John's Journal...

Catching Crappie with the Sipes Brothers

Day 4: How I Learned to Find and Catch Crappie with Sonny Sipes

Editorís Note: Gilford ďSonnyĒ Sipes of Moody, Alabama, is one of the nationís top crappie fishermen. He and his brother, Shannon Sipes, just have won the Alabama State Championship on the Alabama River near Montgomery, Alabama, on the Crappie Masters tournament circuit. His first partner was Coy Sipes. He won the first Crappie Masters championship in 2004 in Grenada, Mississippi. His two-day catch of 20 fish weighed 37.88 pounds, the heaviest ever weighed-in for a Crappie Masters tournament. In the Alabama 2013 State Championship, Sonny and Shannon Sipes weighed-in 14 crappie, a total of 27 pounds and a few ounces. They also caught the biggest fish in the tournament, a 3.01-pound crappie.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewIíve been a crappie fisherman most of my life. In 1999 I learned that people were holding crappie-fishing tournaments just like the ones bass fishermen had. I decided that tournament crappie fishing was something I wanted to do. I went to one of the seminars that Crappie Masters was putting on before the tournaments. What they were saying about crappie fishing sounded good to me, so I signed up. I finished in 24th place in that first tournament out of 80 boats that were entered in the tournament. I got really mad that I didnít win, so I decided I was going to learn everything I could learn about fishing and winning tournaments, and I have. In most tournaments, my partner and I usually finish in the top-10 places.

During the process of learning how to tournament fish for crappie, I learned the tactics to help me find and catch crappie at any time of the year and how to catch a lot of crappie in a short time, which were big benefit for me, since I started guiding for crappie. I spent a lot of money over the years traveling all over the country learning how to catch crappie on a wide variety of lakes in the North, South, East and West. I was able to learn how to find and catch crappie in open water fairly quickly. Thatís the real secret of consistently catching crappie. Learning how to find and catch the biggest crappie in any lake required more years for me. If youíre just fishing for crappie, you can find them in most any part of the lake. The population of big crappie in any lake is not usually very big, and they can be in any place in the lake. Most of the time the biggest crappie are primarily going to be found in one or two specific sites. To find those spots is the real challenge of crappie fishing. My partner and I have won a few crappie tournaments in the first 30 minutes, because we located a school of big crappie that were holding in one particular spot on the lake. On other lakes there may only be one or two big crappie in several different locations. So, I may have to fish 8- to 10-different places during a tournament to catch the biggest crappie to win.

Iíve won about everything Iíve ever wanted to win in crappie-fishing, but I still like to compete. Finding the biggest crappie in any lake is still a big challenge for me. Iíve made a lot of friends on the crappie-fishing tournament trail. Iíve met some of the finest people ever. One reason Iíd advise anyone who wants to learn how to catch more crappie and bigger crappie to start fishing tournaments is that on the tournament trail you can tune your skills as a crappie fisherman. Iíd first suggest that you have a pretty-good background in crappie fishing, because youíll be fishing against some of the best crappie fishermen from all over the nation. If youíre a highly-competitive person, youíll get your feelings hurt and lose more than you win starting out. Also keep in mind that youíre fishing the tournaments to meet, talk with and learn from some of the best crappie fishermen. If you keep that thought in your mind for the first 2 or 3 years you fish the tournaments, you wonít have your feelings hurt nearly as badly, because youíre not winning every tournament in which youíre finishing.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewYou have to be willing to travel also. We start competing in Florida in January, and we fish through May. There will often be a couple tournaments in July and August. We then fish the Classic at the end of September or the first of October. By fishing the circuit, youíre going to learn how to catch crappie all year long all over the nation. We start in the South where the weatherís warm in January. As it warms up throughout the following months, we move to more northern states. Youíre going to learn various tactics to catch crappie at different times of year in different underwater conditions. A good day of crappie fishing for me is catching 150 crappie in a day, and Iíve had plenty of days like that. Most of the crappie we catch, especially in a tournament, we throw back. In most tournaments, we only weigh in five fish per day. But on a guide trip if we catch 150 in a day, weíll only keep the biggest crappie we catch to make our limit. I usually donít keep any of the crappie we catch, unless my wife tells me she wants me to bring home some fresh crappie for supper.

The Sipes team use either Tru-Turn hooks or Xpoint hooks on their minnow rigs. They also use Roadrunner lures. One of their favorites is the Roadrunner Pro 2.0 and the Lake Fork baby shad in the lime or lime trues glow colors. To learn more about the jigs and hooks that the Sipes use, visit

Sonny Sipes also guides for crappie on several lakes in Alabama. You can contact him at 205-919-0982, or you can email him at

To learn more about crappie fishing, go to Or, to view an online crappie fishing magazine, go to

To learn more about how to catch crappie, click here, or visit, and type in the name of John E. Phillips’ latest crappie-fishing book, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer.”

About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (AMA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: Crappie Bite All Year Long with Sonny Sipes

Check back each day this week for more about "Catching Crappie with the Sipes Brothers"

Day 1: How to Catch Crappie in the Spring When a Front Hits with the Sipes Brothers
Day 2: Why Sonny Sipes Believes Slow Trolling Is the Best Way to Catch Crappie
Day 3: When to Catch What Crappie as the Spawn Begins with Sonny Sipes
Day 4: How I Learned to Find and Catch Crappie with Sonny Sipes
Day 5: Crappie Bite All Year Long with Sonny Sipes

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Entry 711, Day 4