Crappie Masters crown means more than prizes to father-son duo

The Palmers with four fish from their final day that led them to victory.
The Palmers with four fish from their final day that led them to victory.

It was a dream come true just for T.J. Palmer and his son, Alex, to be standing on the weigh-in stage and even be in the top 10 of the Crappie Masters National Championship on Lake D’Arbonne in Farmerville Saturday afternoon. But when it came down to only one more team that could beat them, it was almost too much for the Clinton, Missouri duo.

They nervously watched the final team — first day leaders Richard Bowling and Gary Lee, also of Missouri — weigh in their fish and come up just a few ounces short. Then reality set in. The Palmer’s were the champions and claimed the $30,000 check that came with their newfound title.

“Oh my gosh. Whooaaaaaa!”, exclaimed T.J. “I’m just speechless. I never thought in a million years I’d be standing here right now. Alex and I are very, very blessed.  I mean…I can’t even talk. I don’t even know if this is real,” he said as he put his hand on his son’s shoulder.

But it was real.

Slab crappie like these earned super-sized trophies and $30,000 for Crappie Masters National Champions TJ and Alex Palmer.
Slab crappie like these earned super-sized trophies and $30,000 for Crappie Masters National Champions TJ and Alex Palmer.

The duo weighed in two daily seven-fish tournament limits totaling 24.66 pounds. They also captured the biggest slab of the event, a 2.55 pounder that actually propelled them to the win mentally and at the scales.

“We caught that big fish at about 11 a.m. Friday and up to that point, we didn’t have anything,” Alex said. “We knew that was something special because the weights aren’t that good this time of year. So we put our heads down and got to work to catch big fish. It wasn’t easy. We had a hard time finding big fish. They were just scattered everywhere.

Fall fishing at D’Arbonne

The fish on D’Arbonne are just starting to get out of their summer slump and begin feeding for the fall. Most of the anglers caught fish scattered on flats or near contour lines in 12-16 feet of water fishing about 10-11 fish deep. With 139 boats in the event and lots of local anglers out, the fish were skittish due to all the pressure, the anglers said.

The Palmers are the first-ever adult/youth team to claim a national championship. Alex is a 16-year-old junior in high school. But he played a bigger part in the win than just catching fish this weekend. One of their key baits were Palmer Stinger jig tails, a creation of his. The Blue Pearl/Chartreuse tail was key with the single tail catching the most big ones.

“I started Palmers Custom Baits in my garage when my school was quarantined when I was 15 just to keep me busy, and just making them for us,” he said. “People started wanting to buy them from me and it just kicked off for me. We used them for a lot of our fish in the championship and it paid off!”

The Palmers used this model of the Palmer Stinger in Blue Pearl/Chartreuse to catch fish.
The Palmers used a few different models of the Palmer Stinger in Blue Pearl/Chartreuse to catch fish.

Top finishers

The team of Clay Gann and Todd Froebe from Lindale, Texas moved into second with 24.38 pounds. Defending national champion Eric Cagle of Tallassee, Alabama, fishing by himself, took third with with 24.38 pounds. Bowling and Lee slipped to fourth with 24.09.

Anglers Wes Barmore of Dubach and Mark Theodos of Choudrant were the top Louisiana finishers in fifth place. To say it was close is an understatement. The top five spots were separated by only .82 of a pound. D’Arbonne locals Chris Fields and Jared Riser of Farmerville were eighth and Wesley Miller and Justin Smart from the Minden area were 10th followed by Heath Rogers of Farmerville and Lance Bilberry of Ruston in 15th.

Matthew and Bruce Rogers took Angler Team Of The Year honors and placed sixth with a weight of 23.72 pounds. More than $125,000 in cash and prizes were handed out to the winners at the end of the two day tournament Saturday, Sept. 26.

The sponsors who helped make this tournament possible were the Louisiana Department of Tourism, Union Parish Tourist Commission, Town of Farmerville, Union Parish Police Jury and Union Chamber of Commerce.

About Kinny Haddox 529 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.

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