Happy New Year! Can you believe it? We're punching out 2012 and knocking on the 2013 door. My, how time flies when you're having fun and getting older. The Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are behind us, and we're ringing in the New Year as you read this crappie column.

This month I want to address crappie tournaments - specifically, prepping for crappie tournaments. Right now, as I pen this column, I am in the middle of prepping for our next club tournament.

Our Dec. 8 tournament was set to be staged at Chotard and Eagle Lakes. The Magnolia Crappie Club has been coming to Eagle and Chotard every winter for the last 22 years.

Personally, I love the "adventures" over there on the very western edge of our state. These lakes not only have produced wonderful, huge, as-big-as-they-grow weigh-ins in years past, but just being there in that out-of-the-way, fairly remote area is a real treat for most of us.

Oh, the stories I could tell, the tales that have grown to folklore status, the history of the most-successful crappie club in the country that have been born at Chotard or Eagle. Heck, we love it so much that we hold two tournaments during our regular season, and our state championship event was held there last June.

Here's a quickie, served mostly as a reminder to my hard-headed partner, Tommy Moss. Last June after Day 1 of the two-day event, Tommy and I were in last place. Actually, out of the 36 teams that qualified for the 2012 Magnolia Crappie State Championship, Tommy and I came in 35th on Day 1. The only reason we weren't 36th is because the 36th-place team had to make an emergency run to the hospital on T-Day.

You see, Tommy and I couldn't come to a clear-cut decision as to how to best tackle the tournament plan. Tommy wanted to minnow fish using our spider rig on Chotard. I wanted to pull crankbaits on Chotard.

Although all teams had the choice of either fishing Eagle or Chotard, I believed that we all learned the bite was on at Chotard and off at Eagle at the time of the tournament. Tommy and I agreed on that, at least.

So I agreed to try it Tommy's way on Day 1, and if that didn't work we'd try it my way on Day 2.

End of the story - we went from 35th place on Day 2. Oh, we had a ball, either way. I love reminding Tommy of this tale whenever we get back to the same disagreement.


Tournament prep

Prepping for the December crappie tournament at Eagle/Chotard is part work and part fun. Tommy and I face the same questions/decisions we had last June.

Because this is a "fisherman's choice" event - that is, teams can choose which lake to fish - it makes this event ever more complicated to prep.

We decided to limit our prep work to Chotard. Although we heard "they're burning it up at Eagle," one look at the parking lot at the public landing at Eagle made our decision easy. There must have been no less than 150 pickups with boat trailers at Eagle.

To us, that's just too much competition from the non-tournament fishermen. And, in the case of Eagle, every danged pier out there would have several fishermen already in place in our favorites spots by the time our official start fishing time rolled around.

So, we had already decided to try to repeat our Day 2 Chotard performance from last June. Here's the what, why and how Tommy and I prepped for Chotard.

We had to consider all the variables and conditions - the predicted weather, the lake level, the competition, and the specific strategies to use on T-Day. To us, prepping for a tournament is like gathering the necessary paints, brushes and tools we'd need to paint my house. You've gotta have a plan, right? If you don't, you're going to end up with a lousy paint job.

Prepping for Eagle/Chotard includes some boat maintenance and minor work. We look at everything on the boat and boat trailer. Tires, batteries, fish finders, etc., are all checked. Having discovered that my on-board charger wasn't charging one of my trolling motor batteries, I took the thing out of the boat and took it apart.

Yep, easy fix - one of the in-line fuses was broken.

Next, I had to take out lures and other gear out of the boat that I know we wouldn't use at Chotard. I promised Tommy that I'd keep the crankbait numbers to a minimum, and after "culling" down to my very best colors and trolling depth baits, I narrowed our selection to fewer than 500 baits. I have been known to carry well over 1,500 cranks on T-Day.

Don't ask me why. It's a compulsion. I'm dealing with it.

Tommy should have been proud that I had those 500 lures neatly stored out of the way and out of sight. He wouldn't even know they're in the boat until we hit the lake.

Here's a rare tackle endorsement from me. I really like Flambeau's Tuff Tackle Organizer. This is the only tackle organizer I've found that really prevents rust and corrosion on my hooks, split rings and other metal lure components. If you buy these, make sure the "Zerust" label is on them. I like the model 5004 that can easily store 30 to 50 crankbaits.

I organize my lures first by brand name, then running depth, then color. So when I reach to get Bandit 300 in green, for example, I know which of the 5004 boxes to grab. I use various soft-sided storage bags to organize the 5004s. Works for me.

Next, I had to make sure we had the right poles and plenty of them. We would carry 10 cranking poles to Chotard, even though tournament rules limit us to using no more than six poles at any one time. Having a couple of extra poles already rigged and ready to go saves valuable time on T-Day.

Finally, I loaded bottles of drinking water into the onboard cooler. No food, not even a pack of nabs, makes it on my boat unless my partner brings it. And, we never, ever pack any cold beer or other alcohol on board. Brother, we have enough trouble catching 'em as big as they grow when we're sober.

Tommy and I are moving on up in the team rankings this season. We started the year ranked 35th. That was three tournaments ago after September's Grenada event. Then we went to 18th after October's Wolf Lake tournament, and after November's Barnett tournament we moved to 13th place. Our goal every season is to finish in the Top 10. I have no doubt we'll make the Top 10 pulling crankbaits at Chotard.