Chasing crappie on the tournament trail requires long days on the road, sleeping in someone else’s bed (or maybe your car), enduring inclement weather to fish, equipment failure at the worst possible time, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, a large number of anglers do all those things in an effort to fish in and win crappie tournaments all over the nation.
Of course it’s not all negative or participants wouldn’t travel those miles and endure the adverse aspects of following the trail. The prize money is a positive incentive and some are drawn in simply for the competition. Add in the camaraderie and the good friends made over years of competing, and the tournament trail has a lot going for it.
When dedicated tournament anglers get to a new lake they might spend days prefishing before the tournament starts just so they can figure out the waters and set their tournament strategy. After all, many of their competitors will be local anglers who already have abundant knowledge of the lake or river. Road warriors on the tournament trail basically have to ignore the “hometown advantage,” even when fishing their home waters.
Mike Vallentine, president/owner of Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail, reports that local anglers win more than 50 percent of the tournaments they host. That number may not be as large as you expected, but given the skills of those passionate anglers that follow the circuit, some of the hometown advantage gives way to knowledge and persistence and the “outsiders” win their share of the tournaments.
“The local man has always got the home field advantage to a certain extent,” says tournament angler Whitey Outlaw. “By the same token it can work against him because he knows too much.” Whitey explains, that local anglers have to be careful with what they know. “Knowing too much about a local spot may keep him from settling down, fishing slow and thorough. His mind goes to wondering about places he might be able to run and catch a fish or two. At the end of the day he has wasted to much time running from one spot to another.”
The consistent crappie anglers are separated from average anglers based on what they know and how they use it. Taking what you know about your local lake or river and applying it in a different part of the county can make the difference between winning and loosing on the tournament trail. Every one starts off local, but the goal should be to take that local knowledge and add it to your bag of tricks until your knowledge level reaches well beyond your local crappie waters. Adaptability is the key to success.
Travis Bunting and his dad, Charles Bunting fish the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Trail with great success. The father-son duo from Missouri teamed up to win the Lake of the Ozarks Crappie Masters crown 3 different times. They won the Crappie Masters National Championship in 2012 on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway in Columbus, MS, a body of water they had never fished before.
“For me,” says Travis, “following a crappie tournament trail is all about the competition. I played competitive sports from the time I was five until I graduated from high school, so competition is a part of me.”
His lust for catching crappie is so strong it drives him to compete. “I have a passion for catching crappie so tournament fishing fits me well. It doesn’t matter to me if there are five boats or a thousand, I want to win.” The more boats the better, according to Travis, because it gives him a higher sense of accomplishment when he wins.
Crappie Masters attracts the best crappie fishermen in the country so that is where Travis likes to compete. “I want to fish against the best,” comments Travis. “When you lose you have to work your butt off to get to where you want to be and when you win you have to work twice as hard because it wont last long.”
With the opposition getting tougher every year there is continued pressure to improve. “The competition gets tougher every year so you have to get better every year. I like the fact that the trail takes us to different locations. They all fish differently, so you have to be adaptable. Fishing competitively makes you learn so many different ways to catch crappie, just to stay competitive.”
In addition to his own Muddy Water Baits, that he designed for dock shooting, Travis names Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Mercury Motors, B’n’M Poles, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Engel Coolers, Vicious Fishing, Ballz Out, Tite-Lok, and Southern Pro as partners that have helped him and his dad be successful.
In addition to past successes, Outlaw and his tournament partner, Mike Parrott, have demonstrated their crappie fishing knowledge by capturing the 2014 Crappie Masters Angler of the Year competition with several tournaments remaining in the competition.
The Outlaw-Parrot team credits much of their success to the equipment they use, including Humminbird, Minn Kota and Driftmaster Rod Holders. Their tackle includes Rockport Rattler jigheads (which includes Outlaw’s signature jig head, the OutlawMAX Game Changer), B’n’M poles for their sensitivity and strength, Vicious fishing line in 8-pound clear blue, Midsouth Tackle tubes for dressing the jig heads and Tru-Turn #2 hooks on the top drop.” Every thing they use, according to Parrot, is topped with a minnow.
Tournament crappie fishermen and fisherwomen give many reasons for engaging in their sport. Outlaw says, “If you like competition, if you like to learn new techniques and stay updated on equipment and baits, then tournament fishing may fit you well. You make great lifelong friends and the fellowship at tournaments is great.”
Don’t worry, jump right in and give it a try if you haven’t already. The hometown advantage may not be a big as you think. “Just remember,” states Outlaw, “You must be able to lose as good as you win.”