"Y'all having fun, yet?"

The question, hollered at no one in particular, was a short, cynical editorial designed to relieve the tournament fisherman's frustration on a day when the crappie were not cooperating. The non-response he got spoke volumes from his tournament competitors who were in earshot and not catching fish.

Hey, they don't burn it up every day. Some days are better than others. If we limited out every time we went crappie fishing, there'd be no fish left in the lake, right?

Besides, crappie fishing should be fun, relaxing and enjoyable - whether they're biting or not.


Good times

Let me tell you about a recent crappie tournament that provided a great deal of enjoyment and a few fish along the way. As most of you know, I've been fishing with the Magnolia Crappie Club for many years. This Mississippi-based, non-profit organization is currently in its 17th season, and I've been involved since day one.

We held a late-winter tournament this year on Lake Washington. I spent two days practicing for the one-day event, and I've never enjoyed crappie fishing so much.

What makes for a good time for me? Well, certainly it helps if the fish are biting - especially if you're fishing the same lake for three days in a row. You need to have a little "catching" thrown in with your "fishing."

And, we did catch some on those two practice days - just enough to get us excited for T-Day. On Thursday, the weather was so great we didn't care how many we caught. We were enjoying the unseasonably warm and calm day to the max.

On Friday, my fishing partner and I found some monster fish shallow. I'm telling you, we caught and released some as big as they grow that hit our top minnow less than a foot below the lake surface. It's tough landing a 2.5-pounder on really short string. But we managed to get a couple of those big beauts in the boat, and the beauty of it was there were no other tournament boats anywhere in sight to witness our find.

We were on the north end of the lake in water less than 3 feet deep, and every other competitor was on the south end of the lake fishing deeper patterns. This short-string pattern was completely unexpected and untried by many of the tournament competitors. We were so pleased with ourselves when we went to the bank that afternoon.

Saturday, T-Day, Gil Woodis, my tournament partner, and I headed straight for our secret hotspot. Boy, had the conditions changed overnight or what?!? Our Friday hotspot was getting hit with strong north winds, and it became impossible to repeat the success we had the day before.

Out of necessity, we searched for "slick water," and thankfully we were able to salvage the day with an 11th-place finish. Our goal is to finish "in the money" at every event. MCC pays the Top 15 teams.

Finishing in the money means more than the cash prize for Gil and me. It's our way of knowing, "We did alright today. We achieved some level of success fishing against some of the best crappie fishermen in the state." Sure, we spend the cash, but that feeling "doing good" at the scales is worth so much more.


Liver and onions

And, for me, the most important ingredient to having a "good time" at these tournament events happens off the lake. Our get-togethers, our tailgate parties, our "liver & onion" cookings (a couple of years ago, it was "goat meat & buttermilk") are the highlights to the whole event as far as I am concerned.

Said another way, the tomfoolery this bunch gets into keeps lots of us coming back again and again - regardless of our success or failure at the weigh-in scale.

When you get 30 to 40 people sitting around a campfire or a grill or a fish cooker and all of us start telling lies about when and where and how many - well, you get the picture, right? Misdirection, tall tales and many untruths get told and re-told as the evening wears on and the fire dies.

Oh, and we do cook "liver and onions" sometimes. In fact, at Washington, a buddy of mine, John Burkes from Utah/California/Philadelphia, MS, was visiting and participating for the third or fourth time this season. John doesn't fish the tournaments. As he put it before the Washington event, "I just come for the liver and onions."

True story: John called me a week before the Washington event.

"Paul, I'm in Palm Desert, Calif. When's your next tournament?"

"Next weekend, John. Why?"

"Y'all cooking liver and onions?"

"You bet."

"I'll be there Thursday. By the way, you know this will be the third or fourth tournament I've come to, and we haven't eaten fish yet."


Tournament results

Man, did we get spanked by a brand-new team at Washington, or what! And we learned a thing or two about catching crappie on T-Day.

New to Lake Washington but experienced tournament fishermen, Kenny Browning, who just moved here from Al-er-bam-er, and Earl Brink from some damn place over in Georgia put a whoopin' on us using their unique style of "long-lining."

These boys showed up on Friday morning. Neither had seen the lake before. They put in at the public ramp in Downtown Glen Allan. They "long-lined" (I'll explain in a minute) their way from Downtown Glen Allan to up past the Glass House (that's roughly a couple of miles) on the east side of the lake. Then they hung a hard left and went to the west bank and back down to Glen Allan.

Over "liver and onions" that night, they told us they caught and released 80 or so on that round.

"Eighty!!! Wait a minute, Earl, did you say 80?"

Very nonchalantly Earl replied, "Yeah, I'd say at least 80, maybe more."

Well, with this being Earl's first official "liver and onion" sit-down, we weren't real sure whether to believe him or not. We know not to believe anything from the rest of us. But with a newcomer, we want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Regardless whether Earl's Friday night tale was true or not, Kenny and he brought the winning stringer to the scales the next day. Their best seven crappie scared 14 pounds to death, and second place was almost 2 pounds behind them. Plus, they won both Big Mama prizes for the event.

How'd they do it? What is this long-lining stuff, anyway? Here's what I know. Tie one or two jigs to your line. Cast it 50 or 60 feet behind the boat. Set your trolling speed to 1.5 mph on your GPS, and cover as much water as possible with as many poles as the law allows. That's six poles per boat in the MCC events.

I know more. I just don't want to let it all out at once. Besides, I may want to try catching 'em as big as they grow at our next tournament on a long string instead of a short string.