Story & photos by Tim Huffman
Part 3 continues with discussions of formats and a look at wrapped boats. Our series experts include Darrell Van Vactor, General Manager of Crappie USA; Mike Vallentine, President and Owner of Crappie Masters; and Matt Morgan, Co-Owner of the American Crappie Trail. The series also includes quotes from tournament fishermen.
The purpose of the series is to discuss national trails, inside information and the future of the sport. Whether you fish tournaments or not, these national trails and the fishermen who fish them have an impact on the boats, gear and baits that are available. Tournament fishermen have added volumes of fish-catching information that is used in everyday fishing.
One-Pole vs Multiple Pole Tournaments
Darrell Van Vactor with Crappie USA says fishermen might go out and catch more fish on a jig than with minnows, but when restricted to artificial-only tournaments he complains. Most of the fishermen complain. However, he sees a future for these tournaments where a fisherman feels a tap and bump. Feeling the bite is fun.
Crappie Master’s Mike Vallentine says one-pole fishing has been around forever. He believes it’s an art form that has faded because multipole fishing is so popular. The purpose of one-pole tournaments is to break up the monotony of every tournament being the same. Also, for Crappie Masters, they want the Angler Team of the Year to be capable of catching fish in different lakes in different ways. A one-pole tournament is a way of forcing the fishermen to be good at more than one technique.
“Our first one-pole tournament in 2016 was at Tom Bigby. Some fishermen were a little intimidated by the thought of fishing a river system especially with one pole. But some of the teams were catching 100 fish a day down there. Truman and Lake Fork are great fisheries with our Truman event being one of our biggest tournaments of the year.”
Vallentine continues, “Multiple poles, also called spider rigging, catch more fish on most lakes and we are not trying to turn back time. It’s a great technique. But, we enjoy one-pole tournaments and they will be around for a while. Hopefully we will increase the number of them in the future.”
Matt Morgan believes in multiple pole tournaments. “ACT only has multiple pole tournaments but fishermen have the choice of fishing one pole if they want. For example, we know that a summer tournament on Truman will probably be won with one pole even in a multiple-pole tournament. We see no reason to restrict how the anglers fish.”
Tournament fisherman, two-time Crappie Masters Angler Team of the Year team member, and publisher of CrappieNow Magazine, Dan Dannenmueller, travels with and fishes from a wrapped boat. His primary sponsor is Bobby Garland Crappie Baits. “There is a place for one-pole tournaments. It makes interesting competition using one pole and plastics only. It forces a fisherman to be talented in more than just a trolling method. One-pole purist like them and multipole purist don’t. But there is a place and time for different types of tournaments.”
One-Man Tournament Format
Van Vactor says, “Crappie fishing is a buddy sport. It is different than bass because of the multiple poles and techniques. We’ve considered a draw tournament but it wouldn’t work because each fisherman would have different ideas about how to fish plus there is a problem taking someone to your favorite fishing spots knowing they would return.”
Mike Vallentine says, “It’s been a team thing and that’s just the way it is. I wouldn’t mind doing a once-a-year tournament for individuals but it’s been a team concept and I see it staying that way.”
Matt Morgan says, “The team concept has worked because trolling is difficult to do by yourself.”
Dannenmueller says, “I believe there is a place for it but it would take a different mindset because our tournaments have always been built around the team concept. Being different would require some change so most fishermen and trails won’t do it. The positive side would be a much easier path to sponsorships and it would help promote individual fishermen in the sport.”
Wrapped boats can be considered as being as close to the professional side of crappie fishing as it gets. A fisherman or team with a wrapped boat has a sponsor who helps with expenses often including tournament fees, travel and products.
Darrell Van Vactor, General Manager of Crappie USA, says, “Wrapped boats haven’t hurt our trails. The main complaint is by local fishermen who feel they are fishing against professional fishermen so that’s not good. But in reality, local fishermen on their home waters do have an advantage. Another thought is that they can’t compete against the big guys so I’ll stay home. The positives of wrapped boats are many. Their main purpose is to get their sponsor’s message out so that makes the teams very important. Their dollars in our tournaments are critical.”
Crappie Masters President, Mike Vallentine, says, “Our wrapped boat program has grown. We are also seeing more wrapped boat teams who are not a part of our program. That means more people are getting help from sponsors allowing them to fish more tournaments and come to our events. One result of all this is seeing more glass boats, high-tech technologies, and the evolution or trend toward boats that are safer.
He says wrapped boats are a positive. They bring more attention to the sport and it creates names people associate with crappie fishing, and the guy is on the road traveling so it brings exposure to the sponsor.
Vallentine says, “One thing I hear is wrapped teams are treated differently but concerning the actual tournament process that isn’t true. They are just another tournament team. What is different is they get to go to more tournaments so they always up their level of fishing and up the overall competition level of the tournaments. Because of their sponsors they may get more media attention but not a tournament advantage.”
Morgan says he hears that wrapped teams are bad because they scare off locals who believe they can’t compete. He says it’s not true but that can be the perception.
“There are many advantages to wrapped teams,” says Morgan. “The first and foremost is the advertising that a sponsor gets. There is an average of 106 impressions a mile for a wrapped team on the highway. Sponsors are paramount for a tournament trail. Also, a wrapped boat means a team is getting help so that allows them to fish more tournaments.”
Dannenmueller says, “For a fisherman there are big positives and negatives. On the negative side, visibility on the water, especially during a tournament, can be bad. Others watch, follow and often crowd.
“I’ve also learned that whether it’s because of jealousy or because some people are just negative when someone has something they don’t, there will be criticism, comments and rumors. I don’t like that but it happens. What most people don’t realize is the time and energy requirements of a fisherman who has a wrapped boat. There are sponsor meetings, boat shows, seminars, working with media, speaking to people who come up and talk just because they see the wrapped boat and want to meet the fisherman or ask questions. At our first Florida tournament this year, we are already scheduled filming something for TV and doing two radio interviews, and we will probably have other work while we are there. It cuts into our time and makes it difficult to focus on prefishing and the tournament. But the bottom line is that the purpose of a wrapped boat is to promote sponsors so time and work is involved.
“The positives are very good. The financial side makes it possible for a fisherman to spend more time on the water and traveling. The positive side of attention off the water is the opportunity to promote the sponsor, the sport of fishing, tournaments, and the fisherman personally. The boat is seen as being a measure of success and professionalism. It offers opportunities to speak to fishermen, teach them about fishing and products. The tournaments benefit is more dollars and it brings a group of fishermen to many of the tournaments every year. So the wrapped boats are tools that can be beneficial for both the fishermen and tournaments.”
The Future of Crappie Tournaments continues next month with Part 4 including a personal profile on our last tournament circuit owner/manager, Matt Morgan. Topics to come include magazine, TV and social media; how local and regional clubs influence national tournament circuits; sportsmanship; polygraphs; care of fish including releasing; winning the Classic and Angler of the Year; the changing look of tournaments; and the future of crappie tournaments.
Profile: Mike Vallentine
Home town: Clinton, Mo
Home water: Truman Lake
Other occupations: Convenience store chain for 21 years; promoted mixed martial arts for 3.5 years. Rental houses. Currently the President and Owner of Crappie Masters.
How did you get into crappie fishing? “I played golf for 15 years and got burned out. Love crappie fishing.”
Fishing: “I didn’t win a Crappie Masters but have won several tournaments on Truman.
Big crappie: 3.12 pounds on Truman.
Favorite memory: “A tournament on Truman years back when the wind was blowing 25 mph, beating us to death on the stumps and we caught the biggest stringer of seven crappie that we had seen at that time on the lake. We hammered the 14.5 to 15 inch fish for two hours. That just doesn’t happen at Truman.”
Favorite lake? “St. Johns River. It’s clear water with a black stain. It’s the only place I’ve fished where you can catch crappie while watching an alligator and have a manatee swim by the boat all at the same time. It’s very different and has excellent black crappies.”
Fishing heroes? “No heroes but there are a lot of fishermen I respect. For example, Kevin and Charlie Rogers have an absolute passion and energy for crappie fishing. Those are the type fishermen I respect most.”
Pet Peeve? “People who make assumptions without knowledge about something or somebody. We all have good in us so I like to see everyone get a fair chance.”
Hobbies? “Not much time for hobbies but I do like deer hunting.”
Boat food? “I always have packages of crackers with me.”
Favorite sports teams: “I’m loyal to KC Chiefs, Royals and Missouri Tigers.
Something people don’t know about you? “I’m very competitive. I don’t show it on the outside but I have a burning desire to compete.”