The American Crappie Association is for all crappie anglers. Membership is $25, or $99 premium membership. ACA was created to influence manufacturers to produce more and better crappie products, establish a voice and lobby for crappie anglers, and elevate the sport of crappie fishing through media.

            Crappie USA business address is 220 Mohawk Ave, Louisville, KY 40209. 502-384-5924. Operations Manager Darrell Van Vactor 270-748-5703; President is Vince Camisano.

Crappie Masters

           crappie-masters Crappie Masters has been a premier crappie fishing tournament trail for over a decade. It’s known for good payouts and highly competitive fishing. The level of competition increased with this circuit format.

            “Crappie Masters started as a dream of Joe Miller and myself,” says Paul Alpers. “We started the tournament trail with good guaranteed paybacks. We helped support it by putting bubble gum machines out to earn money, giving out free tee-shirts, and handing out fliers. Our first tournament was on Truman Lake with 132 boats.”

            Alpers, who, along with being the past President of Crappie Masters, is a past Classic Champ, Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame Member, and was a member of the group who formed Crappie USA in its beginning.

            Today’s Crappie Master President, Mike Vallentine, says, “We bought from Paul Alpers in 2013 and he stayed on for a year during the transition. Our tournaments are for the fishermen, sponsors and for promoting crappie fishing. In 2016 we saw everything on the rise.”

Crappie Masters goal is to provide competitive crappie fishing tournaments for everyone, where grass root, weekend, family and competitive anglers can enjoy fishing and compete for prizes. Crappie Masters strives to promote, enhance and preserve our outdoor heritage, specifically crappie fishing. Local and national sponsors are promoted. Crappie Masters supports Kids Fishing and Education with free Kids Fishing Rodeos and High School Scholarship tournaments.

Tournaments are held in a professional manner including an excellent emcee, Brian Sowers. All fishermen compete in one division but there are special categories for adult/youth and male/female. Membership fee is $25, or $100 for Gold Membership. Tournament fees are $225 for one-day and $325 for two-day events. There are 19 tournaments on their 2017 schedule.

            Crappie Masters has both a print magazine, active social media and television.  Vallentine says an accomplishment has been the television program that airs with a new season beginning the first quarter of 2017. “Our program has evolved and improved. We listened and made big changes based upon what viewers want. We are now geared toward teaching with a lot of tips and how-to information. Also very important is for viewers to see that crappie fishing is fun. It’s good to see the character of crappie fishermen, the fun they have, while learning more about lakes, products and catching fish.

“I’m proud of our organization having a vision, putting things into place and seeing them be successful. We have given more back to the anglers. If we continue to have a steady upward trend there will be more money. Our ultimate goal is to grow so anglers can offset more of their expenses and make money while taking the sport to greater heights. Our stability as an organization is our strong point.”

Crappie Masters, PO Box 121, Clinton, MO 64735. Mike Vallentine, President 660-351-6960; Suzette Vallentine, office, 660-351-4187; Brian Sowers

The American Crappie Trail

            all-american-crappie-trailThe American Crappie Trail is the new kid on the block with tournaments beginning in 2017. Organizer Matt Morgan is a businessman and two-time National Classic Champ with the latest win in the fall of 2016 taking the Crappie Masters Championship at Grenada, Mississippi.

            “I believer there is a need to take crappie fishing to the next level. Not necessarily a different set of anglers but looking for anglers who have the ability to competitively fish and make money doing it. We are going to change the format a little and have five tournaments next year in 2017. We’re excited to bring change and a new level to the sport.”

            The American Crappie Trail’s mission includes promotions of companies and anglers through competitive crappie tournaments. ACT plans to bring innovative television, full live production internet weigh-ins, web, print and social media. They guarantee the highest payout in the industry. They plan to provide a platform of events for anglers and also create enhanced avenues for sponsors. They boast a fresh approach to tournaments for the elite and weekend anglers raising the bar for competitive crappie fishing.

            There will be five tournaments next year including the classic. Membership is $40, family $75. Tournament fees are $425. Tournament payout based upon a 100-boat field is a new Ranger Boat for first place and $8000 for second. Angler Team of the Year will receive a new Ranger Boat.

  ; Matt Morgan; Office- Angie Morgan, 317-714-0945.

2016 Review

            Crappie USA’s Darrell Van Vactor, says, “Tournaments have been good this year (2016) but not huge catches or big fish that breaks records. Our standout lake in the spring was Lake Cumberland. It surprised a lot of fishermen with quality fish they weren’t expecting. Because of a drawdown for repairs, it has a new lake syndrome that was created making it one of the better lakes in the country and will continue for four or five years.”

            “The biggest news in 2016 was our Classic at Kentucky Lake in October. There were 209 teams from 18 different states. That’s a tremendous number of teams. The winners of the Pro Division took a package worth $44,000 that included a Ranger Boat. Also, the Amateur Division winners won a Ranger Boat. It was a huge event.”

            Crappie Master’s Mike Vallentine says, “Everything in 2016 was on the rise including overall turnout for the tournaments. Our boat average was about 70 per tournament while last year it was at 60. I believe the economy, especially gas prices, has a lot to do with the rise. Catches were about average this year. I want to thank the network of crappie fishermen, who are great ambassadors for the sport, who have been critical in helping us grow.”

The Crappie Masters National Championship (Classic) had 187 teams from 21 states. By fishermen requests, the circuit has a cash payout for winners verses giving boats. This year’s winners took home $33,000 cash with second place $10,000.

            Look for Part II next month in the series on The Future of National Tournaments.