The Magnolia Crappie Club’s February tournament was held at Lake Washington under horrible weather conditions.

My tournament partner, Herman Duckworth, and I went up on Thursday to get in a couple of days of “practice.” Herman actually had to spend two vacation days to make the trip with me.

When we got there mid-morning Thursday, it was windy and raining off and on, and frigid. We didn’t get the boat wet — at least not the underside of the boat — that day. Sat in the cabin, rode around the lake a time or two, cooked liver and onions for supper, and turned in early.

Friday was not much better. We put in under threatening skies. And, yep, about an hour into the prefishing day it began to rain.

My feet got wet and cold quickly — I had on the wrong shoes. We came in, put the boat up and gathered with the other fair-weather fishermen in a cabin or two on the north end of the lake and hunkered down.

Saturday morning, the wind was blowing hard. It actually slowed down from 35 mph to around 20 mph at daylight.

The governing board of MCC had an informal meeting. Some decision-makers wanted to cancel the tournament. Others did not.

Eventually, the reality was pointed out that, unless the club’s president officially called the meeting to order and called for a vote, all we were doing was flapping our gums.

With no official meeting and no decision to cancel, the tournament was on.

The wind was blowing out of the southeast at 20 to 25 mph.

Out of the 36 teams that showed up — that’s about 10 teams short of what we normally have — only 20 teams actually attempted to fish in the ever-increasing winds.

The others paid their entry fee to get their 10 points for entering and to help qualify for our rich postseason. 

Herman and I put in on a private landing where the wind was not a factor. When we finally called it quits, the wind had shifted and strengthened, blowing directly into the launching area that we had used before sunup to get on the water.

We barely made it off the lake without incident. I mean that as soon as we pulled the boat out of the water, 3-foot rollers started pounding the concrete ramp.

We caught three fish, which turned out to be good enough for eighth-place money. Only two teams caught the tournament limit of seven fish. 

At the weigh-in, it began to rain — again.

Pat Jeffcoats, who is almost as old as I am and has been in the crappie club almost as long as I have, asked me at the Lake Washington weigh-in if “this is the windiest tournament we’ve ever held?”

I thought for a moment, scratching my chin, trying to recall.

“Paul, you don’t even have to think about it,” Pat said. “I can tell you this was the worst ever.”

Upon reflection, I’d have to agree that the conditions at Lake Washington — especially the wind — were the worst ever.

Hey, I’ve never had the wind blow a minnow pole out of my trolling racks before, and that happened at Lake Washington. 

I do recall a really scary wind scenario at Sardis a few seasons ago on the day before the tournament.

Tournament veterans Ricky and Jimmy Smith beached their Ranger in very windy conditions, and the rollers filled their boat instantly as soon as they put the bow of the boat on the beach.

I mean it went down, brother — down to the bottom.

Luckily, after the storm passed, we were able to get the boat afloat and the bilge pumps still worked. Scary few minutes for all who were caught in extreme winds.

And, if I go even further back in MCC history — about 15 years ago or so — Charles Wallace from Memphis sank his boat at Eagle on the Friday before the tournament.

He got there just as everyone else was scrambling to get out of the lake. We begged the man not to put in; we saw the storm coming from the west.

“Please, Charles, come with us to Ms. Allen’s,” we urged. “We’ll play dominoes and eat chili. You’re going to die if you go on that lake.”

He went.

It hit.

Sixty mph winds.

Down went the boat.

Knock, knock, knock (Thirty minutes later).

“Err, Paul, can you and some of the fellers come help me get my boat out of the lake?” Charles asked. “It’s washed up against the rocks just below the new landing.”

We somehow baled enough water out of the cracked and totaled boat. Miraculously, it floated enough for me to attach a tow line from the back of my boat and haul Charles around to the ramp.

It was a bad decision to go against Mother Nature that afternoon.

Folks, we never know exactly what the weather will bring. Use good sense: No amount of fish or points is worth risking life, property or pride.

I’m glad we all got off the lake at Washington with no incidents.

To the best of my recollection, we’ve canceled only two tournaments in 24 seasons. Both times, tornadoes were predicted to be imminent.

Even then, we had some competitors who were upset when the board canceled the events.

We’ve fished in some tough conditions from extreme freezing, single-digit temps to high winds. Yep, Pat, I believe you’re right: Lake Washington was the windiest tournament we’ve ever fished.

What’s next?

Two Big Mama Opens — the first one at Grenada, followed by one on Barnett. These are open events — no club membership required.

The Big Mama Opens will be great. With good weather, we should have a huge crowd. These BMOs potentially pay a record $5,000 cash to the Top 3.

Go to www.magnoliacrappieclub.com for full details. Join the tournament fun: MCC is a great bunch.