It took a tropical storm named Lee to douse the heat dome that had been sitting over us for months, but this morning for the first time in a very long time, the temperatures are pleasant. And this current first taste of "fair weather" sure makes a feller want to find his bullets and load his gun, or, more so in my case, clean the boat and charge the batteries for the upcoming fall fishing season.

In fact, my tournament partner, Tommy Moss of Brandon, and I have spent several mornings recently making ready for our upcoming Magnolia Crappie State Championship. By the time you read this, the crappie club's biggest event of the year will be a recent memory, but you can check the results at www.ms-sportsman.com.

Tommy has won this MCC event in the past with our deceased buddy, Jim McKay, also of Brandon. Jim died Christmas morning last year, and Tommy, who had intended to sit out last season, became my partner for the rest of the tournaments, filling in for Jim.

Jim and Tommy won the MCC State Championship on Wolf Lake a few years ago. They also came within a cat's whisker of winning the Crappie Masters National Crappie Championship just a few years ago on Reelfoot Lake in Northwest Tennessee.

As we were cleaning my boat and making adjustments to our gear, Tommy reminisced about the one that got away up at Reelfoot that cost them two great big Nitro Z-71 fishing boats. Seems their trolling motor battery gave out on them early on that second day of the two-day event, and they were left with Tommy hanging onto the front fishing chair as he jigged with one pole around the Reelfoot stumps on a very windy day. Jim was "driving" the boat using the big motor and trying to keep Tommy pushed up on the stumps as best he could in the wind and rough waters.

Tommy hooked their best fish of the day right next to a big flat-top stump that was just a few inches above the lake's surface. This monster slab came off Tommy's jig as he lifted it toward the boat. You guessed it - it landed just inches out of the water on the top of a huge flat stump. This particular stump was "as big and as flat as the kitchen table" Tommy told me. Why so flat - so "sawed off" - out in the middle of this huge shallow-water lake?

History tells us that back in the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies used Reelfoot Lake to ferry men and supplies from the Mississippi River across low lying swampy area that was the Reelfoot area 150 years ago.

In fact, the Union troops developed a steam-driven swamp boat that had a huge horizontal saw mounted to the front of it. The saw was purposely placed below the water's surface to cut the huge standing timber out of the way. They literally sawed themselves a pathway through the almost impassable swamp to enable flat-bottomed barges to float over the submerged stumps transferring men and supplies to high ground.

These sawed-off stumps were below the water level for 150 years. It just so happened that the day that big tournament-winning fish came unbuttoned and landed on that "tabletop" stump, Reelfoot was right in the middle of a long drought, and Reelfoot Lake was at record low water levels.

There were lots of stumps showing above the water's surface that ordinarily were not a problem for fishermen. But, on this one particular tournament day, with the wind blowing and the boat bouncing up and down and with Jim and Tommy hollering instructions to one another, that two-boat winning slab just came off and flopped around on top of that big flat stump.

It took Jim a second to realize that the biggest crappie they'd seen in two days was out of Tommy's reach, and by the time he got Tommy back close enough to get a net under the winning fish, it flopped its way off the stump, back into the shallow waters.

"We really didn't think much about it at the time and just went on and fished out the rest of Day Two," Tommy said. "But when we hit the weigh-in stage, our second day's weight put us on top of the leader board, and we were in the hot seat until the very last couple of teams weighed. We got beat by ounces.

"Someone else drove those new boats that day. We had the winning fish hooked and headed into the boat. Damn wind, damn stumps, damn Yankees, damn trolling motor."

The point to this story, at least for Tommy and me this past week, is to make sure we're "tournament ready," and it does take some work. Batteries - that's five in my boat - have to be maintained and charged. Mine drank nearly a gallon of distilled water. Poles and reels and hooks and lures have to be organized and updated. Shoot, I've put at least a thousand new red treble hooks on my cranks this week.

And we're trying something new this upcoming season. Tommy and I love to pull crankbaits using my MinnKota Terrova 80 with its iPilot GPS steering system. This trolling system is about as hands-free as you can get. The boat practically drives itself.

But for all the advantages that come with the Terrova, it is useless when it comes to trying to jig fish or slow troll minnows. The electric steering on the Terrova makes it impossible to present our baits as precisely as we can with a cable-driven foot control trolling motor.

So we spent several hours making an adaptor plate that Jason Eichwurtzle, a friend with the same problem, gave us for my boat. The idea is to have it so that we can quickly and easily take one trolling motor off and mount the other one as we change fishing tactics.

And it's not as easy to do as you might think. In our case, it meant coming up with a way to quick-connect the 4-battery, 24 volt electrical supply and the two transducers from the trolling motors to the front fish finder. Plus, making the two similar but different trolling motor bases fit the same quick-disconnect plate on the bow of my Ranger. When we called MinnKota asking for help, they told us very quickly that there was no way we could make it work - but we did.

I said to Tommy about the third morning at the boat shed that my wife had asked if we were building a whole new boat - that she couldn't imagine why it was taking us so long to get our fishing stuff ready this year. Tommy agreed, saying that his wife and my wife must have been speaking to one another concerning our "time down at the boat shed."

But we're ready, buddy. Y'all look out! Tommy and I, fishing our first full season together this season, will be hard to beat. We're coming loaded and ready for any thing, any condition, any lake, any tactic. No flat-top stump incidents for this team. We plan to catch as many as we can as big as they grow.

I won't predict now (two weeks before the Championship) how we'll do at Grenada Sept. 16-17, but I can guarantee you we'll give it our very best shot, and we'll use every trick in our tackle boxes to become one of the teams to beat.

Get the net, get the net!