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Ala. River amazes once again

When the Crappie Masters tournament trail visited the Alabama River last year, conditions were ideal, and the final leaderboard indicated such with numerous stringers with a two-pound per crappie average.

Those crappie anglers couldn’t heap enough praise on the central Alabama fishery. Fast forward a year, and the same tournament series made a return visit to Millbrook. However, fishing conditions were much, much different. Would that praise continue faced with a high, muddy river with water temperatures hovering about 10 degrees below last year’s event?

After last weekend’s event, the answer is a resounding yes. Even with the less-than-ideal conditions, the tournament competitors had to work a little harder but still managed to find seven-fish stringers that are unrivaled anywhere else on the circuit.

Whitey Outlaw of South Carolina and Mike Parrott of North Carolina weighed in a whopping 15.71-pound stringer for a 30.12-pound total. The team of Randy Jenkins of Georgia and Duard Hulgan of Fort Payne couldn’t hold their opening-day lead and settled for second at 28.51.

Paul Alpers, Crappie Masters president, still had a hard time believing that many two-pound crappie live in the Alabama River.

“There’s no better crappie fishing than right here in Alabama,” Alpers said. “You can’t find a better average anywhere in the whole nation. And the hospitality is No. 1, too.”

For the most well-known crappie angler in the bunch, Wally “Mr. Crappie” Marshall of Texas, the week didn’t pan out as planned, but he did have a large consolation. He finished 23rd in the Alabama event, but he qualified for the year-end classic at Truman Lake in Missouri.

I spent a few hours on the water with Marshall during the practice fishing before the event, and this is definitely not the crappie fishing I experienced growing up.

“This is not the old cane pole with the bobber on it, that’s for sure,” Marshall said as he watched the sophisticated electronics display to determine where the fish were holding. “That old cane pole still works, but crappie fishing has come a long way since them.”