The crappie fishing season - at least the crappie tournament fishing season - is in full swing. The last few years have brought more and more interest in fall crappie fishing. The tournament circuits have recognized this, and the two national circuits - Crappiemasters and Crappie USA - have moved their National Championship tourneys to the fall.

The Mississippi-based Magnolia Crappie Club has shifted its tournament season, too. We now kick off our new season in October. And some of our best turnouts of competitors and some of our best catches of the year have come in the fall.

Crappiemasters held its 2009 National Championship event on Grenada Reservoir in late September this year. According to the organization, 253 teams from 25 states competed in the two-day event. Several Mississippi teams were entered, including several from MCC.

Although I qualified for the event this year, what I thought was going to be scheduling and other problems prevented me from entering. As it turned out, I could have made the event all along. So I wished my fellow MCC clubmates the best of luck, and forgot about it.

Forgot about it, that is, until a couple of them called me to say they were catching monster slabs pulling crankbaits during the practice days leading up to the actual T-Days. Catching monster Grenada crappie on crankbaits just doesn't get any better from where I sit.

I couldn't stand it. So I talked Jim McKay into going with me early Saturday morning, the second day of the event, to fish and to support our MCC teams at the final weigh-in.


Cranking on Grenada

Let me tell you about it. Jim and I got to the lake around daybreak. It was drizzling rain, so we went to eat breakfast telling ourselves the rain would break, the tournament crowd would clear from the landings and we'd catch ours in nothing flat.

We put in at the north end of the dam, and motored out to the first 30-foot water we found. We turned off the big motor, and turned on the new MinnKota Terrova with Autopilot and cruise control. I quickly threw our long lines out behind the boat pulling a new (and secret) crankbait that drives crappie crazy and swims approximately 10 to 12 feet on the set up we were using.

Within the first 100 yards of trolling - BAM! - one of the long-line poles had a big fish on. As some of you know, big crappie with big mouths come to the top rather quickly when they have a mouthful of crankbait, and this Big Mama was skiing on the surface before I even started winding her in. Man, what a great start!

Rather quickly, we impressed ourselves by catching another five or six good-sized slabs - no real monsters, but good tournament weighing fish for sure.

Then we kinda went flat for a while, and I started trying different colors. I put on a solid fluorescent red, and, in nothing flat, landed three more slabs back to back to back. I couldn't get red baits tied on the other lines fast enough.

We finished Saturday with 16 really good fish. We wouldn't have won the tournament, but we wouldn't have been embarrassed, either. And only one of our fish died. Let me tell you why.


Keep crappie kicking

When one of my MCC buds, Kenny Browning, called me on Friday to give me his results from Day One, he told of an unbelievable catastrophe when it comes to tournament fishing - especially fishing in the National Championship. His first seven fished died in the livewell before he could get them to the scales. In fact, they died after only being in the livewell for an hour.

Crappiemasters doesn't weigh dead fish. So my MCC buddy who was trying to save his No. 1 spot for Day 2 had to go back and catch seven more. Half these died, too, rather quickly. So he had to go back to his honey hole one more time. And with every reload, his best 7 fish were getting a little smaller and a little smaller.

Kenny and Kerry Browning finished third overall for the two-day event. Not bad, MCC guys, but those deceased fish cost you a spot or two, maybe even the tournament.

And, look, Kenny's got a great big Ranger boat with oxygen systems and the latest in livewell technology. Still, his crappie were crapping out on him, and he was steady trying everything from "fizzing" them - that's the ole needle in the air bladder trick - to cooling down the water with ice, to feeding them lots of bottled oxygen, to dosing them with Stay Alive crystals. Nothing was working.

And, to beat all, a couple of the other MCC competitors were experiencing the same troubles. Seems they were catching fish that were coming from deep water, and they were all turning into floaters in the livewell and dying before they could get them to the scales. The MCC fishermen I spoke with on the phone after the weigh in on Friday were very discouraged. So I tried to help.

"You boys ever hear of a Flip-Clip?"

"Naw, what's that?"

I tried to explain to my MCC brothers that there is an alternative to poking stressed fish with a needle in body parts they can't see. A commercially available product called a Flip Clip is simply an alligator clip with a lead weight attached to it. The simple idea is that the weighted clip provides ballast to the floating fish and keeps them submerged in the livewell and "righted" as opposed to flouncing around on their sides on top of the livewell water.

Now, I don't know why, but I got mixed responses from my MCC brethren. Some said "Thanks, I'll try that" when I offered instructions on how to make your own fish ballast from a hook and a weight. Others were very skeptical. One even threatened bodily harm if my suggestion caused him to lose any fish.

So if for no other reason than to prove to myself and to any one else who would listen, Jim and I tagged all our slabs on Saturday with our homemade ballasts. And we lost none of our weighted-down fish. The only fish that we didn't hang a weight on died. Two of our best fish inhaled a crankbait and were bleeding badly when Jim attached our ballasts to their undersides.

"These 'un here'll never make it, Mur-ster," Jim growled as we worked with the injured fish.

Four hours later, we pulled them and 13 more as big as they grow out of the livewell alive and kicking.

Congratulations to all the fishermen who did well in the National Championship. MCC's best competitors at this event were the Browning team - third place - Earl Brink and David Stancil - sixth place - John Harrison and Kent Driscoll - 12th place.