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Fishing tournament on Wheeler Lake offers shot at $1M prize

Anyone with a rod and reel has a chance to win a million dollars or other prizes at the Crank 4 Bank tagged fishing event going on now through July 4 on Wheeler Lake. The tournament is open to anyone who registers at least two hours before catching a tagged fish at any point during the 13 weeks, no fancy bass boat needed.

The tagged fishing event, started by Mike and Vivian Autry, owners of OGS Tournaments, began on Lake Martin in 2020. An idea born from Mike’s desire to take OGS to “the next level,” the couple came up with the concept during a four-hour power outage at home one night in January of that year. By the time their power had been restored, the Autrys settled on the name Crank 4 Bank and began developing a business plan.

This year, Wheeler Lake has been added to the tournament roster. Spanning 60 miles from Wheeler Dam to Guntersville Dam, Wheeler is the largest of three man made reservoirs along the Tennessee River. For the tournament, 200 fish were tagged – with help from the University of North Alabama’s fisheries department – and released over 40 different areas around the lake.

For a $100 entry fee, registered participants who catch a tagged fish between April 1 and July 4 will win, at a minimum, $1,500 or, at a maximum, $1 million. To legally qualify for a prize, registration can be made at any time during the 13-week tournament, but must take place at least two hours before a tagged fish is caught.

On Wheeler Lake, the million-dollar prize is sponsored by North Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association; Lynn Layton Chevrolet is providing a Chevy truck and Freedom Marine Center a bass boat, each worth $50,000. Decatur Morgan County Tourism is also a sponsor of the event. Participants who legally caught a tagged fish during the course of the tournament will take a lie detector test – harsh-sounding, yes, but a common practice in most fishing tournaments – and collect prizes on July 9.

Crank 4 Bank also includes a virtual tournament with registration, which puts a unique spin on the event. Participants can take photos of untagged fish against a legal bump board and enter them in the free Fishing Chaos app. Unlike an in-person tournament, fish are measured by length instead of weight. Each week, prizes are given away for the biggest bass caught on each lake. At the end of the tournament, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place overall winners will be recognized with prizes, sponsored by big companies like Johnson Outdoors, Frogg Toggs and Tackle Direct.

“Last year as people were fishing, they were catching a whole lot of untagged fish,” Vivian said. “So we started a virtual tournament, as well, which is included in the cost. It’s really taken off, especially for young people. With a virtual tournament, you can do it whenever you want to. You get a chance to win a virtual tournament and a tagged fish for $100 over the course of 13 weeks.”

To get more young people involved, as well as give back to the communities, Crank 4 Bank partners with 13 local high schools surrounding Wheeler Lake. Cards with specific codes are distributed among students and each time they are used to register, $10 is given to the school.

“Last year on Lake Martin, one of the high schools earned enough for all the kids on the fishing team to go to State and pay for their hotel rooms,” Vivian said. “That’s our way of giving back to schools and we’re all about young anglers, so this is the best way we know how to give back to those young anglers. It’s another way to try to get the community involved, as well as the young people.”

The feel-good stories that have come from the tournament are what Crank 4 Bank is all about: Last year, an 87-year-old great grandmother sent a letter to the Autrys, thanking them for the irreplaceable memories she was able to make with her great grandson, who came to her house every single afternoon of the tournament so they could fish together.

“We don’t care how old you are or how you fish, as long as you use a rod and reel and you’re registered,” Vivian said. “We had someone as young as 7 and as old as 97 last year. You can fish off a dock or the bank or from a small boat. We have had some people register together as a family. They get out there and fish, and it’s just bringing them together outdoors.”

Registration for Crank 4 Bank is currently going on now through July 4 at https://www.crank4bank.com/.

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