Big Crappie Bash Recap: Changes Make for Tough Bite
By Greg McCain
Change was the prevailing theme of the third annual Crappie Cove/ACC Crappie Stix Big Crappie Bash held Saturday (April 29) on Watts Bar Lake.
While the lake remained the same and the tournament was held out of Terrace View Marina for the second year, competitors faced a variety of different conditions this year. Main considerations were the late April date – almost a month later than the previous tournaments – the slow bite that anglers encountered on tournament day, and far fewer big fish. The post-front, 70-degree weather also contrasted sharply with the rain, snow showers, and cold wind encountered in 2022.
When the scales closed Saturday afternoon, Mike Chesser and Frankee Chesser held the top spot with a 2.00 crappie, considerably smaller than the two previous winners in the Big Crappie Bash. Crappie weighing almost 2 ½ lbs. won the first two tournaments.
While several other crappie approached two pounds, the Chessers’ catch was the only one that reached that mark, making it the Froggs Toggs Big Fish of the tournament. Frogg Toggs, new to the Big Crappie Bash, sponsored the $2,500 prize for the biggest catch among the hourly winners.
A field of 77 boaters registered for the tournament, up from the 50s in the first two Big Crappie Bashes.
The Chessers, from Rogersville, TN, also produced another first, becoming the first team to win two different hours in the hourly big-fish format. Their 1.95 crappie topped hour three. Competitors could weigh one fish per hour and stood to win $1250 for an hourly big fish.
Mike and Frankee found both of their weigh-in fish in a pocket “not too far” from Terrace View. They brought in the 2.00 in the second hour and then returned and caught the hour three winner “about 50 yards” from where they caught the overall big fish.
“It was a great day although the fishing was tough,” Mike Chesser said after the awards ceremony. “We worked hard for these fish.”
The area had produced quality crappie for the team in previous weeks, but even they were a bit mystified about the disappearance of the trophy fish on Watts Bar, which had produced at least one giant just over three pounds and rumors of even bigger crappie in the days leading up to the tournament.
Mike and Frankee had spent considerable time pre-fising the lake in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Mike said he had scanned just about every inch from Watts Bar Dam to the areas closer to Terrace View.
“I think I scanned every stump from Spring City to here,” he said.
Frankee said he had put in the work as well although the crappie didn’t exactly cooperate. Fishing up to about 25 feet deep, the Chessers located plenty of fish, but the big females just weren’t present in the same numbers as previous weeks.
“If they were there, they just didn’t want to bite,” Frankee said. “We saw a lot of fish, but thought we would see some bigger.”
Among other winners, Luke Byerly and Jacob Woods duplicated the Chessers’ double hourly wins, claiming the first hour with a 1.70 crappie and the last with a 1.97 fish. The local anglers both said they had fished Watts Bar regularly, but the fish made them work during the tournament.
“They were tough to catch,” Jacob said. “Yes, the first fish was a little bit surprising based on the size. We thought someone might bring in a big one at the end too.”
Much like the Chessers, Luke and Jacob caught both of their winning fish in the same location. Spending the middle portion of the day fishing other areas of the lake, they returned to their most productive spot and caught the final-hour winner there as well.
“We thought we had some other spots that might give up big fish,” Luke said, “but that one spot was good to us.”
Most competitors who weighed in said their catches came from the middle portion of the lake near Terrace View or slightly south. While reports of catches of bigger fish from the northern end of Watts Bar came in prior to the tournament, few teams took the chance of running far to the north. In general, most teams fished within a couple of miles of Terrace View to avoid long runs to weigh in.
With water temperatures in the mid-60s and on the heels of a new moon, some fish remained in a spawning mood although most of the biggest crappie appeared to have spawned out. Competitors attributed the lack of big fish to the phase of the spawn and the post-front conditions.
Almost without exception, fishermen reported that the bigger crappie that showed up on electronics would briefly look at a bait, only to turn away at the last minute.
“I don’t know what happened to the bigger fish,” said local guide Matt Xenos, who also served as emcee for the tournament meeting on Friday night and for the awards ceremony on Saturday. “Even yesterday, I caught some quality fish. They changed on me today.”
Matt, who won hour six with a 1.70 fish, had caught several crappie over two pounds pre-fishing, but most of the bigger fish either disappeared or snubbed his offerings.
“Some of them that appeared to be bigger would look at the jig, but they didn’t want anything to do with it.”
As usual, the strategy involved in a big-fish tournament came into play immediately. The 1.70 weighed at the end of hour one by Luke and Jacob topped the board but likely wasn’t the biggest fish caught that hour.
“I should have weighed in,” one competitor suggested after saving his fish for hour two. “I didn’t think my fish would be big enough. It weighed 1.81 on my scales and would have won that first hour if the tournament scales weighed close to the same.”
Illinois angler Stu Miller also benefitted from a strategic weigh-in. His 1.79 crappie claimed the prize in hour five. Later, however, he weighed in a 1.93 fish that was just a hundredth of an ounce smaller than the winner that hour.
“You just never know what’s going to win,” Stu said. “I thought I would take advantage of the mid-day lull and weigh a slightly smaller crappie than what normally wins. That proved to be the right move. Then I didn’t win anything with a better fish.”
Other hourly winners included Joe Floyd (1.99) in hour four and Scott Bunch and Neal Alvis (1.94) in hour seven.
Both Crappie Cove owner Blake Hauk and ACC Crappie Stix owner Andy Lehman thanked all participants and also thanked Frogg Toggs owner Will Fowler for coming aboard as the big fish sponsor.
“It was another great event,” Blake said. “We had a record field, and Terrace View Marina came through again as a great venue. We want to thank everyone who played a role in the tournament.”
Plans are already in the works for the fourth annual Big Crappie Bash with the event tentatively scheduled for April 27, 2024, out of Terrace View.