The Southern Crappie Tournament Trail will have its final tournament of the 2012/2013 season on Lake Greenwood next Saturday, February 16. The State Championship “OPEN” Tournament is open to the public with no membership fee and a $100.00 entry fee, and registration and weigh-in will take place at Charlie B’s. Registration will take place from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., anglers will fish from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and the weigh-in will be from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eighty percent of the tournament entry fees will be paid back to twenty percent of the anglers, and so one in five anglers will get a check. With 25 teams first place will be a cool $1000.00, and to get the scoop on what it will take to win that kind of money – and what to expect from the fish on the 16th – I checked in with some successful Southern Crappie Tournament Trail and Lake Greenwood anglers.
First, I spoke with Southern Crappie Tournament Trail angler Will Hinson. Will’s home lake is Lake Wateree, but he fishes crappie tournaments all over the Southeast and the United States. Will is a force to be reckoned with at any SCTT event. A couple of weeks ago I caught up with Will – fresh off a third place finish at a national crappie tournament in Florida – about his predictions for the February 16 event.
Although it’s not home, Will is excited to be fishing on Lake Greenwood, which he considers a very good crappie lake. Like the other anglers I spoke to, Will believes that just how good Lake Greenwood will seem on February 16 depends a lot on the weather and water temperatures. If air and water temperatures remain seasonal, Will expects that fish will be related to the river channel and near the bottom. Deep on Lake Greenwood means something very different than on Lake Wateree, and Will has caught fish 35 feet and even deeper on Lake Greenwood. If Will is fishing 35 feet deep on Lake Wateree he says that something is “bad wrong.” On the other hand, if water temperatures warm up substantially between now and February 16 then fish may begin to move towards the backs of creeks, with some fish starting to move shallower.
For Will, the decisive water temperature mark is around 55 degrees. Water temperatures below that mark will dictate a pattern of tight-lining in deeper water closer to the bottom, while water temperatures much above 55 will mean that many anglers are long-line trolling for suspended fish in shallower water. In colder water anglers will mainly be tight-lining with jig/ minnow combinations, while in warmer water the long-liners will more likely be fishing straight jigs. Some favorite jig colors on Lake Greenwood are blue/ chartreuse, Fish Stalker Ugly Green, red/ chartreuse, solid yellow, pearl white, different shades of green, and what Will describes as some “off-the-wall” colors.
As to the bottom line question – what it will take to win – based on recent history Will expects a 7 fish limit of 11 ½ – 13 pounds to win. Which end of that spectrum the final limit will be depends upon weather and how good the bite gets.
After talking with Will I checked in with angler Chad Gilbert of Greenville. Chad and his partner have had tournament success on Lake Greenwood, and they actually won the first SCTT tournament they ever fished in January of 2011 on Lake Greenwood. Chad recalls the extreme conditions of that day, when snow, very cold weather and ice over large parts of the lake essentially shut down the bite on Lake Greenwood. Chad and his partner were the only two anglers to catch a seven fish limit that day, and so they know a thing or two about how to make Lake Greenwood crappie bite.
Chad agrees with Will that the pattern on February 16 will depend on the weather and water temperatures. If water temperatures remain seasonal then he expects fish to remain deep on the main lake, but if temperatures start to rise then he expects fish to move out of the main lake towards the creek mouths. The first move fish will make is to move up in the water column, and the second move will be shallower. If water temperatures warm up and then drop fish will head deeper again. Chad expects that about half of the field will be tight-lining with jigs and minnows, and half of the field will be long-lining with jigs. Based on recent history, Chad expects a winning weight of about 11 ½ pounds. Cold weather will lead to a lower winning weight, and milder temperatures will mean a higher winning string.
Finally, I spoke with tournament angler Russell Riley, who won a recent South Carolina Crappie Association event on Lake Greenwood and has a good handle on the current Greenwood bite. Because of another commitment Russell will not be fishing the February 16 event, but he expects that fish will still be near the river channel like they were when he won the January tournament with 10.71 pounds. Right now the fish he is targeting have been a couple of feet off the bottom in 14-18 feet of water, but if temperatures warm they could move towards the mouths of creeks. The first move will be vertical in the water column, and the second move will be shallower. It’s unlikely that fish would move into the backs of creeks in the next two weeks, but they could have moved into creek mouths if temperatures are mild. Russell expects that a combination of jigs and minnows will probably be the winning bait, and his best guess is that 11.20 pounds will win.
For a bit of historical perspective, at the 2012 SCTT Lake Greenwood tournament on February 3 and 4 Rod and Braxton Wall won with 24.05 pounds for two days (over 12 pounds per day), and Russell and Allen Outlaw took second with 23.23 pounds. Third place was also 23 pounds, and so recent history predicts that some good weights will be caught. One thing for sure is that the tournament big fish will be entitled to free taxidermy courtesy of Brent Shirley’s Taxidermy, and the first-out-of-the-money team will win a marine battery courtesy of O’Reilly Auto Parts in Camden. As always, the awards for the winners will be sponsored by Rickey’s Woodwork and Joey’s Horseshoeing.
On a somber note, Southern Crappie Tournament Trail President Melissa Hinson is sorry that this will be the final tournament of the 2012/2013 season, and that the tournament series is having to close its doors for the foreseeable future. Melissa is currently providing full-time care to her ailing grandfather, and she is unable to properly care for her grandfather and give Southern Crappie the attention and energy it needs right now. However, she would like to thank all the loyal anglers and sponsors who have supported the SCTT, including the Greenwood Regional Tourism and Visitors Bureau, Charlie B’s, O’Reilly Auto Parts in Camden, Brent’s Taxidermy, Humminbird, and Minn-Kota.