Fishing for dollars: National crappie tournament trail visits Fulton

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

When fishing enthusiasts from across the nation hit the Tenn-Tom Waterway on Saturday, March 23 in pursuit of points and prizes, they’ll be hitting the prime time of north Mississippi’s crappie rush according those in the know.
Crappie USA operates a dozen trail tournaments per year, through which fishermen qualify via performance for the trail’s season-ending classic and corresponding big payday. There is one other stop in Mississippi: at Lake Washington near Greenville. The rest visit Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.
Early start
Fulton’s event will take place from 6:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. March 23.
Entrants may fish the Fulton pool or trailer as far north as Bay Springs. Weigh-in is set for 4 p.m. at the James L. Whitten Historical Center at 100 Campground Road in Fulton. The weigh-in, a corresponding kids’ fishing rodeo and other events are all open to the public.
The event here is no small matter, Clay Coleman, of Clay’s Bait and Tackle in Tupelo says. Contacted by Itawamba County economic development officials to supply the event’s needs, he’s opened a second location in Fulton for the occasion, one he hopes to continue operating permanently. For now, his second store is at 402 Access Road in the old J&J Appliance building. Permanent expansion is secondary for now, though, to the requirements that will arrive next week.
Late arrivals
“The tournament officials say they expect 60 to 70 boats,” Coleman said, “but you never really know until the morning of the event. You’ll have teams showing up continuously until then.”
In addition to stocking tackle, Coleman is offering anglers the opportunity to pre-book minnows for the event, guaranteeing they’ll have live bait in hand that morning.
Live bait
Tournament fishermen who specialize in minnows may hit the water with as many as five pounds of the baitfish on board, and most of the boats will take some quantity of minnows, specialty or not.
If 70 boats take an average of one pound of minnows each, Coleman will need a few more than 6,700 minnows that day for the tournament fishermen alone.
“This is a really big deal,” Coleman said. “I’ve seen events like this draw 200 boats, so you never really know.”
What is known, however, is that timing for a crappie tournament here could hardly be better.
“The water’s warming up quickly right now,” Coleman said. “They’re finding 51-degree water. By next Saturday it could be up to 58. When it hits 52 to 55 degrees, the crappie really put on a push to go shallow and spawn.”
That’s when, by far, the largest number of big crappie are caught every year.
“By this weekend, you very well may see fish caught in three feet of water. With just a few more warm days, you’ll have to hide behind a tree to bait your hook.”
For more information about Crappie USA or to register for next Saturday’s tournament, visit crappieusa.com.