How to Be a Competitive Crappie Tournament Angler

crappie flying through the air as anglers competing in a tournament try to catch them.

“Crappie tastes better than bass!” 

I remember saying this to my friend fifteen years ago when discussing how we should be chasing our favorite fish in tournaments instead of largemouth bass. Lets  jump into crappie fishing tournaments to include the how and why we choose to compete for crappie over other species of fish. 

While Lt. Dan has always had a way with a fishing rod and anything jig or lure he felt like tying to the end of it, I struggled fishing for bass. It just wasn’t as fun as slaying slabs with Lt. Dan as i’ve grown up doing in creeks and Lake Ray Roberts. Fast forward fifteen years, now Lt. Dan and I spend multiple weekends throughout the year competing and chasing massive crappie all around our favorite Texas Lakes.

Why did we choose to compete in crappie fishing? Well, crappie fishing combines skill, patience, and strategy. It can also be done successfully year round, as the weather and crappie behavior changes and our strategies adapt. The crappie is also crazy delicious! My kids are known to call Lt. Dan, to let him know at the next tournament we have to bring a cooler full home to restock the freezer.

  • Crappie are unique and adaptable fish that respond differently throughout the seasons, requiring different types of fishing techniques and strategies to remain competitive all year long.
  • With experience and the right techniques, crappie can be caught year round to include deeper waters in the winter! Creating fun and challenging conditions for crappie tournament anglers to embrace.
  • Everyone loves the taste of crappie! They taste so good, we consider them the Chick-fil-a of our lakes. With the right recipe our fishing trips turn into delicious family fish fry’s where we celebrate our successes and fishing stories!
  • Crappie size and bag limits allow for the harvesting of crappie in large numbers, so filling a cooler of eaters while chasing massive tournament slabs is an easy task.

Becoming a Crappie Tournament Angler

crappie fisherman working hard studying and researching to develop a strategy for the upcoming crappie fishing tournament.

Research and Learning

The first step to becoming a crappie tournament angler is understanding the fish you're after. Crappies, known for their elusive nature, require anglers to learn about their behaviors, preferred habitats, and seasonal patterns.

We didn’t just jump head first into competitive crappie fishing. We began with guiding crappie trips on Lake Ray Roberts, resulting in developing an understanding of crappie behavior over the years. Taking our time to chase crappie on the lake to find the brush piles, creeks, bowls, drop offs, flats, timber (pole and bodark), and laydowns. Spending season after season following them in every temperature or weather condition, to understand and identify patterns in their behavior.

I do believe we have many amazing anglers that do not come from a guiding background, and guiding isn’t a prerequisite to being a competitive Crappie Tournament Angler. However, I would claim that all competitive anglers have put in their hours on the water to learn these fish. There isn’t really anything out there to make someone a better competitive angler aside from actual physical time on water. Resources like online forums, instructional videos, and articles are valuable and helpful for gaining insights to practice on the water. Here is our resource for crappie spawn behavior and patterns.

Strategies to becoming a better crappie tournament angler:

  • Time on water is king! Nothing will better prepare an angler to face all the challenges that a tournament trail will offer than time on the water.
  • Understand crappie behavior to various environmental factors such as rain, temperature, wind, and water clarity.
  • Understand the seasons and what natural instincts crappie have throughout the year, which is impacted or compounded by environmental indicators. Seasons such as winter and spring spawn!
Crappie angler holding crappie fishing equipment.

Equipment and Preparation

Your equipment is a critical part of being a competitive crappie angler. There are a few key pieces of gear or equipment that you will need to be competitive.

  • A crappie fishing boat. While I started with a Ranger, I'm not the proud owner of a Champion that is fully decked out with everything I need to be successful on the water. Check out our article about crappie fishing boats for more.
  • Garmin Live Scope or forward facing sonar, is absolutely critical if competing. This technology allows anglers to scan under water directly below and in front of their transducer to find crappie. This not only helps with tracking crappie behavior but also with identifying the right sized slabs to drop a jig on.
  • Be prepared with multiple jigs, hooks, minnows, tackle, and rods. Crappie can be finicky from one lake to the next or even from one day to the next. To best combat this, anglers bring an arsenal of colors, jigs, baits, and tackle, already pre-rigged and ready to pitch! Sometimes if jigs aren’t working having a rigged minnow rod or a hand tied jig rod ready to go will make the difference to get that tournament big fish in the boat. Looking for our recommendation for the best crappie jigs? 
  • Keep an extendable net! Unfortunately we have learned this the hard way, and you will too. Keeping a net handy can make a tournament. It only takes one big fish to come off at the boat to lose the tournament. Keeping a net handy will help ensure that all crappie you drop on are counting towards your tournament bag weight!

Joining Crappie Tournaments

crappie anglers practicing and studying the patterns of crappie fish while fishing.

Start by participating in local tournaments to gain experience. These events provide a platform to test your skills, understand the competitive environment, and network with fellow anglers. As you gain confidence, larger national tournaments can be your next target. Most lakes will have a local weekly competition or tournament. On Lake Ray Roberts we have held our Wednesday evening tournaments, where we all meet at Isle Du Bois for a friendly competition after working a 9 to 5 or running trips.

When you’re ready to compete at a more competitive level look for regional or state tournament trails. Here in Texas, I like to fish the Crappie Anglers of Texas Tournament Trail and the Lone Star Crappie Trail. Both trails offer opportunity to anglers to fish other lakes, see what works in other places, and develop lessons learned and patterns that they wouldn't have seen otherwise on their home lake. Expect payouts on these trails to pay between $300 to $4,000.

Some of these state or regional trails will actually qualify you to compete in national tournaments, where you can find some really large pay-outs. Not to mention the notoriety and bragging rights. Payouts at the national level can range from $10,000 to $20,000. Check out this article for more about crappie tournament trails.

Strategies for Success

Crappie Fishing Techniques

Live Scope really changed the game when it comes to crappie fishing. We can find the fish faster and easier than ever. However, finding the fish is only part of it. You still have to get that fish to bite, and that is where technique comes in. Technique isn’t only used to describe how we fish, it’s now also used to describe where and which fish we are targeting. For example, are you fishing flats, timber, or in the mud? When we are tournament fishing, we often find ourselves targeting large roaming fish or fish 8 feet from the surface halfway up timber. Ultimately, these different techniques change to the weather conditions and crappie behavior patterns, but the next time you’re on the water make sure you have these techniques down:

  • Vertical Jigging
  • Slip Cork with Jig or Minnow
  • Pitching over brush piles or past timber
  • Fishing the mud, identifying fish in the mud
  • Following roaming fish zig zagging through flats
  • Holding the jig still in large waves
patient angler sits on a doc to catch a fish.

Practice and Patience

Regular practice is essential for honing your skills. Each tournament is a learning opportunity, offering insights into what works and what doesn't. Patience, perseverance, and a willingness to learn from mistakes are the hallmarks of a successful angler. Crappie tournaments have a learning curve as with all competitive activities, but I want to encourage all of you to keep at it. With learning and gaining insights eventually the stars align for your first payout. That payout will be your favorite payout for the rest of your life! As you continue to develop the payouts will become more frequent and consistent. You’ll start noticing that you become less nervous about showing up with your crappie to weigh in, and more proud because you know that you have great fish and are about to put some numbers on the board. Eventually to evolve to the angler that is confident they did all they should have done with the information they had available and you consistently put up some competitive number. But you won’t ever get to that point unless to dedicate yourself to the following tips.

  • Keep practicing your techniques
  • Keep scanning and following fish to identify patterns
  • Get on the water when nobody else wants to
  • Show up to the tournament!

Challenges Faced by Crappie Tournament Anglers

storms come in as many anglers head out across the water during the crappie tournament.

Environmental Conditions

One of the biggest challenges is the unpredictability of environmental conditions. Weather changes, water temperatures, and clarity can all affect crappie behavior, requiring anglers to be adaptable and resourceful. If you are looking to compete in crappie fishing year round get a cold weather float suit. You will find yourself fishing,

  • Freezing temperatures in the winter, wind burning your face and freezing your fingers.
  • Pouring down rain where you can hardly see in front of your nose.
  • Scorching summer heat, blistering your skin and dehydrating you like some DIY Jerky.

Just as it’s important to get accustomed to competing in these conditions, tournament anglers also have to practice in these conditions to identify the patterns and develop tournament strategies. Again, nothing beats time on the water to compete at a high level. Head over to this article if you’re interested in how crappie behave to changes in weather.

anglers competitively run across the lake in an intense scene.

Competition and Pressure

Be ready to lose! Before finding consistency amongst the pressure of tournaments and developing your own patterns and habits for success, you are going to lose. But don’t get frustrated, because every single tournament is an opportunity to grow and learn something new. You will see in tournaments that the competition is real and you will fish some of the world's more experienced anglers. Many of them are crappie fishing guides that chase fish on a daily basis. While the competition and pressure can be brutal, its important to participate and take inventory of the relationships and friendships you build in this sport. Everyone is celebrating everyone here, and we want to continue to see this sport grow. Therefore,

  • Celebrate all wins, even if it doesn’t result in a payout,
  • Enjoy the relationships and friendships you gain,
  • Embrace the experiences and lessons you have on the water. 

If you do those three things, then you can guarantee a positive experience and enjoy the friendly competition.


angler thinking about fish and memories as he reflects as the sun sets.

Crappie tournament fishing is a rewarding pursuit that challenges anglers to continuously improve and adapt. For those passionate about fishing, the journey from novice to seasoned competitor is filled with learning, excitement, and the thrill of the catch. If you’re looking to take on this adventure, remember that success in crappie tournament angling is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. You’re going to need to practice a lot. Spend your time pre-fishing the lake if able. Invest in your equipment and gear. Stay up to date with trends in technology and fishing techniques. But at the end of the day, celebrate all your win’s whether they are large or small. Together we can continue to grow this sport to chase our favorite fish across our lakes.

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