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For anyone who has followed the career of Deion Sanders, one thing is absolutely certain: the dude is talented!
At Florida State University, Sanders was a two-time All-American in football. He went on to earn eight Pro Bowl selections, win two Super Bowls, and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
Sanders also played Major League Baseball for several years, making it to the World Series in 1992. That feat alone makes him the only person to compete in both professional football and baseball’s signature event.
That said, it should come as no surprise that Deion Sanders is also a talented and passionate angler. As evidenced in the video below, Sanders (along with fellow football Hall of Famer Randy Moss) has no trouble landing a lunker.
But what happens when “Prime Time” wants to slay some slabs? Like thousands of others each year, he pairs up with a professional crappie fishing guide to increase his chances of hauling in a nice catch.
In early January, Sanders posted a pair of short videos to his Instagram channel chronicling a successful day on the water. The first crappie featured weighed in at a respectable 1.76 lbs. The second, an even-more-impressive 1.91 lbs.
For those who watched these videos — bringing the total view tally to over 50,000 — a less-familiar face was featured in the boat alongside “Neon” Deion.
That man is Clay Gann, owner of Clay Gann Crappie Guide Service.
Premier Angler had the chance to speak with Clay recently about his own fishing journey, the origins of his guide service, and his day on the water with one of the most recognizable figures in sports.
Here is Clay’s story, in his own words.
Talking Crappie, Guide Services, and Fishing with Deion Sanders w/ Clay Gann
Premier Angler: Hi Clay. Thanks for speaking with us. You started your own crappie guide service last year. Let’s start by discussing your journey with crappie fishing and what led to you starting your own business.
Clay Gann: I have always loved the outdoors. Starting very young with my father, I would pond hop for bass and go with him to creek fish for channel cat. We would night-fish for crappie.
When I was nine, we lived on a cattle ranch with a few ponds. My mom would let me go fish alone if I would come back when she called for me. I’d spend all day fishing. On school days, I would jump off of the school bus, run to the house, drop my backpack and grab my fishing pole. I’d fish until she’d call me in.
When I moved to East Texas in 2001, I was doing very little fishing. I worked two jobs and didn’t have much time. Somewhere around 2006, I started going crappie fishing with my good buddy Craig Bonner. I went to Lake Palestine with him for spawning crappie and then to Lake Tyler for summer crappie on brush piles.
I was in the process of having a WC custom duck boat built in early 2015. I had planned to do some fishing from it and had $1000 budgeted for a graph and trolling motor. One night my wife was telling me how she learned tilapia was raised in China and she was disgusted. She is a personal trainer and was getting ready for a figure competition and was eating 10 oz of fish a day. I assured her I could keep her in crappie. My electronics budget then went up to $3,600!
It was May when the boat was finished, and it was prime crappie fishing time. I started finding some brush piles on Lake Tyler by side-scanning the entire lake!
During a conversation with a buddy one day, Todd Froebe’s name was brought up. We had hunted together years ago and I had taken 1,000 ft of PVC pipe to him several years back. I called Todd up and told him I had gotten a boat and wanted to get more involved with crappie fishing.
He started helping me with areas to look and how to catch crappie on bridges. I drove by his camp at Lake Fork to show him my boat one day and told him we needed to go fish together. That’s when he told me he and his son had fished the Crappie Anglers of Texas Crappie Fest tournament.
He said the next month’s tournament was on Lake Palestine and asked if I wanted to fish it with him. We fished that tournament and got second place. From that point on, we were Team Gann-Froebe. We fished the full trail the following year (2016) and won Anglers of the Year for the D2 Novice Division. In 2017, we took second place in D1, and in 2018 we came out on top and won Anglers of the Year for the open division.
All I was doing in my free time was pre-fishing for tournaments and fishing tournaments, catching lots of crappie and keeping my word to my wife. During this time, my fishing budget had increased to include a fiberglass boat and better electronics.
I was posting on Facebook often and people started asking all of the time for me to take them fishing. I love being on the water and having different people on the boat and sharing my passion in catching crappie and teaching them how to do it.
It was a no-brainer to start guiding. I got my license and started guiding Memorial Day weekend of 2019.
Premier Angler: Obviously you might have a slight bias here, but what are the benefits for casual or less-experienced anglers in pairing up with a fishing guide service?
Clay Gann: There is no substitute for time on the water and I have that. I know where they are, and I stay on them.
While there are many ways to catch crappie, I know techniques to teach people to be more consistent in pulling them in. For instance, one of my first trips was with a guy who wanted to learn how to catch crappie different ways. I showed him bridge fishing, brush fishing, timber, and how to shoot boat docks. On another trip just the other day, a customer wanted to learn his home lake better. Because I understand the pattern, I was able to show him where they would be and when.
I have a vast knowledge of the latest electronics and have had people on my boat wanting to learn how to use those. Because of my tournament fishing experience, we can go target numbers of fish or giant slabs!
I have clients who simply don’t have time to go find fish and don’t want to spend the money on keeping a boat up with all of the expenses. They choose to take guide trips and go catching worry-free.
Most people just want to have a good time catching fish — not to mention the bonus fish fry!
Premier Angler: Having been in business for less than a year, how does a guided trip with Deion Sanders come about?
Clay Gann: I follow Deion on Instagram and Twitter — have for years. One day he posted that he wanted someone to take him “crappie catching.”
I called my customer Brian Irwin with Turf Pro Landscape Design who has been on the boat with me before and was doing work on Deion’s property. I told him to let Deion know that I could take him out “catching” and he texted Deion my information.
About an hour later I got a call from an out of state number. I thought it was going to be another spam call about my “car warranty” or “my student loans” and I almost didn’t answer it.
I picked it up and said, “This is Clay.”
He said, “This is Deion Sanders. I hear you are the man on catching crappie!”
Starstruck, I nervously said, “that has been my ‘activity’ for the past 5 years.”
Deion said he would check his schedule and call me back. I hung up the phone and thought to myself, “activity?”
Premier Angler: Being relatively new to the world of crappie guide fishing, you got a lot of exposure when Deion posted two videos on his social media channels, one of which featured an impressive 1.91 lb catch. It looks like you guys had a great time out there. Talk to us about the trip itself and the aftermath, knowing tens of thousands of people were engaging with a video that was shot from your boat.
Clay Gann: Deion put me at ease right away. He was posting videos and cutting up talking to Randy Moss.
We pulled up to the first spot and saw some crappie. After showing him the technique we would be using that day, I handed him a Jenko Kevin Rodgers Signature Series rod and he pulled in a 1.76 lb’er for the first fish of the day. Deion can fish! I would tell him where and how far and he would pitch it right out to the fish. He had a blast and caught a lot of nice slabs that day. He was telling some of his friends to be ready to eat some crappie!
Deion brings a crowd, for sure. My Instagram followers shot up and all of the trip posts got a lot of attention. People want to know what it was like to have him on the boat, and I’ll tell you it was awesome because he’s just a down to earth guy who loves to fish! I’m not sure who had more fun — he was cutting up with every catch and I really enjoyed the trip!
Premier Angler: That’s awesome, Clay! Thanks again for sharing your story with us. Anything else you’d like to share about the trip, your guide service, or crappie fishing in general?
Clay Gann: Deion said he had a blast and will definitely be back! I’m grateful to have him and to be building my client base. Fishing is my passion and I enjoy every day I get to take someone out and share it. I’ve had a father along for his son’s first catch and a father along with his daughter for hers. Those trips are an awesome thing to be a part of!
I love where the sport of crappie fishing is headed. With two major tournament trails and the Mr. Crappie Invitational, I could see a tournament angler actually making a living some day in the future.
It’s great to have clubs like Crappie Anglers of Texas, which I am part of, and having a platform where people can get into tournament fishing and can also learn how to just catch crappie by the many seminars put on by guides and great crappie anglers.
Last year was the first ever crappie-only expo. Wall to wall, nothing but crappie fishing. We were fortunate enough to get on stage in front of thousands and weigh in crappie. I felt like a true crappie pro. We finished 9th out of 100 of the best crappie anglers in the country.
Though it all started with tournament fishing, which I am still very passionate about, I am grateful that the experience has bridged me over to guiding and I get to share it with some awesome people.