Crappie USA | Sports Destination Management

Crappie USA

Feb 26, 2021 | By: Darrell Van Vactor
An Interview with Darrell Van Vactor, Operations Manager
Darrell Van Vactor
Crappie USA was organized to establish and expand a family-oriented, cost-effective and competitive arena for amateur and semi-pro crappie anglers as the foundation to promote and market products and services. It is the first and largest crappie tournament organization in the world, and is the founder of the American Crappie Association, the first and largest association of crappie anglers.
In 2019, the organization conducted 17 tournaments in multiple states. In 2020, a total of 26 tournaments were scheduled; incredibly, 20 were able to be held. Tournament sites are primarily in the eastern half of the United States where teams may earn the right to compete in the “Super Bowl of Crappie Fishing,” The Crappie USA Classic held in September or October of each year.
Crappie USA averages 5,000 anglers annually. Additionally, the organization has a member publication, the Outdoor Journal Magazine, has affiliated local crappie clubs and has established the Crappie Kids’ Fishing Rodeos, free events for ages 12 and under, conducted at every tournament site. Fishing rodeos offer prizes to each youngster attending and all participants become eligible to win one of six $1,000 scholarships given away annually. To date, Crappie USA has given out over $342,000 in scholarship funds.
Crappie/panfish anglers are identified by the latest National Survey of Fishing by the Federal Fish and Wildlife agency as the largest freshwater fishing segment in America: 14.2 million. Representing 25 percent of the total freshwater market, these anglers spend an average of 27 days annually in pursuit of their favorite species versus the next closest species at 15 days. 
Sports Destination Management: It’s great that Crappie USA was able to continue their events in 2020.
Darrell Van Vactor: We’ve been blessed. Some of our events had to be postponed, but we were able to get most of them in. We’re practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
SDM: Do you have the same number of competitors?
Van Vactor: No, the numbers are off about 20 to 30 percent. One thing that has been good was that during our Classic, our biggest event that we held in October, we were still able to host our banquet. We had socially distanced tables and if people were uncomfortable eating with the group, they could get their meal to go and watch the banquet and awards on our live stream. We didn’t have a single recorded case of COVID coming out of that event.
SDM: What are you looking for in a host community? Obviously, you need a good fishery for crappie.
Van Vactor: We need boat ramps, good-sized parking lots, hotels and restaurants, and we want to be in an area that is a good environment for family travel. 
Something our anglers tend to like is what we call “down and out” lodging, meaning someplace with one floor, with doors that open to the outside. A lot of those kinds of places are going away but in the lake areas, you’ll still see them. People like to park their boats right outside their rooms.
SDM:  Crappie USA also puts on youth events during its tournaments.
Van Vactor: Yes, about 25 years ago, I started offering kids’ fishing rodeos that were held under our 501(c)(3). We offer those at no cost, and we tell kids we just want them fishing; we don’t care what size fish they catch or what species. Everyone gets to fish and have fun, and everyone gets a prize, and the ones who catch the most fish in a two-hour period get additional prizes like tackle boxes. We collect the name and phone number of every child who fishes and at the end of the season, we award scholarships. What has been really rewarding to us has been the fact that when we return to those cities later, many of the kids who fished in rodeos before will come back to help other kids learn to fish. For us, that’s the best part of all. SDM
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