Cold weather and wind challenged crappie anglers at the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Master’s event in West Volusia, Florida. Layered clothing was the name of the game as early cold temperatures moderated by weigh-in time. As it has many times in the past, the St. Johns River proved what an awesome fishery it is.
Ed Stone Park, located just outside DeLand, FL was chosen for the weigh-in site for the two-day contest. Anglers came from across the nation to compete, probably hoping to escape colder temperatures.
By the end of day one it was Paul Turner taking the lead going into the final day. Tennessean Turner was fishing the St. Johns event solo. He will be joined by his wife Elizabeth next week to finish the Florida State Championship on Talquin.
Turner prefished south of the weigh-in site, finding his day one fish in the river proper. He was using the new B’n’M Power Troller Rods. They are a heavy action rod designed to hold up to 3 oz. of lead with little bend in the rod tip. That fits Turner’s style of fishing to a tee.
“I was spider rigging in the river channel, going with the current,” explained Turner. “I run a pretty heavy weight. Sometimes an ounce or even a two-ounce weight on the bottom. I just tie up jigs on regular loop knots. I do that because if I get in a lot of brush and hangs I just find it an easy and quick way to get back in the water after breaking off. It is just easier for me to do it that way, it’s just my way of doing it.”
Turner tried to stay in 10 to 14 feet of water, because that’s where he found the bigger fish when prefishing. He was running two hair jigs on most rods and some moon jigs from Skipper Jigs on some others. He had a naked minnow mixed in occasionally and all his jigs were tipped with minnows. He was pushing anywhere from .7 to 1.0 mph.
“I am fishing by myself this weekend,” offered Turner. “The B’n’M Power Troller Rods are working pretty good. I don’t have to grab the net every time. When I get a fish, I can just power him on in.”
It was Turner’s first trip to the St. John’s River and the strategy he developed in practice fishing paid off on day one of the tournament. He brought a whopping 15.36 pounds to the scales to claim the day one lead.
Turner had more than a pound lead on the second-place team of Damon Riggins and Allen Bates who bagged 14.19 on day one. Larry and Steve Durden rounded out the top three with 14.08 pounds. The stage was set for day two.
The final day of competition started off a little warmer, but still cool enough to require layered clothing. Many of the competitors looked a bit like the Pillsbury Dough Boy as they headed out to fish. Winds continue to blow in double digit figures. Those layers of clothing were peeled off during the day as Florida temperatures rose into the 70’s for the weigh-in at Ed Stone Park.
Another good day by Umatilla crappie anglers Damon Riggins and Allen Bates put them in the hot seat with only one angler remaining to weigh. Day one leader, Paul Turner, had weighed an impressive 15.36 pounds on day one, but his day-two weight of 12.19 pounds, and his two-day total of 27.55 pounds left him a little short. Riggings and Bates claimed the St. Johns Championship.
Riggins and Bates demonstrated the importance of consistency in a two-day tournament. They weighed almost the same weight each day. They added 14.20 pounds to their first day weight of 14.19 to win the day with 28.39 pounds.
They fished near the HWY 40 Bridge. “We was pretty much single poling to start out on day one,” said Riggins. “We fished Skipper Jigs and caught a few on them, but most of our good fish came on a cork and minnow. We stayed in that area around a half day and then ran down towards Marker 26. It was shallow, maybe 5 feet of water, but then did not catch any the rest of the day.”
“We started day two catching 5 good fish where we started,” continued Riggins. “We left there and went to a place we had not been to in a week or two. We pulled up in there and Allen had two good ones right away.”
Like good crappie anglers do, Riggins and Bates had a backup plan. “We had a good plan with a couple secondary spots,” said Riggins. “And yes, we got lucky and pulled two good fish out of one backup hole and one good fish out of the other one. I think the fish were deep and when they decided to feed they come up. We didn’t catch em’ all day long, just every once in a while.”
The local team of Riggins and Bates were using Vexan Rods, Lews Reels, Tru-turn Hooks. “We knew there was good fish there to be caught,” concluded Riggins. “We just didn’t know if we could catch em’.”
“It means a lot to win,” added Bates. “We had worked our butts off and it means a lot to me. We got a lot of friends and family out there rooting us on.”
Second place went to Paul Turner. Most of his fish came on a hand tied jig from a friend. He described it as an 1/8-ounce jig in orange/chartreuse. He reported that the good fish was out in the river channel, in the deeper water.
Turner was spider rigging with B’n’M Power Troller Rods, Minn Kota Trolling Motor and Humminbird Electronics. Turner’s performance leaves him with a first and a second-place finish to count towards the 2018 points race that will pay $25,000 to the crappie angler that earns it.
William Hinson and Tommy Slice claimed the third-place honors with a two-day weight of 25.24 pounds. They were the highest finishing team not to be fishing in the river. They had prefished and had a day where they caught over 16 pounds.
“I had a tip that there were some good fish being caught in Lake Woodruff,” said Hinson. “It was windy on day one but we decided to just stick it out. Friday night we made the decision to return to Woodruff on the final day and take what we could get. We didn’t catch nothing for an hour and a half. After that we just ground it out.”
“Some people might not believe this,” said Hinson. “But we were long-lining 1/16-ounce Skipper Jigs and pulling at 1.6 miles per hour. We were strolling. They were up top in the water column.”
“We had about 7 colors that we could catch fish on,” continued Hinson. “Every day those colors kinda narrowed down and kept changing. We stayed with those 7 colors. Pink and chartreuse was good. Blue and white, red and white was good. Pink and chartreuse was hot on Friday, red and white was good today. Cloudy weather changed it up.”
Team Hinson and Sliced used B’n’M Poles, Garmin on the front, Humminbird in the back and a Lowrance GPS.
Big Fish honors ended in a tie at 2.97 pounds. The team of Jesse Shoemake and Shane Cappel caught their near 3 pounder on Friday of the tournament. That feat was duplicated on Saturday by the team of Tommy Skarlis and Mike Baker.
The adult youth Division went to the father/son team of Tracy Tripp and Matthew Tripp. The Ocala, FL team weighed in 20.24 pounds to win. Matthew added his personal best crappie of 2.13 pounds to the total.
“This is our home water,” said Tracy. “We fish Woodruff a lot. With the wind conditions it got miserable. We made our decision to fish Woodruff and stick with it. We go there before daylight and it was like glass. I like I’m down for this. We were long-lining Skipper Jigs, American Toad Thumpers. We been using them for the last six weeks and killing them. At 10:00 it got rough and we started looking for other stuff. Both days was the same and after 10 to 10:30 we never put another keeper fish in the boat.”
“I don’t get to do this with Matthew very often,” said Tracy. “That big fish today was his all the way. Just to see that fish next to the boat and me get to net it; And all those people that travelled to fish here seeing it, you can’t buy that.”
Tracy and Matthew won a new Minn Kota trolling motor for winning the Adult/Youth Division.
Top Male Female Team honors went to Eric and Leann Howard. Top Howard Fishing weighed in 23.61 pounds. The also finished 8th overall in the tournament.
“There were three constants this week during the Crappie Masters Tournament on the historic St. John’s River,” said Brian Sowers, the Voice of Crappie Masters. “They were the wind, big weigh in crowds, and huge black crappie.”
“The local team of Damon Riggins and Alan Bates rode the breeze to a hard-earned victory,” continued Sowers. “They went old school, using a cork and minnow to overcome a pound and a quarter day one deficit to three-time Crappie Masters’ winner Paul Turner.”
“All the excitement happened in one of the absolute best fisheries in America,” concluded Sowers. “The St. Johns River, near DeLand, FL is a top crappie destination. And, those black crappies are photogenic.”
The next Crappie Masters event will be on February 2nd and 3rd on Lake Talquin. That event is the final leg of the Florida State Championship.
For more information on Crappie Masters visit the website at www.crappiemasters.net.
For more information on the St. Johns River at Deland, and the surrounding area, visit www.visitwestvolusia.com.