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Proudly Mr. Crappie

Plumber-turned-fishing master to be honored for success in and promotion of the sport he loves

Wally Marshall can talk crappie all day long.

Crappie the freshwater game fish, that is. Marshall wins tournaments catching crappie, including a national title in 2003; teaches young people how to lure in the fish; organizes angling events of his own; and sells rods, reels and lures under his trademarked name—Mr. Crappie.

Marshall is so synonymous with the sport he loves that he’ll be cast into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame on October 6, 2023, as the hall’s 38th inductee—and that’s no fishing tale. The Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative member is humbled by the honor.

“I tell you what, it’s something else,” says the jovial angler from Anna, in North Texas. “I never thought this would happen to me in my wildest dreams. I have to rate it right up there with my first bicycle—and that’s pretty special.”

Marshall, who grew up in Garland hunting birds and fishing, has spent decades building a crappie ministry of sorts, launching a fishing guide service and heralding the sport at countless other opportunities. Go to a tournament, go to a boat show, turn on a radio or a TV show about the outdoors, and you’ll likely encounter Mr. Crappie. He puts some 90,000 miles a year on his truck spreading the word about the oval-shaped fish with a downturned mouth and spiny fins. Small and silvery with dark or black markings, the fish is pronounced “croppie.”

“I want to help other people catch more crappie. It makes me happy,” says Marshall, 67. “I’m the winner when other people are successful at crappie fishing.” His efforts include creating a long line of products for crappie fishing, including rods, tackle boxes, buckets and lures with such fanciful names as Krappie Kickers and Slabalicious. “I do everything to catch a crappie.”

His mission to educate anglers and his generosity in giving his time and resources to the fishing community earned him unanimous support for the state honor, said Dan Kessler, chairman of the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame’s selection committee.

“Wally Marshall’s outstanding accomplishments as a trailblazer in the sport of crappie fishing are unparalleled,” Kessler says.

Marshall didn’t really get hooked on crappie fishing until 1982, when he went on a memorable trip with a friend to nearby Lavon Lake. Two decades later, realizing his hobby had gotten bigger than his day job, he says, he resigned as the plumbing superintendent at Garland Independent School District, telling his boss: “I can’t chase my dreams here.”

He went full time preaching the gospel of crappie. His work has included establishing the Mr. Crappie Big Crappie Classic Tournament in 2004, with adult and youth divisions, and the Crappie Expo, a three-day consumer show that includes a $300,000 invitational tournament, a giant crappie fish fry and more than 100 exhibitors each September.

“He’s always looking for ways to get more people, especially young people, interested in crappie fishing,” says John Barns, who nominated Marshall for the hall of fame. Barns is the former president of Strike King, a lure company that carries Marshall’s products.

At the heart of Marshall’s passion for crappie is the fact that it’s a family sport, one he enjoyed with his daughter when she was a child. You can do it until they “lay you in the ground,” he says. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

“Once you find crappie, you can catch a lot of them,” Marshall says, adding that there’s not much waiting around time. “With crappie fishing, you can catch your limit.” (That’s 25 a day in Texas, and all must be at least 10 inches long from closed mouth to pinched tail.)

When going out to hunt crappie—he says the docks around Gun Barrel City on Cedar Creek Reservoir is a favorite spot—he urges anglers to slow down and observe their surroundings. Look for bushes, trees, tall grass and lily pads. Crappie like nice shade, just like people do.

Successful crappie fishing also requires the right equipment. Luckily, Marshall can sell you some.

He’s a promoter, to be sure, but the fact is, he really loves the sport.

“It’s about getting out in the great wilderness, by yourself, going mano a mano with the crappie,” he says. And when a crappie takes the bait, there’s this little thump.

“I live for the thump.”