October 1, 2012 12:54:31 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
There's nothing wrong with having fun while you're fishing and getting a chance to make some money for doing it.
That simple plan eight years ago gave rise to the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters AllAmerican Tournament Trail. In that time, anglers from all across the United States have won hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless prizes. The birth of Crappie Masters also helped introduce competitive fishing to a new audience.
This week, Crappie Masters will bring its national championship to Columbus and the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. The two-day fishing competition is set to begin Friday at the Columbus Marina.
Paul Alpers, president of the Crappie Masters AllAmerican Tournament Trail, said the organization was a huge success when it started eight years with one tournament. Since then, it has survived the ups and downs of the economy to give anglers of all ages and sexes an opportunity to be a part of a competitive exercise and enjoy the outdoors. He feels the Columbus area will offer competitors a competitive environment.
"Columbus and the Tennessee-Tombigbee puts everybody on an even keel," Alpers said. "Everybody has a chance to win the national championship. The hosts there with the tourism there in Columbus have been great. They know what fishing means to the area and what it brings to the economy. The anglers will have all of the amenities they need. You can walk almost anywhere and get a meal that you want from the hotel. ... There are plenty of hotels and places to go and to see so people can enjoy the whole area in Mississippi."
Alpers, who is one of two full-time employees on the trail with Brown, said the first tournament had 132 boats (a team of two) from 16 states. This week, he expects 260-275 anglers from about 21 states.
The first-place team will win two fully rigged Tracker Marine Nitro Z7 boats with 150 horsepower Mercury Motors. Approximately $150,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to competitors.
In addition to the payouts to the anglers, Alpers said Columbus will benefit from all of the family members and fans who come to the city to be a part of the event.
"Most of the guys are going to be there for eight or nine days, so we're excited about that and think they're going to spend a lot of money in Columbus," Alpers said. "So far everything has been working out great."
Fans will have a chance to meet the anglers and to see their equipment from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. The anglers' boats also will be on display.
Alpers admits the economy has impacted tournament fishing. He said the cost of gas, which ranges from $3.30 to $3.60 in the region, has made it difficult for anglers to travel from state to state and to keep their boats in the water.
"We have been very fortunate," Alpers said. "We're averaging around 60 teams per state coming from 10-12 states."
But Bobby Brown, who is vice president of Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters, said things have leveled off and that the AllAmerican Tournament Trail, which is one of only two national trails, is doing well.
"We love the (Columbus) area," Brown said. "You have all the resources there to handle a national championship. The lake area is well known and it is in a central location."
Alpers believes anglers will catch crappie in the 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-pound range. He said the winning total likely will be in the 14-pound range depending on the size of the "kicker", or bigger fish, the anglers land.
Alpers said Crappie Masters hopes to continue to grow. Next year, the national championship will be in Grenada. Alpers said teams of anglers will be allowed to take a child who is 15 years old or younger with them at no cost. He said the goal is to get children and teenagers involved in a sport that brings together husbands and wives and people of all walks of life.
In addition to the anglers who will compete for cash and prizes, Brown said six teenagers will compete for a chance to earn a youth scholarship. He said $4,000 scholarships will be available for anglers ages 10-12 and 13-15.
"I think it is going to run real smooth," Brown said. "So far everything looks good. I think it is going to be an excellent championship."
The weigh-ins for the national championship will be at 3:30 p.m. Friday and at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Columbus Marina. They will be free and open to the public. Alpers said some vendors and sponsors will have equipment available to examine. He said the registration and the vendor and sponsor exhibition that will take place from noon to 3 p.m. at the Trotter Convention Center is solely for competitors. There also will be a welcome banquet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Trotter.
According to its website, the goal of Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters is provide a professional crappie fishing trail for crappie anglers, to provide a crappie trail that grass roots anglers and families can enjoy and compete for great prizes. Its goal is to promote, enhance, and preserve our outdoor heritage and specifically crappie fishing.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.