Already a top professional bass fishing destination, Hot Springs will also be America's crappie capital Oct. 4-6 when it hosts the first Crappie Expo.
Produced by Wally Marshall, known in the fishing world as "Mr. Crappie," the event will also be the first national crappie expo. It's a big deal, with Ford Motor Company and Riceland as title sponsors. It will be held at the Hot Springs Convention Center and will feature exhibits from all major crappie tackle manufacturers, electronic graph manufacturers, boat and motor manufacturers and more.
Those attending the expo will have a chance to win a boat per day.
In conjunction with the expo will be an invitational crappie fishing tournament on Lake Hamilton. The field will comprise 100 two-angler teams composed of the nation's most experienced crappie anglers. The field will cut to the top 50 teams for the second round. The best team will win $40,000, with payouts going to the top 25 teams.
"We've had crappie tournaments for 30 years, but not one of this magnitude," Marshall said.
Marshall said it will be reminiscent of the early Bassmaster Classics, when BASS founder Ray Scott flew the Classic qualifiers to the tournament in a single aircraft. The catch was that the anglers did not know where the tournament would be held until the plane was airborne.
"Lake Hamilton is not on the tour," Marshall said. "The guys don't have 10,000 stake beds. They don't have all the structure in the lake, and they don't have all the GPS coordinates. They can't take any information from anybody. They'll show up on September 29th, and they'll get to pre-fish for four days. That's it."
Local crappie anglers will get to see anglers from all over the country using regional tactics that aren't common here. It will be a clinic of sorts.
"You're going to see it all," Marshall said. "You'll see guys longlining jigs. You'll see guys pulling crankbaits. You'll see some of those guys shooting docks. You'll see guys trolling corks catching fish in shallow water. You'll see the whole mega deal."
One thing you won't see is live bait. Only artificial baits will be allowed, with a maximum of four rods per angler.
"It will be the most fairly run tournament in crappie history, and its going to be awesome," Marshall said.
But wait! There's more!
On Oct. 5, starting at 11 a.m., Marshall will also host the world's largest fish fry at the convention center.
"We're going to feed 4,000 people," Marshall said. "We're going to have 10,000 crappie fillets donated by anglers from all over the country."
Naturally, the fish will be fried in Riceland rice bran oil, which Marshall said is the best fish fry oil on the planet.
Admission to the fish fry will be free, but Marshall said you must get a ticket from a manufacturer, vendor, or exhibitor at the expo.
Marshall said he envisioned the expo two years ago. In fact, we discussed it this time last year during the 2018 FLW Cup. As his vision materialized, Marshall said sponsors came calling.
One such call came from Steve Arrison, president of Visit Hot Springs. Unaware of the Marshall plan, Arrison cold-called to prod Marshall into organizing a crappie expo.
"I asked him, 'Have you tapped my phone?'" Marshall said.
The time is ripe for crappie fishing to come to the forefront, Marshall said. It's a huge sport, with widespread participation that knows no age, culture or racial boundaries. It is accessible and affordable.
"I won the first tournament I entered fishing in waders," Marshall said. "I didn't have a boat. I won seven tournaments in three years fishing in waders."
Marshall said all of those things makes crappie fishing the industry's next big frontier.
"It's been a dream of mine to bring crappie fishing to the forefront," Marshall said. "It is an industry show, but it's going be world's largest crappie store under one roof."
For more information, visit crappieexpo.com.
Sports on 08/11/2019