By Ron Presley
Mother Nature delivered tough fishing conditions to crappie anglers competing in the 2018 Cabela’s Crappie USA Tournament Trail (CUSA) on Lake Cumberland. Recent rains had swollen the lake to high levels and the water was falling rapidly going into the two-day tournament. Anglers were challenged by the falling water level and higher than normal water temps.
Prefishing crappie anglers mostly reported a tough bite. “This is the toughest bite I have fished in my 33 years of tournament fishing,” said Steve Coleman, eight-time national classic champ.
The weather was mild in the mornings and steamy hot in the afternoons. A heavy fog did not lift until about 8:30 each day. The higher than normal water temperatures caused tournament director, Darrell Van Vactor, to advise anglers to use all precautions in caring for the fish. He recommended having a needle ready to “fizz” the fish if necessary.
A majority of anglers expected to find the crappie deep due to the water temperatures. Those that fished deep used single pole, vertical jigging techniques in water ranging in depth from 20 to 35 feet. Although the technique was successful for many anglers, it presented a true challenge to keep the fish alive when landed from the deep water, confirming Van Vactor’s expectations.
The winning team of Ben Garland and Barry Turpen, local anglers from Nancy, KY, fished the way they always do, cast and retrieve. Many tournament anglers have turned to more sophisticated multiple rod techniques to cover more water and hopefully catch more fish but those methods did not prevail at the Classic.
Also, where most competitors were fishing deep water, Garland and Turpen were targeting early fish in shallow water. Their strategy proved to be effective and they caught 30 to 40 fish during the weekend event.
“We found our fish in the main lake,” reported Garland. “The fish have not moved into the creeks yet, except for small ones. We were targeting small cuts or indentations along the shoreline. It might be 20 to 30 feet where the boat was setting, but we were casting to water that was only five or six feet deep and pulling back over the drop.”
“We were just casting jigs,” continued Garland. “We would cast and retrieve with most fish coming early before the sun got too high. When the sun came up so it was on your face, the fish went deeper.”
“Fishing was good,” added Turpen. “We just tried to stay in the shade. We had a limit on the first day by 7:30 and on day two by 8:30. We had a little lull in the bite between 10:00 o’clock and 1:00 o’clock each day but managed to upgrade a few fish during the rest of the day.”
“We just use two baits,” advised Turpen. “Green and white plastic tails from Teezur Jigs. Ben uses green and I use white. The crappie had two choices all the time. They can either take Ben’s green or my white.”
“We are just local boys that enjoy fishing,” offered Garland. “It feels great to win, but that is just a bonus.”
A little deeper investigation uncovered the reason for Garland’s statement. He had a winning story of his own. In the first place, his grandson, Nolan, had fished with them on day two. In his mind that was better than the win. Secondly, his current state of health is a victory over leukemia.
“From August 2016 until April 2017 I was in the hospital with Leukemia,” revealed Garland. “I had to have a bone marrow transplant. Three days after getting out of the hospital we fished the CUSA tournament here and finished fifth. I was so sore and weak I could hardly move. The next time I was a little stronger and we came back and placed again. Now, to come out and win this is just a bonus.”
“It feels great to win,” conclude Garland. “However, being out on the lake, being healthy enough to fish, feeling good, taking your grandson with you, that makes this win a bonus.”
The second-place team of Chris Creech and Rodney Stevens also relied on shallow water fishing for their success. They moved around targeting fish in different locations. They found fish in Fishing Creek, Pittman Creek and on the main lake.
“Day one started off slow,” reported Creech. “We were afraid we would lose the fish we had found when the sun got higher, but the bite picked up. We actually found some of our better fish around noon. It was surprising with the sun coming up that bright but it worked out well.”
Creech and Stevens were one of the few teams who found fish shallow and they were quality fish. They held the Big Fish lead after day one with a 1.87 pounder.
They used Bobby Garland jigs in Monkey Milk color under a slip bobber to catch fish over structure on the bank in two to five feet of water. Then, after catching the shallow fish, they would let the jig sink to 10 to 15 feet of water and target deeper fish in the same structure. The technique landed them about 30 fish over the weekend.
Fifth & AOY
Kris and Terry Mann, Mt. Sterling, KY, finished fifth in the Classic and won the Angler Team of the Year for 2018. They caught their fish deep on jigs.
“Fishing was super tough due to fluctuating water levels over the last two weeks and unseasonably warm water temps,” confirmed Kris. “We caught all of our fish on 1/8-ounce Crappie Magnet jigs in the Fast Lane and Mermaid colors. We mainly one pole jigged wood cover in the 20- to 30-foot range using B’n’M Poles.”
Kris and Terry were among those anglers that lost fish that could have made a difference in their finish. The warm water temperatures were taking a toll.
“We stayed on the move fishing many different creeks in an effort to target larger black crappie,” continued Kris. “Our problem came as we struggled to keep those fish alive that were coming from deep water. We were only able to catch 15 keepers over two tournament days of fishing. Unfortunately, three of those expired before the weigh-in, leaving us with just 12 weigh-in fish.”
Kris had some advice for anglers fishing in similar warm water conditions. Sometimes it requires extra effort to keep the fish alive, especially if they are caught in deep water.
“Stay away from that deep water,” joked Kris. “In all seriousness, keeping the livewell temps cool by adding ice helps and using a quality livewell treatment product is essential. Placing weighted clips on the fins of fish to keep them upright in the livewell can help them recover and “fizzing” them is often necessary. Last but not least, keep your livewell recirculating all day if you can. Unfortunately, sometimes there is nothing that can be done to save them and that’s what we experienced with a few fish.”
Crappie USA National Championship
Top 10 Pro Division
15.13 Ben Garland and Barry Turpen
14.57 Chris Creech and Rodney Stevens
13.83 Steve Hess and Dan Lutcha
13.50 Steve Ferguson and Frank Finley
13.44 Kris and Terry Mann
12.96 Kevin McCarley and Kevin Hagood
12.77 Glen Ward and Donnie Miller
12.67 Bret Cunningham and David Wright
12.59 Keith Lytle and Jessie Sutherland
11.34 Jeremy Mattingly and Dustin Parks
Crappie USA National Championship
Top 10 Amateur Division
13.21 Rodney Goforth and Darrell Hyde
13.11 Luke McCoy and Aaron Gully
12.70 James and Jamie Heflin
12.46 Terry Weber and Don Beasley
11.92 Antwan Roberson and Stacy Morphis
10.64 Thomas E. Nimrick and Teresa Abell
10.60 James and Missy Trunnel
10.37 Roger D. Claywell and Dean Rogers
10.18 Roger Slavey and Harris Dix
09.50 Richard Hamilton and Larry Reynolds