Crappie Fishing Fools thrives through digital harmony
By Greg McCain
As the owner of an aquatics business, Dane Myers well knows the delicate balance necessary to maintain a thriving marine environment.
One of his latest business endeavors requires a similar balancing act. Instead of combining the chemicals and other ingredients that produce a flourishing aquarium, Dane finds himself juggling personalities, companies, and the daily nuances of the online world.
About two years ago, Dane “acquired” – yes, he bought the group from its original owner – the controlling interest of Crappie Fishing Fools, one of the largest Facebook groups of like-minded individuals dedicated to the culture, community, and industry of crappie fishing. Dane has taken part business acumen, part social media savvy, and a definite can-do attitude to create digital harmony and to grow the Crappie Fishing Fools brand.
A small, private group of about 13,000 when Dane took over in 2018, Crappie Fishing Fools now boasts over 47,000 members from across the country, making the group one of the largest dispensers of information and one of the largest target audiences for companies in the industry.
Not bad for a south Louisiana product who never fished for “sac-a-lait,” the French Cajun name for crappie, as a youngster tagging along on trips with his grandfather. Dane has fished all his life but never experienced modern crappie fishing until finally persuaded to go due to the relentless insistence of one of his father’s employees.
“We always said we could catch sac-a-lait if we hung a minnow over the side of the boat, but we rarely did,” Dane recalled about his formative years of fishing. “It was more of a seasonal thing in south Louisiana. We would catch them almost by accident. I was a pretty serious bass fisherman until I was well into my 20s. Crappie fishing didn’t really draw me.
“I own a retail business (Rift 2 Reef Aquatics in the Dallas/Fort Worth area), and a couple of my customers would come in and say, ‘Let’s go catch some crappie.’ I didn’t really know anyone who crappie fished, and I always go back to my grandfather and thoughts of him. My vision of crappie fishing was something like that, maybe two old men at the dock chewing the fat and fishing with a bobber and a minnow.”
The transformation to one of the driving forces in the crappie industry started when Dane’s father hired Phuong Tran, a Vietnamese engineer with a passion for all things crappie.
“Man, he wouldn’t stop talking about crappie fishing,” Dane said. “Once he found out that I was a fisherman, he really would not shut up about it.”
Phuong finally got Dane in the boat with him. Another trip followed, and Dane was hooked by the “thump.”
“We went to Cedar Creek (TX) Lake,” Dane said. “It wasn’t your basic minnows-and-bobbers type of trip. This was your single pole, single jig, very much finesse vertical jigging type of fishing. Watching this guy work and coaxing these fish to bite was incredible. He absolutely spanked all of us, and I realized that crappie fishing wasn’t what I thought it was.
“We do it again, and after you feel that thump, you’re hooked. I thought, ‘I’II go bass fishing and cast a thousand times a day. If I get 5 of these (thumps), I’m happy.’ Here I go out the second time and really catch them. That started it all.”
The obsession – Dane said, “I’ve got that personality – was immediate. He bought a boat, and “I was out there five days a week.” His new-found interest in the sport drew him into a new Facebook group, Crappie Fishing Fools.
“I didn’t actually start the group, but I’ve been a part of it since the early days,” Dane said.
His interest and involvement in the group continued to grow although he wasn’t always happy with the direction the group was headed. He developed friendships with other members who had similar thoughts.
“As my influence started to grow, I came to a crossroads,” Dane said. “Is this something that I wanted to do, for lack of a better term, to grow a brand. People use the term influencer. Do I want to be associated with this or do I want to do my own thing because I had a vision of what it could be?”
Dane acquired the principal interest in the group in 2018. He emphasizes that Crappie Fishing Fools is not a one-man operation, and he mentions numerous individuals – his wife Arrin, Robert Loar, Kennieth Pierce (of Hook City TV fame), and Mike Whitten – who have helped the group grow exponentially over the last couple of years. He later added other names to the list, Steve Giles, Michael Potts, Jordan Sanders, Jason Holleman, and Austin Youngblood, who continue to help with and to administrate the group.
“There were a handful of pivotal guys in the beginning,” Dane said. “We would take two steps forward and three steps back.”
Those early days were plagued with what Dane called regular Facebook drama.
“It was not all about me,” Dane said. “The core group helped keep it together. Some of the people that I looked up to didn’t want anything to do with it. As we were deciding to continue our involvement, it wasn’t a place that you wanted you grandfather, your wife, or your kids to be. You’d log on and say, “What are they doing?’ “
Dane and other administrators weeded out the rogue individuals and quickly began to grow a group with a vision to benefit not themselves but rather the crappie industry in general.
“It’s really more than a Facebook group, more like a community,” he said, “a hub for people to come together and share ideas. That’s my vision for it, something like a digital tradeshow and not just the commercial part of it.”
Dane said he wanted to create the digital equivalent of a traditional face-to-face tradeshow, especially the camaraderie and social aspects of one.
“There wasn’t really anything like that available,” he said. “There were some message boards, but the message board dynamic is kind of dying. Now we have expert tournament fishermen and novices just getting into it. We put everything together and created something that people responded to.
“It’s still a very pliable platform. People can express themselves but do it in the right way. No religion, no politics. I’m a very political person, but there’s a time and place. I was in debate in school, and there were some things, mainly religion and politics, that you never debated. We want to keep our focus centered on crappie fishing.”
Crappie Fishing Fools offers something for everyone. If a member wants to buy a product, reviews and comments are usually available quickly. Hire a guide on a certain fishery? Members will make recommendations. Seek information about a destination? Members quickly provide the details.
The group sells merchandise like hats and stickers and also promotes events, like the ACC Crappie Stix Owners Tournament held in November on Lake Fork in Texas. Dane served as the emcee for the tournament weigh-in, and a couple of his group administrators, Lake Fork guide Jordan Sanders and Jason Hollemon, won the event.
Assuming the covid pandemic subsides in 2021, similar events are in the tentative planning stages. Another aspect of the group, Crappie Fishing Fools TV on YouTube, is also part of the projected growth.
Dane jokingly said he and other admins still have to keep the “minnow guys and jig guys” separated in the group, but otherwise, the stability of the past two years has created an online environment that continues to attract members and sponsors. As of mid-December, Crappie Fishing Fools had about 47,300 members with over 6,000 requests awaiting confirmation.
“We want to build on what we are doing now,” Dane said. “The big thing for 2021, assuming covid ever goes away, is tournaments. One thing I want to do is travel and put on events. We do crawfish boils, socials, and tournaments, but they have typically been within three hours of Dallas.
“We want to identify some places where we can take our show on the road, be it in Alabama or Mississippi. We want to travel to those key crappie-fishing areas across the country.”
To become a member, make the request to join via the Facebook page and “answer all the questions,” Dane said. He added that’s one way that administrators filter potential members.
“We want the type of people who are willing to answer just a few questions,” he said, “not just one of them. It’s usually pretty simple. It’s unbelievable some of the answers that we get sometimes. Maybe those are just Japanese or Russians bots, but we want members who will share legitimate information.”
Dane later added, “We try not to be too heavy-handed, but we don’t tolerate vulgar language, and we typically block blatant spam immediately.
“We might mute someone for a 24-hour period or for a few days if they violate our standards. You can tell a lot about people during those periods. If they start messaging the admins and talking (ugly), then they’ve generally got to go.”
To become a sponsor of Crappie Fishing Fools, contact Dane directly through the group or through his personal Facebook page. The group has four main title sponsors, including ACC Crappie Stix, and “40ish” other sponsors.
“We do charge for advertising, anything but guides,” Dane said. “Pay a fee and advertise for a year. We have a target audience 47,000 strong and growing daily.
“We feel obligated to vet our advertisers and to make sure they are legitimate. That’s one reason we charge. Spammers are not going to pay money to scam people out of money. So far we’ve had smooth sailing. Maybe that’s confirmation bias, but it’s working.
“Whatever part of the industry that you’re in, there’s benefit to being there. I can’t think of a better place to advertise if you’re in the industry or own a small business. I know how much Facebook charges for non-targeted advertising. But this is targeting over 47,000 people with the same interests in mind.”
Dane said the vision he and his group created over two years ago continues to benefit the entire crappie community. Navigating the difficult periods and establishing a positive balance also continue to grow the Crappie Fishing Fools group and brand.
“That’s what we are about, building the community and culture,” he said. “It’s not about me, but the industry in general.”