By Paul MacInnis
Writing for a magazine like Coastal Angler occasionally provides awesome fishing opportunities. So was the case in late January. The Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail held its first National Qualifier tournament on the St Johns River on January 27th and 28th. The day before the tournament I met Mike Vallentine, president of Crappie Masters, and cameraman Bo Newsome at Ed Stone Park near Deland.
Crappie Masters (www.crappiemasters.net) holds 18 to 20 tournaments a year. Around those tournaments, they film 12 television shows. The shows are a mixture of information on the destination, tips and techniques to catch crappie, and tournament footage. Newsome videotaped Vallentine and I as we tried to demonstrate a technique called dipping. Using 10-foot-long rods we dropped crappie jigs into little holes among the lily pads, jiggled them a few times and then moved to the next hole. Vallentine explained this was not necessarily the technique to load up a cooler full of crappie, but it could be a good way to catch a few really big fish. “Could” was the key word for our morning of fishing. We dipped and dipped and dipped our way along hundreds of yards of the prettiest, fishiest lily pads you ever saw. Everybody but the fish knew they should’ve been there. Finally, I got our lone bite, a hand sized crappie that fell off the hook before I got it in the boat.
Several of the competitors were scouting the river for tournament day. Most of them were spider rigging, a technique that involves spreading eight or more rods over a 180-degree span across the bow of the boat. Some teams even added more rods to the back of the boat. The rods were ten to 16 feet long and from each were pinned two minnows to either bare hooks or jigs. With their manmade school of minnows deployed they would use the trolling motor to inch along bottom contours, weed lines or other fish holding features until a minnow found a hungry crappie.
Vallentine, feeling sorry about our fishless plight, eased up to one of the tournament teams who graciously allowed me to take the front seat and man the spider rods until I caught my one and only crappie of the morning. At about a pound it wasn’t a tournament quality fish, but it was fine by my standards.
A bunch of the crappie pros and some other media folks met back at Ed Stone Park for a delicious shore lunch of fried crappie, baked beans and coleslaw. After lunch, Captain Ron Presley, editor of Catfish Now Magazine (www.catfishnow.com), asked me if I wanted to try a little catfishing. He said he needed pictures for the magazine. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fish with Presley and have a shot at getting my picture in Catfish Now Magazine (sorry Coastal Angler).
At various spots along the river we’d cast out chunks of cut shiner on bottom rigs and I would toss a small jig while waiting for a bite on the catfish rods. After a few hours of fishing we got eight or so bites and caught exactly zero catfish and one sunfish, one bowfin and one big, ornery gar.
I have to say, with banks lined with towering, moss draped cypress trees; the St Johns River around Deland is beautiful. With the wonderful company and gorgeous scenery, I had a great day of fishing even though the catching was not so good. Perhaps the approaching cold front or just plain bad luck was responsible for the slow bite. Regardless, I can’t wait to get back to Ed Stone Park and fish that beautiful stretch of river again. I’d like to thank Georgia Carter Turner from the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority (www.visitwestvolusia.com) for setting up such a wonderful day on the St Johns River.