by Ron Wong
Not only did the cities of Ruston and Farmersville, Louisiana roll out the red carpet for the crappie anglers competing in the American Crappie Trail national championship tournament, the Super Bowl of Crappie Fishing, but Lake D’Arbonne showed why it is one of the top crappie lakes in the nation. 1.25 to 1.5-pound crappie were abundant and easy to catch. Ruston, Farmersville and the Louisiana department of Tourism together provided the finest hospitality one could find anywhere in the U.S. All the accommodations, food, and welcoming atmosphere were top notched. Local marine dealerships worked over time to help contestants that experienced boat problems get back on the water.
On the final day of the tournament, as the 25 teams drove from the lake to Ruston for the weigh-in ceremonies, oncoming traffic pulled to the side of the road to admire and respect them. The police escort on that final was not only appreciated by the anglers but made them all feel like royalty. To kick-off tournament week, John Godwin of the Duck Dynasty fame, arranged a welcome party to all B’n’M pro staff members fishing the tournament to nearby Duck Commander Warehouse in West Monroe with dinner provided by Jeff Smith of Crappie Magnet. At the event, all attendees toured the new Duck Commander museum.
The American Crappie Trail National Championship provided the first elimination-style format used in crappie tournaments. It added excitement and drama the anglers learned to embrace. The top 100 teams from 2018 qualifying tournaments were invited to the championship tournament. Points from this tournament were also used to determine the 2018 Angler of the Year award.
For the fans and spectators of the tournament, the excitement began from the day 1 weigh-in to the final fish weighed. This was the first ever 3-day crappie tournament with elimination after each of the first 2 days of competition. After day 1 weigh-in, the field was cut to the top 50 teams to compete on day 2 and after the day 2 weigh-in, the top 25 teams went on to fish championship Saturday. Every fisherman expressed how working to make the cut racked their nerves. So many 10- to 12-pound limits of crappie were weighed with the weights so close it had all teams on edge. Weights so close throughout the field is rare.
After the final crappie was weighed on championship Saturday, the Strike King team of Tony Hughes of Obion, TN and Jeff Riddle of Hornbeak, TN won the tournament with a total 3-day weight of 35.94 pounds. Second place went to the team of Daniel Porter ad Jeremy Aldridge with a total weight of 35.93 pounds. This gives you an idea of how close all the weights were throughout the tournament.
The ACT National Championship tournament provided the highest ever total purse of over $136,00 in a crappie tournament. A day prior to the actual tournament, a media/sponsor/local officials one-fish tournament was held. A record number of teams participated in the fun event. Ron Wong fishing with the Engel Coolers team of Terry and Cole Stewart won the event with a 2.57 crappie.
Excellent crappie fishing was experienced throughout the entire lake throughout the tournament. Most teams talked about the big numbers of fish caught between 1.25 to 1.5 pounds. As some of the teams said, it was a good culling nightmare. The crappie spawn was underway during the tournament as many of the female fish were dropping eggs on boat carpet and in live wells.
With a total weight of 35.94, the team of Tony Hughes and Jeff Riddle won the tournament while catching over 60 fish a day. For the win, Tony and Jeff won a Ranger boat with a 150 horse power Evinrude motor and Minn Kota trolling motor. They spider-rigged using B’n’M 16-foot BGJP rods rigged with double jig rigs using Strike King Jokers and Shadpoles most of the time. They also used a hand-tied hair jig and tipped jigs with minnows. The jigs with some purple in them seem to be the best color. They fished 8 to 10 feet deep over 12 to 20 feet of water. Staying at 0.2 mile per hour was key to catching the fish with occasional stops to get the fish to bite. They focused on flooded trees with lots of branches in an area south of D’Arbonne Point to the mouth of Stowe creek the first two days of the tournament. They believed the crappie were spawning around the branches of the trees, the trees with more branches produced the better size fish. Because of the weather change on day 3, they decided to go up river to fish some spots that had the same characteristics of previous successful spots. Again, plenty of quality fish were caught. Tony and Jeff said that without their great sponsors, including Strike King, B’n’M, TH Marine, Rod Sox and Rod Safe, they would not be so successful.
The second-place team of Daniel Porter and Jeremy Aldridge with 35.93 total pounds spider-rigged the Stowe creek area. Half of their B’n’M (BGJP 16 feet) poles were rigged with double hair jigs and the other half with minnow rigs. “It seems when the sun was out, just minnows were better”. However, the hair jigs caught the bigger fish. They found their fish by using side imaging especially to find sunken laydowns that were near deep water. Their sponsors include B’n’M, Engel Coolers, and Silent Stalker. The silent stalker really helped when the wind was up, and the water was choppy. Third place went to Rick Solomon of Piqua, Ohio. He fished by himself during the tournament and said, “If I had a net man, I may have won the tournament as I lost several big fish at the boat.” Rick fished in sloughs up the Ouachita river that he had found studying a topo map of the lake. He said, “by studying the map, I found three places that should be good for this time of the year” and he fished just those three areas during the tournament. Half of his poles (B’n’M 16-foot PST) were rigged with double minnows and half with 1/8ounce jigs rigged with Southern Pro umbrella tubes, all tipped with minnows. He fished his baits seven feet deep over 8 to 12 feet of water. Fourth place went to Drew Scott who also fished by himself as his partner, Bill Burnett had lost his wife the week before the tournament and couldn’t make it to D’Arbonne. Drew spider-rigged 16-foot B’n’M BGJP poles rigged with Grenada Lake Tackle jig heads and Midsouth blue-white tubes tipped with minnows. He fished 8 to 10 feet deep in ditches that had 15 to 15 feet of water and stumps on the bottom.
Some commonalities while fishing tournament days were: had to fish slow, 0.2 to 0.5 mph; the spawn was in progress, otherwise the weights would be up, and better size fish seem to be over deeper water.
Angler of the Year (2018) went to the team of Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman. Ronnie and Steve won a Ranger RT188C boat with a 115 horse power Evinrude motor for AOY. Second place went to the team of Terry and Cole Stewart, followed by Tony Hughes & Jeff Riddle, Whitey & Matt Outlaw and in 5th place the team of Rick Solomon & Mike Walters.