October 3, 2012 9:05:32 PM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
Jarad Roper held his first fishing pole when he was 2-years-old.
Granted, his father Tommie had to do the heavy lifting to make sure the rod reached its destination.
Now more than 20 years later, the father-son pair fish competitively together. The latest stop for the duo from Forrest City, Ark., is this weekend's Crappie Masters National Championship, which begins Friday at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Columbus.
"We really enjoying fishing here," Jarad Roper said. "We have finished fifth and sixth before in other tournaments here. The biggest advantage to fishing at the Tenn-Tom is that fits so many different styles. Whether you do it with jigs, or other ways, you have a chance to be successful here."
The two-day event runs Friday and Saturday. More than 140 two-member teams are expected in the competition. A cash prize of $80,000 and two boats await the winners.
"We came down here to take home the top prize," Tommie Roper said. "If we did that, we can go back home and tell people what a wonderful time we had in Columbus. Still either way, we will have a wonderful time. The people down here are always so nice and friendly. The food is really good.
"This is a prime location for some really great fishing."
Perhaps more important than the camaraderie or the food is this weekend's weather forecast.
Friday's forecasted high is 86 degrees, while Saturday checks in at 82 degrees. There is no chance of rain either day.
"It seems like every time we come here it rains," Jarad Roper said. "So honestly, I feel like we are already ahead of the game."
For the Ropers, the father-son connection extends way past the fishing boat. Tommie Roper is the senior pastor at Harvest Field Ministries Church in Forrest City. Jarad Roper is the church's youth pastor.
"We are avid fishermen," Tommie Roper said. "But we are also a fisher of men."
While serving God's call, fishing has moved from a passion to an obsession.
"We have fished together competitively for about 10 years now," Jarad Roper said. "We used to do about 15 tournaments a year. Now due to a change in sponsors and schedules and stuff, we do between eight and 10 per year now."
The duo's career highlights include tournament wins at Harris Chain, Fla., in 2006 and Boone Lake, Tenn., in 2009.
"It is all about the thrill of the competition," Jarad Roper said. "It is a challenge figuring out where the big fish are going to be. Really since Dad put that pole in my hand at two, I have been hooked. The whole goal is conquering the fish. That is where the excitement comes from each time you enter a tournament."
A championship fishing weekend actually begins long before the boats hit the water on the opening day.
"Jarad is a great researcher," Tommie Roper said. "He eats and sleeps it. I have my plate pretty much full, so I don't get to invest as much time. But I really admire how god he is at it. I am simply the gopher on these trips."
Jarad Roper has found the key to successful fishing involves research. His love of crappie fishing has led to the founding of Roper Outdoors, a company set up to help avid anglers learn the nuisances of crappie fishing.
"I like to hold crappie fishing seminars," Jarad Roper said. "The best ways to find fish is by doing your research. I like to call locals and call bait shops. You study Google maps. If you study the river currents and weather patterns, you will have better success.
"It is a lot like a football coach reviewing game films before playing an opponent. Bass fishing is always expanding. We are trying to do the same with crappie fishing."
The sport has come a long way in the past 10 years. The Ropers started fishing competitively while living in New Jersey and have always enjoyed fishing in the south.
"A local tournament back then was 800 or 900 miles," Tommie Roper said. "We would fish tournaments in Arkansas, Florida or Georgia, throughout the south. A trip like this weekend (three hours-plus) is a walk in the park compared to those days."
Jarad Roper hopes the fishing will be as easy as the trip.
"My dad and I have had a lot of fun all of these years," Jarad Roper said. "When I first started, I was simply a boy from Jersey who liked to fish. Now, I have met so many friends on the tour and enjoy fishing with them and against them on a regular basis.
"The biggest change is more locals are involved at each tournament spot. That is really good for the sport of crappie fishing. We are looking forward to getting started. Hopefully, it will be a great weekend for everybody."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter