Seems every time I have a day open where I can get on the lake it's raining, it's cold, it's windy or it's all three.
As many of you know, I love to fish crappie tournaments. The Magnolia Crappie Club has basically one tournament a month starting in September and running through June. The first Saturday in May, we just fished our 10th and last regular tournament of the 2012-13 season at Enid Reservoir in Water Valley. Our crappie tournament on Enid is part of the annual World's Largest Crappie Festival held by the Water Valley Main Street Association.
"If you need a rain, just call a crappie tournament" has become our motto this season. Let me tell you about it.
My tournament partner, Tommy Moss, and I left Brandon on Thursday morning before sunup in the pouring rain, headed to Enid to pre-fish Saturday's tournament.
We made sure we pulled the plug in the boat before we got on the road.
"We may have to pull over and hit the bilge pump a couple of times before we get to Enid," I told Tommy. "What? Why? The plug's out."
"Yeah, I know, but last month when I was headed to Arkabutla (Tommy missed that trip) in the rain I noticed my truck straining to get up some of the hills between here and there. So I pulled off the interstate and checked to see if the plug in the boat was stopped up. It wasn't. Water was pouring out. Then I hit the bilge pump switch and it pumped water out for several minutes. The water was pouring in faster than it could run out of the drain hole."
"If we get in some heavy rain, I'll pull over and you get out and check the bilge pump, OK?"
Well, thankfully, we ran out of the rain at about Highway 82, the Winona exit. We got to Enid's Wallace Creek boat ramp at around 8:30 Thursday morning and fished in the Wallace Creek area all day. We caught a good many fish while jigging around structure and points, and, at around noon, we tried our minnow poles while slow-trolling.
We had a pretty good day in the Wallace Creek area, although we didn't catch any kickers. But, around the campfire later that evening, listening to other teams who had fished that day, we felt pretty confident that we'd had at least as good a day as any other team. Several teams claimed to have caught fish but no big ones, either.
Part of the appeal of fishing these tournaments is camaraderie built at our informal get-togethers after a day's pre-fishing. Swapping lies, picking out the parts that are truth or near-truths and putting what you learn into action has become an art and a very big part of getting ready for T-Day for lots of us.
It's fun to watch the reactions and the results from rookies who haven't learned the art of discerning the truth from stories that are being compared and swapped around the tailgate of the pickup truck, campfire or BBQ grill.
Point is: We had a good day on Thursday catching Enid crappie. We tailgated Thursday night and had a great deal of fun.
And, on Friday morning it started raining hard before sunup and didn't check up until almost sundown.
Hardly any tournament teams went to the lake on Friday. It was raining frogs. It was windy. And, the temperature was steadily falling during the day. Pretty typical tournament weather - for this season at least.
So, we piddled around the state park cabins all day, making bean soup, warming up sandwiches, swapping more lies and tall tales, watching the hopelessness on the Weather Channel.
Somewhere around noon, Mickey Howley, Water Valley's Festival coordinator and our club's contact called me. It was pouring down rain really hard when he called.
"So, Paul, I guess y'all won't be fishing tomorrow, right? This weather is so terrible," Howley said.
"Oh, no, Mickey. We're fishing regardless of the weather."
"Yep: We'll have 35 or so boats entered, I'm sure."
"You're kidding, right? You really expect that many people will show up after today's 3 inches of rain."
"Yep. We'll be there. Just like you planned. Downtown Water Valley, main stage, 3 p.m. for the weigh-in. Be sure to rope off the side street for parking for our teams like you did last year."
"Yep, really. I'll call you after the tournament registration to let you know how many boats and trucks to prepare for."
The next morning after registration numbers were complete, I called Mickey.
"Mickey, we going to need parking space for 49 teams."
"Yep, see you at 3 this afternoon."
What a crazy bunch of folks this crappie tournament crowd is. On a good day, MCC is happy to see 40 boats enter a tournament. We had almost as many as we had the year before, when the weather conditions for the same weekend had been "as good as it gets." And, we knew some of the teams who didn't make the World's Largest Crappie Festival were in competition on the same day in Greenville with another crappie tournament organization.
This year's World's Largest Crappie festival didn't break any fish-weight records, for sure. But most of the 49 teams in the tournament caught a good number of fish on T-Day, and the weather was pretty good.
Although, when Tommy and I got in the boat at sunup, there was ice covering our seats, and this was the first Saturday in May! Tournament veteran A.E. Smith (81 years old and still fishing every event) has always advised everyone to "keep your warm clothes in the boat until May."
When we got to the weigh-in that afternoon, my partner, Tommy, found Mr. A.E. and said, "Hey, you said we could take our winter clothes out of the boat come May. What happened?"
Mr. A.E.'s reply was, "Well, sir, make that June from now on."
Still, we had fun pre-fishing, and caught lots of fish on T-Day. We didn't catch any "as big as they grow," but we already look forward to next May's World's Largest Crappie Festival.