One-pole in hand and shallow water were the keys to success.
Cold weather and wind challenged crappie anglers to begin the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Master’s event in West Volusia, Florida. Layered clothing was the name of the game as early cold temperatures during pre-fishing days had anglers in the deep freeze. Temperatures moderated by day one and the winds cooperated in the morning hours. By weigh-in time the temps were in the mid-70s and the anglers had some big bags to weigh. The top two teams weighed more than 14 pounds in seven fish. Once again, 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. Fifty-four crappie teams from 18 different states came to compete in one of the best crappie fisheries they see all year.
Day One Leaders
By the end of day one, it was Billy and Scott Williams taking the lead going into the final day. Team Williams had a .16-pound lead on the second-place team of Larry and Steve Durden who bagged 14.02 on day one. Troy Theil and Jacob Sapp rounded out the top three with 13.93 pounds and Big Fish at 2.63 pounds. Holding down the fourth spot with 13.80 pounds was George Parker and Tim Eberly. The stage was set for day two.
The final day of competition started off much warmer with a forecast for rain. Competitors were fishing comfortably as Florida temperatures rose into the 70’s for the weigh-in at Ed Stone Park. Once again, the St. Johns River produced some nice crappie. The eventual winners moved from their fourth-place spot on day one to take the lead and claim the St. Johns River championship.
Parker and Eberly had made their way into the hot seats when day-one leaders Billy and Scott Williams came to the scales as the last team of the day to weigh. Team Williams needed 15.23 to win. The scales jumped up above that when the basket went down. It looked like they would win. Then the scales started calming down and settled in at 15.12 pounds and the win went to Parker and Eberly.
Interestingly, Parker and Eberly had made the decision to one-pole in shallow water while a majority of anglers were fishing deeper. They claimed the win with one pole in hand and a good dose of patience.
“We got beat two out of three years in the shallow water and I swore this year that it wasn’t going to happen,” offered Parker. “Even in practice, we were fishing shallow water. We were one-poling both days in the pads. The fish were moving up with the warmer weather. The temps warmed up a little bit, maybe 4 degrees in the last two days and those fish went to the hill.”
“The biggest thing was patience,” added Eberly. “We went through some dry spells where we didn’t catch a fish for two hours. When you are one-poling it is hard to just stay there, but you fight it off and keep fishing hard. We had taken all our rods off the boat and the racks off the side of the boat. We were committed to fishing with one pole both days and it paid off.”
“On Friday we fished an area that we fished Saturday also, but the fish moved in,” continued Parker. “We had two areas that we did not fish on Friday at all. We went to those areas on Saturday and were able to pull two big fish out of each one. It was a shallow water bite. We were fishing the pads in about 4 feet of water with one pole in hand. They were not on all the pads but we were able to find out where they were. They came up in the last two days and they came up in a big way.”
“This method won’t transfer to Lake Talquin next week,” suggested Parker. “That water temperature there, I imagine is going to be around 50 degrees. Maybe even colder than that, and those fish will be in the river channels, they will not be shallow. A couple months from now they will go shallow, but right now at Talquin you are going to be fishing deep water. You can just about bet on it.”
Parker and Eberly took the win on the St. Johns with 14.18 on day one and 15.51 on day two for a total weight of 29.41 pounds.
Parker concluded by praising the runner up team. “With those two boys there, you are not gonna’ have nothing given to you. You will have to beat them.”
A consistent performance and an incredible day-two weight of 15.12 produced a total weight of 29.30 pounds and gave the runner-up spot to Billy and Scott Williams. Team Williams spider rigged the south end of eligible waters and had led after day one.
“On Friday at lunch we were struggling,” explained Scott. “Finally, we went deeper and caught our fish in the afternoon in about 12- to 15-foot water. I don’t know why they went down, but they did and they stayed deep.”
“We caught em’ deep again Saturday,” continued Scott. “Half of our fish came off a gold hook with a minnow. The rest of our fish came off of some feather jigs tipped with minnows. Probably our bigger fish came as we just let the current move us along. Both days, most of our fish came off the same spot that was less than a fifth of an acre. We stayed in that one area both days and 90 percent of the time we were sitting dead still. Just trying to hold the boat still and that’s hard fishing when you see someone go by catching fish. It is hard to set there and grind it out.”
“We lost a couple of fish that felt like good fish,” concluded Scott. “We didn’t see em’ so I don’t know if they would have helped us or not. This is an amazing fishery. Parker and Eberly were catching fish 4 feet deep and we were catching fish 18 feet deep. We had a great day today. We caught a lot of fish and we enjoyed it.”
Big fish honors went to Terry Barker and Robert Harris. They also placed fifth overall. Their big St. Johns River crappie pulled the scales to 2.77 pounds!
Top Male/Female Team honors went to Eric and Leann Howard. They weighed in 21.52 pounds.
Top Adult/Youth Team went to David Simmons and Jaxon Hall with 24.26 pounds.
Remaining Top Five
Third Place – Lamar Young and Justin Churchwell – 25.58 pounds
Fourth Place – Jim Freeman and Brian Bollenbacher – 25.41 pounds
Fifth Place – Terry Barker and Robert Harris – 24.99 pounds
“Wow,” said Brian Sowers, weighmaster and voice of Crappie Masters. “We had weights that people dream about when they come to any destination. This weekend tournament really demonstrates what the St. Johns River fishery is all about. We had people fishing from the Astor Bridge up north all the way south to Lake Monroe and we saw fish that you can’t even imagine. But it really came down to two of the best teams in the country battling it out.”
“When you set there and saw the baskets of fish coming to the scales you just said, my goodness,” continued Sowers. “It was something else. It came down to .11 pounds separating first from second place.”
“I just want to wrap this weekend up with this,” concluded Sowers. “If you want a vacation destination for crappie, the St. Johns River around Deland, is one of the best fisheries I have ever seen. If you want to catch fish like this tournament proved are here, you might want to come down to Florida. It will be a vacation you will never forget.”
Sowers sent a Crappie Masters thank you to Georgia Carter Turner and all the tourism folks at Visit West Volusia for hosting the tournament. Good fish, good weather, a great crowd, and last minute suspense, made this one of the best crappie tournaments ever.
The next Crappie Masters event will be on February 8th and 9th 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.