October 8, 2012 9:41:09 PM
Paul Alpers has nothing but positive things to say about Columbus and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
Alpers, who is the president of the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters AllAmerican Tournament Trail, isn't sure when he will get his next chance to showcase the area on a national scale, but he is looking forward to it.
Alpers can look ahead to the future with confidence after Charlie and Travis Bunting, of Jefferson City, Mo., capped a successful two days by winning the Crappie Masters National Championship. The Buntings two-day haul of 19 pounds earned them two fully rigged Tracker Marine Nitro Z7 boats with 150 horsepower Mercury Motors. In all 141 teams averaged catching crappie that weighed just less than a pound.
Alpers came away impressed with the number of fish the teams caught despite a cold front that moved in Saturday and made catching fish a little tougher. Still, he feels the anglers who competed saw the level of competition on a river like the Tennessee-Tombigbee was extremely even, which he hopes will encourage even more fishermen to come out next time the event comes to Columbus.
Next season, Crappie Masters will hold its national championship in Grenada. The event also is already slotted for a site in 2014, but Alpers hinted Saturday it could be ready to come back to Columbus after that. In fact, he said Columbus could be one of three or four rotating sites that Crappie Masters uses for its showcase event. He also said Crappie Masters will hold its first one-pole tournament May 17-18, 2013, on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
"You have a bunch of two-year class fish that are three-quarter to one-pound fish that in a couple of years any person in the country is going to want to come here to fish," Alpers said. "There are lots and lots of fish here. Some of those guys caught more than 100 fish. You catch that many fish after a six-and-a-half-inch rain and the front that came in like it did today and you still catch fish like we did, it is just awesome."
Alpers praised the work that has been done to care for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and said he plans to be back to fish in it. He said Grenada and Columbus prove to him that all of the areas in the state of Mississippi have "some of the prime crappie fishing in the country."
Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Columbus Visitors and Convention Bureau, wants to use that bounty to attract even more business to the area. Carpenter was impressed Saturday by the number of Lowndes and Oktibbeha county license plates she saw at the Columbus Marina for the final weigh-in. She also liked getting a chance to go out on the water Thursday for several hours to get a taste of what the men and women who compete in events experience.
"These men and women have put so much of their lives into becoming professionals," Carpenter said. "All of the people who came here are champions in their own respect. It was great to have them here."
Carpenter said competitors from 21 states spent parts of the week or even more pre-fishing in the waterway, staying in areas lodgings, and eating at local restaurants. Prior to the national championship, Alpers praised Columbus for its variety of restaurants and their proximity to hotels and motels. Carpenter said she heard plenty of positive feedback at the two banquets held for the national championship and in her conversations with competitors and their family members.
"We really, really would like to have the Crappie Masters tournament back," Carpenter said. "We know it is committed to different cities in 2013 and 2014. It may take us until then to get our energy back."
Carpenter said Columbus hosted six different events Saturday, including a reunion at the Columbus Air Force Base, a tour of local homes, and weddings. She said each one gave the participants a chance to see the depth of choices available in Columbus. She hopes that variety will be one reason why the Crappie Masters National Championship elects to come back some time very soon.
"Events like this are going to catapult us," Carpenter said of the national championship, the seventh fishing tournament the area has played host to this year. She said the CVCB has increased its recreation budget 20 percent to help put on a variety of sporting events, including mixed martial arts, boxing, fishing tournaments, and youth sports events.
"It was amazing," Carpenter said of the weekend. "Columbus did a great job. We can't thank everybody enough."
Alpers feels the same way. He admitted he didn't know much about Columbus before he arrived, but he was pleased with the hospitality and all of the amenities that made the experience even better.
"The restaurants, you have some of the finest motels in the area, you have an area where bass fishing tournament, catfish, or crappie fishing tournaments are ideal," Alpers said. "The history of this town is phenomenal. I took one the little tour on the European bus, and I have heard people talk about it, and that was really neat. I didn't know all of the Civil War history things that went on here.
"This was really a unique area at that time and place. ... I will take that tour every time I come here. I want to get into the houses and see what they were like, and I will get to do that. Any families or anybody that would like to come, they're going to enjoy it. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, you can enjoy it. The hospitality in this town is great. By far, this is No. 1 as far as anybody around."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.