Alabama Crappie Trail launches next month
By Greg McCain
The Coles, father Keith and son Weslee, are relatively new to crappie tournament fishing. That fact, however, has done little to diminish their impact on Alabama crappie tournaments over the last two-plus years, and their influence will likely increase in the near future.
Keith Cole has organized and launched the Alabama Crappie Trail (ACT) after a short period directing the Alabama Crappie Masters circuit. The first full year of the new venture officially starts next month with a tournament on a Coosa River impoundment, Neely Henry, out of Southside ramp near Gadsden, AL. The neighboring city of Southside is the official sponsor for the Nov. 18 tournament.
The Neely Henry competition is the first of an eight-event schedule that culminates in the state championship in June 2024 on another Coosa fishery, Logan Martin.
“It’s going to be like a mini national trail within the state of Alabama,” Keith said. “We want to improve the crappie fishing and the tournament fishing in Alabama and build it, hopefully one day, to the level that you see in these bass trails.”
ACC Crappie Stix is onboard as one of the sponsors for the series, which also includes stops on venues spread across the state. Some, like the Alabama River and Weiss and Pickwick lakes, are familiar stops for competition while others – Bankhead on the Black Warrior River, in particular – are less known for their tournament crappie fishing.
The schedule also includes an intriguing stop at Lake Guntersville, an often-overlooked crappie destination amid all the other fishing possibilities there but one with great potential.
“It’s opened up some opportunities for growing as an angler in general,” said Weslee, who lives near Russellville, AL, in the Tharptown community. “I became better on my home lakes by learning these new lakes on the tournament circuits. The competition allows me to kind of guage myself, just to see how I stack up against some really good crappie fishermen.
“I like the way that the Alabama Crappie Trail lakes are setting up for me.”
Keith, of Madison, AL, sought the advice of some prominent names in Alabama crappie fishing while organizing the new trail, names like CrappieNOW publisher and tournament angler Dan Dannenmueller, ACC pro staffer Jonathan Phillips, and national tournament champion Eric Cagle.
“I reached out and talked to different people about how to run a good tournament trail,” Keith said. “They each offered ideas that will make the Alabama Crappie Trail a well-run organization that is good for the tournament competitors.”
The tournaments are the main attraction but not the only one. Benevolent activities are also part of the ACT schedule. Keith mentioned complementary opportunities like fishing rodeos for kids and other events for special needs youngsters, disabled veterans, and cancer patients and survivors. A toy drive is in the tentative stages for later this year.
“We’re not just about fishing,” Keith said. “Crappie fishermen are some of the greatest people in the world, willing literally to give you the shirt off their back. We want to give back, and so we will have several of these special events that coincide with the tournaments.”
ACC Crappie Stix owner Andy Lehman said the family atmosphere surrounding the tournaments, the fact that it is not too expensive with limited travel makes the new circuit a natural for him to support.
Jonathan Phillips, the ACC pro staffer from Wetumpka, plans to fish at least some of the tournaments with his son Wyatt. With the lakes on the schedule relatively close to home, Jonathan said it would be feasible for him to fish with his son.
“I think it’s a great avenue for what I’m trying to do with Wyatt,” Jonathan said, “having tournaments that are more feasible for him to do. It’s good for anybody around the state of Alabama. It’s affordable and hopefully it stays affordable.
“It offers a decent payout for the money that you put into it. Everything is positive. Right now, we just need anglers.”
Crappie fishermen will compete in either a pro or an amateur division. Payouts will be up to $2,500 for the pro division and up to about $750 on the amateur side. Entry fees are $150 for pro division teams and $100 for amateur teams.
“We have a lot of people outside the state interested in coming in and fishing these tournaments because the payouts are pretty good,” Keith said.
For more information about the Alabama Crappie Trail, visit the organization’s website at www.alcrappietrail.com/. In late October, not all of the links on the website were active, but the full 23-24 schedule is available. Similar information is available on the group’s Facebook page.