All the winners in the recent American Crappie Trail tournament on the Ouachita River in Monroe didn’t receive a check and a trophy. There was one local team that, although they were crushed at the moment, won even more than that.
Jason Thomas and Scotty Johnson landed a daily tournament limit of seven fish weighing 11.47 on the first day of the tournament Friday and were sitting in fifth place. Saturday, they were back on the fish and had a good day. They had a sack even bigger than opening day and were primed for a top ten finish. They laid out the fish. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven…..Eight.
They were stunned. After a long week of practice and then two 18-hour tournament days of preparation, fishing and fighting relentless heat, they had miscounted their fish. They brought eight to the weigh-in. the tournament limit is seven. When that happens, your whole catch for the day is disqualified.
As a result, there was no check. No trophy. And a 62nd place finish. But what they did then was what made them winners anyway. And it showed the kind of men and women who are fishing organized pro crappie tournaments.
Character is defined as the complex attributes and qualities that determines a person’s moral and ethical actions and reactions. The content of these two men’s character became obvious at this point. I’ll let Jason tell the story from here. It’s a long read, but worth every second:
“My morning didn’t start out like they usually do. I overslept til 3 am, the time I planned to be in line at live well check. I was leaving River Oaks subdivision when a black cat dashed across my path. I slammed my truck to a dead stop as I gathered my thoughts on what to do next. We are not superstitious, but I had already overslept so I opted to turn my truck around to avoid crossing the path of black cat. I arrived at the live well check line in West Monroe at 3:18 a.m. to find myself in about 35th position, not good due to the fact that word had gotten out the area we had caught our top 5 stringer in day one. Scotty arrived from Ruston asking me what had happened because I’m never late. I am always nervous before we get the boat in the water and situated in our spot or area of choice. I do not ever want to be beat because I was not in our area first. We had suspected we would have GO Pro cameras attached to our rig by the ACT camera crew. At this point we had a spotter enter our vessel for the day with us and we headed to Moon Lake to launch.
Two other tournament boats came into the small river lake we were fishing. I was stirred up because our fish had come in a small fifty yards stretch. Thankfully they respected our position on the leaderboard and gave us our space. Official start time was 6:30 and eight minutes later, my second Jenko 16’ Slab City Pole was buried in the murky waters and out comes a 1.76 crappie. I thanked the lord and told Scotty and Josh (our spotter) “today is the day”. We say a prayer every morning asking for protection over us and fellow anglers and there was a feeling of confidence in our plan and we were executing just like we scripted. The big fish were here we just had to make them bite. As the morning progressed we got some pressure from a local angler that had to get in on our action. It made us uneasy because the fish had shut off after mid morning. We didn’t have long and we were looming around 11 pounds, needing a couple more good fish. I kept telling Scotty to stick to the plan and grind out our area. The bite stopped at 11 a.m. We still had not culled our two smallest fish. We had two of our cull tags break and one fish that was a cull lost its tag. We needed at least one more solid fish to really contend. Friday we had to go to weigh in early due to struggling fish and we planned to do the same Saturday. Just as we started picking up to leave, my outside pole buried into water and I nailed a 1.68 crappie. We hollered and high fived thinking we just may contend for the title.
We were excited, full of adrenaline and nervous. We raced to Moon Lake to load and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a massive high school bass tournament weigh in. I started to panic a little. We both knew we could not touch land with more than 7 fish and they had to be alive. Our 120 quart Engel Cooler was filled with oxygen and G Juice, which makes the water a dark blue, almost black. We started to cull our extra fish, but there were more than one. Three of our biggest fish were showing signs of stress. We completed our count of fish in our boat, but we couldn’t reach agreement on how many are in the cooler. This leads to us counting the fish over 6 times before deciding we had it. One last time I grab four cull tags and Scotty grabs three fish in his hands. We run hands through the water multiple times and find nothing. Keep in mind we have possibly just completed a grueling 2 days fishing in the 100-degree heat with the biggest names in the crappie business.
We rushed to Forsythe feeling we may have just won the ACT! Our emotions would be short lived. Upon arrival at Forsythe we are greeted by fellow anglers and friends that heard from camera boat we had a big stringer. We are greeted by tournament director Matt Morgan, who begins to check in our fish. Scotty then looked at me with a weird look. I thought Matt was going to come out of our cooler and tell us we are good to go. Instead we find we have eight fish. It clearly states that if you bring more than 7 to land, it’s an automatic DQ. Our hearts sank we had just made the biggest mistake of our professional fishing careers. We removed our fish and sent them to the release tank. Word travels fast and we are having to break the news to fellow anglers and our family and friends. Both of our 7 year olds ask me and Scotty “can’t yall count?” I was at a loss of words , hurt , upset , embarrassed. We did not know what to do or how to explain to our spouses.
At this moment we had a decision to make. Back our truck out of this nightmare or get up on that stage like a man. Matt asked us what we wanted to do. Had we backed that truck out of there this would haunt or possibly end our fishing careers. Our fathers raised us to stand in tough times be strong never quit. We decided to stand tall among the other anglers. This was the best decision we made all day. Fellow anglers expressed condolences. As we are called onto the stage this should be the time when we could shout in joy. We win as a team and loose as a team. We thanked our sponsors and congratulated the other anglers. We will be back and we will not let one defeat hold us back from victory.
We are very good fisherman that believe in each other. We give it all to the Lord and he knew we were not ready to taste victory just yet. We feel our mistake may have been the best thing to happen to us. Had we not walked across that stage it would forever haunt us! The fish we had weighed 11.92 on my scales, which would have put us in third place. We didn’t win, but we know we can hang with the best. We will overcome this small defeat and then it’s on to Grenada Lake for the next tournament.
And we want to close with this: “For I know the plans I have for you “ declares the lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you,plans to give you hope and a future” — Jeremiah 29 : 11