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Lake life

Breaking it down: It’s crappie tournament time again

From my perspective, gauging exactly what’s been going on with professional crappie fishing the past couple of seasons has been as difficult as getting a spooked slab to bite a dead shiner.

To make a long story short, or at least shorter, there were three major crappie trails that all fish our region, mostly on Lake D’Arbonne and the Ouachita River. They were owned by different people and run differently. Then some of them were bought and sold…more than once. In the midst of that also came Covid and Biden-induced increases on every expense. Anglers almost had to win an event to break event for what it cost to enter and go fish the tournament.

But going into 2023, Crappie Masters, American Crappie Trail and Crappie USA are all owned and operated by the same person – Blake Jackson of Carterville, Illinois. There have been some changes, and for those who are really $erious about competition with a capital $, things are looking up.

The good news is that these circuits, and the recognition for the lakes and the communities – like Farmerville, Ruston, Monroe and West Monroe that they visit – will still be coming our way this year.

The tourism dollars during and after the events are a big deal. The not-as-good news is these events don’t go over well with all the locals, who don’t like crowded launch ramps and people on “their” lake. But overall, these are great for our area. We should welcome these folks with open arms. The anglers are good folks.

So what’s up for this year? We’ve included a list of scheduled events for all the tours at the end of this writeup. And we’ll try to explain what’s going on.

To do that, we gave Blake a call today and got the scoop directly from him. You can learn more about events and registration on each tour’s Facebook Page, too.

The two biggest changes are the new Crappie Masters Elite series, a tour with a set schedule with set anglers. The field is limited to 50 teams and it is full for this season. More on that in a minute.

The second is the new American Crappie Trail format where it will no longer be the seven biggest fish every day that wins it, but who can catch the most crappie over one pound over a two-day period. That sounds ominous, but the silver lining to that is that these fish will be caught, weighed by an official Marshall and released back in the lake. If you are familiar with Major League Fishing, it’s the same deal, but with no live TV coverage. But something like that may come one day. Each team will keep two fish in the livewell to bring to the weigh in to show the crowd.

One of the most suspenseful things will be that even though all the fish have been weighed and tallied, nobody will know other teams’ exact weights until they approach the weigh-in stand.

The first event in this new format is set for Lake D’Arbonne, January 27-28. Keep your eye out for this possibility. With the guys who are fishing this and the electroncs they have today, if the bite is on, look for several teams to come in with more than 100 pounds caught, possibly way more!

Remember, all the fish but two for each team will have been immediately released back into the lake.

Something else to watch. This format will lead to more use of other techniques, like spider rigging. The more good fish you catch, the better. And look for this to make BOTH anglers in the boat fish all day, not just one fishing and one netting. A single angler “team” could be at a disadvantage.

By the way, if you’d like to be one of the Marshalls, check on the ACT site and sign up. There’s no charge and you get to sit in the boat, weigh fish and learn from the best two days in a row.

Crappie Masters will still have its National Qualifier events and D’Arbonne will host one of those on Feb. 24-25.

The Crappie Masters Elite Series won’t stop on D’Arbonne or the River this year, with the closest event on Cross Lake in Shreveport. Cross Lake has been a fairly well kept secret. But after this, no more. The CM Elite is a five-tournament event that cost anglers $6,000 to sign up for, but payouts and the field is set for all the events. Payouts will include $25,000 to the winner, a $100,000 overall payout in the Classic at the end of the year and a bonus $20,000 to the Angler of the Year team.

Other tournaments hosted by all the tours payout will depend on the number of entrants.

Crappie USA is designed with both pro and amateur events and is set up for those who don’t want to make quite as serious of an investment, but still want to compete. Local events for 2023 include June 10 on D’Arbonne and a Mega Bucks event on the Ouachita River out of Monroe-West Monroe July 7-8.

And there’s more

There is also a new pro crappie league, the National Fishing League, that is just being formed and it has tournaments scheduled in the area as well. They are set for the Ouachita River May 6-7 and D’Arbonne Oct. 14 and Dec. 9-10. We will share more information on those as it becomes available.

And if the big pro events aren’t your cup of tea, there will be more. Keep you eyes out for details on local tournaments like the Shriner’s Crappie Tournament (May 6) and Crazy Crappie Cash (March 4) event, plus more.

Or, if you are like me, just go crappie fishing and have a good time. And maybe go check out a few weigh-ins to see how these guys are catching fish. That may be the biggest “win” of all.

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