Locals use a little luck to win Big Crappie Bash
By Greg McCain
Even the most skilled anglers acknowledge that a bit of luck comes into play in winning a tournament.
The luck factor compounds at times in hourly big fish tournaments. Knowing when to weigh often determines the difference between going home empty handed and pocketing gas money.
Luck played a factor for the winners of the Big Crappie Bash held Saturday (April 9) on Watts Bar Lake in east Tennessee. Crappie Cove (www.crappiecove.com), located in nearby Maryville, and Illinois rod company ACC Crappie Stix sponsored the event. Competitors were required to use ACC (www.acccrappiestix.com) rods in the tournament.
In the second annual Bash, the timing of the weigh-in wasn’t an issue for the winners, but a number of other factors – namely weather – came into play when Billy Furgerson hooked up with the big fish of the day.
Fishing with partner Anthony Martin, Billy boated a 2.40 Watts Bar slab, winning not only the third hour but also the overall top prize in the tournament, which was held out of Terrace View Marina near Spring City, TN.
The spring day felt more like January, featuring a mix of wintry precipitation along with sustained winds at 20 mph and gusts much stronger. The rain, snow, and sleet continued through most of the event, but the wind never let up. One of the strongest gusts came as Billy and Anthony approached an area called the Hogpen on the lower end of Watts Bar.
For Billy, the approach and presentation were not textbook, but the results were still the same.
“We pulled up on the brushpile, and the wind shot 45 (mph) on the left side of the boat,” Billy said. “The boat takes off, and I’m trying to fight the trolling motor. My line is out at a 45-degree angle. It must have come over the top of the brushpile, and the fish came out and got it. We didn’t see it hit.
“There was a little bit of luck involved. It takes one lucky bite in a tournament like this.”
Otherwise, the result was fairly predictable for Watts Bar. Billy, who lives nearby in Sweetwater, said his big catch Saturday was slightly larger than the average big fish caught on the Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir.
“Right now, it’s a little slower, maybe a little behind what it normally is,” Billy said. “What you catch is quality fish though.
“We had a horrible practice. Cold, windy, rain, snow. We caught some 1.80s, 1.90s but nothing over two in practice.”
Billy said the fish came from an area “called the Hogpen, about 10 minutes down toward the dam from here.”
The brushpile was in about 22 feet of water. Using a 10-foot ACC rod, Billy caught the prize fish on a 1/4 ACC Crappie Head paired with a Bobby Garland-type plastic.
Despite the unusual catch, Anthony said they had no trouble landing it.
“It came straight to the net,” said Anthony, who lives in Madisonville.
The tournament contrasted from the 2021 tournament in a variety of ways, but despite the horrible weather, competitors found ways to catch fish. However, most suggested the fish were not in the same stage of the spawn as the 2021 tournament, when the crappie were preparing to move to bedding areas.
Last year’s winners with a 2.42 crappie, Rusty Proffitt and Jamie Mitchell, found most of their fish deep, only moving somewhat shallower late in the day when the sun finally emerged.
“We fished a lot of the same places we had fished last year,” Rusty said. “Some of our fish were on deep brush, 30 to 40 feet deep. We did catch several open-water fish, and I chased a couple of our bigger fish down with the LiveScope and was able to pitch to them and get them to bite.
“The last couple hours of the tournament, we checked some shallow cane in the 13- to 16-foot depth, and that’s where Jamie caught our 1.97 that won the last hour. The sun had come out and must have brought the fish up because the cane spots we checked shallow held several fish.
“We were fortunate to catch a lot of fish even with the bad weather conditions.”
Added ACC Crappie Stix and Crappie Cove pro staff member and east Tennesse guide Matt Xenos, who won the seventh hour with a 2.29 slab, “The fish remained deep due to cold fronts. Some fish were caught on deep brush and others deep in open water.”
Matt said he caught some crappie at extreme depths, but all of them came from 25 feet or deeper.
“Funny how a year can change things 180 degrees,” he said, “but it’s a great testimony to the ability of the anglers and to the health of Watts Bar Lake.”
Another hourly winning team, Jack Daniel Williams and his partner, Daisy McMillion, experienced pre-dawn difficulties – a flat tire en route to the lake delayed their arrival. The duo closed with a flurry and brought a winning 2.21 crappie to the scales in the 1-2 p.m. hour.
“I have to give credit to Daisy,” said Jack Daniel, who fished last year and competes in MLF bass events also (he won a recent MFL tournament on Dale Hollow). “We don’t get to fish together that much.
“We fished in the wind all day long. It was brutal. It seemed like many of the other teams were trying to stay out of the wind, but she caught most of our open-water fish.”
ACC pro staffer Keith Acker, who specializes in catching open-water fish back home on Lousiana and east Texas lakes, said he found few roamers, especially compared to last year.
In practice a year ago, Keith caught multiple two-lb. crappie and then won an hour in the tournament.
“The fish were in similar areas this year in the mid-lake region, but most were on brush instead of roaming,” he said. “I did catch a few roaming fish but nowhere near as many as last year.”
Illinois angler Stu Miller noted an interesting factor about his tournament day, one that he first experienced in last year’s tournament. He said the fish demanded a very specific presentation.
“Again this year for me, a horizontal type presentation was a must to catch the fish,” Stu said, “whether it be a casting presentation with a short rod – 7’6” in my case – or using long (12-foot) poles to pitch and pendulum swing a jig across the top of the fish.
“Fish just would not react to a vertical presentation. I attribute this to the very clear water on Watts Bar. I have found on these clear water lakes that the fall rate of your jig Is very important. These fish can see your jig from so far away that having that “natural type” presentation is critical to success.”
Despite the contrast in the way the fish set up this year, the overall and hourly winning weights were very similar to the 2021 event. Other hourly winners in the tournament were Eric Johnson and Evan Johnson, who weighed a 1.92 in the 8-9 a.m. hour; Joel Nash/Jeremy Hayes, 2.05, 9-10 a.m.; Mike Chesser/Frankie Chesser, 2.11, 11 a.m.-noon; and Jason Ryder/Marvin Bailey, 2.20, noon-1 p.m.
Competitors faced a couple of rule changes this year, one in particular making the hourly weigh-in more intriguing. Last year, weights were posted immediately and visible to anglers, who could determine whether to weigh or to hold the fish for a later hour. This year, no weights were posted until after the hour ended.
To illustrate the luck involved in such a scenario, the second-biggest catch of the day, a 2.37 fish, was also weighed in the third hour just before Rusty and Jamie’s overall big fish and didn’t win any money. It would have taken the prize in any other hour of the tournament. Jack Daniel also noted that he and Daisy had a couple of two-lb-plus. fish in the livewell that would have won a couple of the earlier hours if they had chosen to weigh.
Rusty and Jamie caught a 1.93 late in the first hour but were afraid they couldn’t make the hourly weigh-in. The catch would have nipped the winning 8-9 a.m. fish by a fraction of an ounce.
“That’s what is so fun about this tournament,” Rusty said, “having the right fish at the right time but also choosing the right strategy to win.”
Plans are already being made for the third annual Big Crappie Bash, which will also be held out of Terrace View (www.terraceviewmarina.com) on April 29, 2023.
“This event was great,” said ACC owner Andy Lehman. “We had a great place to hold the event, and we think it will only get bigger and better. We’re already looking forward to next year.”