Wally Marshall, “Mr. Crappie,” Honored with Induction into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame
A light spinning rod, a thin cork, and a few minnows on a light jig head are often the introduction to freshwater fishing for many people, and crappie are often the target. Fishing for crappie has often been the gateway to this sport, and it doesn’t hurt that they are also one of the best-eating freshwater fish species. Maybe crappie fishing doesn’t command the same following as bass, but they are mighty close. Looking at historic angling data from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, it was estimated that nearly one-third of fish caught in the Southeast US in 2011 were crappie and that 23% of anglers target crappie when they head out to fish. Those staggering numbers illustrate just how vital this fish species is.
Texas has a rich angling heritage, and in 1996, opened the door to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) to honor this fantastic pastime. Located in Athens, TXS, it has hosted over 1.1 million visitors since its inception. According to their website, “TFFC is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind facility that has educated and inspired its many visitors with 300,000 gallons of aquaria featuring diverse Texas fish, dive shows, tram rides on the working hatchery, recreational fishing ponds, the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, educational exhibits, wetland trail, and through many amazing educational classes and events.” Just looking at the different programs they offer, not to mention the “Toyota Share Lunker Program,” this center is iconic in its own right.
In 1997, a year after opening, TFFC decided to add a Hall of Fame to their already impressive center, and according to Tom Lang, Director of TFFC, “The Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame came about as part of the development of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, and it was thought that it would be a wonderful addition to honor and recognize those individuals and organizations that made a lasting contribution to freshwater fishing in Texas.”
There are scientists, conservationists, industry partners, recreational anglers, and angling organizations that have all been inducted. “What really gave rise to the Hall of Fame is that while the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department facility with a working hatchery and visitor center, we realized we don’t do everything on our own. We don’t make great fishing, and we don’t take care of the fisheries resources on our own, so it was a wonderful way to recognize and honor all the different walks of life where people have contributed to making Texas fishing so fabulous!” added Lang.
Every year, the TFFC committee selects a new inductee from the public submissions for inclusion in their Hall of Fame. For 2023, the committee unanimously voted to induct Wally Marshall, Mr. Crappie, into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Marshall is one of those iconic anglers everyone knows about, and so many have owed their angling successes to his endeavors as a teacher and gear designer.
Tom Lang relates that the selection committee for the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is quite diverse, which helps to represent the diversity of the Hall itself. “We are trying to recognize folks from all different walks of life that contribute to the sport of fishing in Texas. It’s not a tournament angling Hall of Fame, although we have inducted tournament anglers, and they’ve been very important. It really talks about the breadth and diversity of the people who have come together to make significant contributions to freshwater fishing in Texas, and Wally is certainly one of those,” said Lang.
Lang further expands on Marshall’s impact, “If you’ve crappie fished, you’ve been impacted by Wally Marshall. Without a doubt, bass fishing is probably the number one sought-after species in North America, but crappie are an extremely popular fish. Wally has popularized this sport and put it on the same level in a lot of ways, so to be able to honor someone like that, who’s had such an innovative mind and made so many different products that brought crappie fishing to the forefront, is fantastic. It’s really about connecting people to the type of fishing experience that they would most enjoy or connect with, and Wally has done a tremendous job promoting the sport and providing great products for people to be successful. You know, at the end of the day, if they’re not having fun, they aren’t going to keep fishing. And to add to it, Wally’s just a great guy!”
Marshall has had quite a life and has genuinely impacted this sport in a significant way. From winning the first crappie tournament he fished in 1987 on Cedar Creek Lake in East Texas, Marshall’s course was set. He’s always been a serious hunter and fisherman, but that tournament win propelled him into becoming the very first professional crappie angler in the country. Following that win, Marshall tirelessly worked to develop relationships with manufacturers while traveling the country fishing tournaments, doing seminars, and appearing on many TV shows while inspiring other anglers to get out there and chase this magnificent fish. As the relationships with the manufacturers grew, he began designing and marketing crappie gear, and in 1998, he trademarked the name “Mr. Crappie.” Marshall’s accomplishments and impacts on this industry are genuinely quite significant.
Some of the manufacturers Marshall has worked with are Blakemore Lure Company, Strike King, Bass Pro Shops, Lews, and Smith’s Consumer Products, along with several others. Marshall is known throughout the industry for having a hand in helping design products that serve the crappie industry.
With Smith’s, Marshall has helped design fillet knives, an amazing electric fillet, a variety of different angling tools (his beloved angling pic), and his Mr. Crappie signature kill bag and portable live well. He has always had his finger on the pulse of what anglers need to get the job done. “We met (Wally) Marshall at his first Crappie Expo. We knew right away that this was the pro we wanted to work with to help us develop a more extensive fishing offering. We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with him and are proud to watch him be inducted into the Texas Fishing Hall of Fame,” said Ricky Dukes, Vice President of Marketing Smith’s Consumer Products and Smith’s Sporting Group.
Marshall relates how he learned about being selected for induction into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. “Around Christmas time, I was driving down the road with my mom and a lady who works for me, and I got this phone call from a gentleman who said his name was Tom Lang with the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center and that he was on a Zoom call with the board members from TFFC and we all just want to say congratulations. You’re our next Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame member. I was speechless. I had to pull over. They told me about the induction and everything, and when the conversation was over, the lady who works for me said, ‘You know, your voice was kinda cracking up a bit on that call!’ To represent Texas in the outdoor world is just such an honor! Texas is a big place, and there are lots of people who are qualified for the honor of being selected, and it’s not just anglers. It’s outdoor writers, biologists, and industry organizations. It’s all kinds of different people that move the needle in Texas. Tom Lang told me it was a unanimous decision with all twelve board members. I was like, ‘Man, this is just the peak, you know? It’s probably the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me!’
On Friday, October 6th, Marshall will be inducted into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Athens, Texas. He is the 38th person inducted and joins other iconic angling personalities and organizations honored in the Hall of Fame.
ABOUT SMITH’S SPORTING GROUP
Smith’s Sporting Group is a multifaceted, diversified company that supports a lifetime of outdoor pursuits and includes Smith’s Consumer Products and Tanners Team Sports. Tracing its roots to 1886, Smith’s Sporting Group designs, manufactures, and distributes key products and accessories for anglers, hunters, campers, and hikers, as well as those that love baseball, softball, and pickleball.