The fall fishing season is officially here. This is my favorite time of the year to crappie fish, and I continue to discover that I don't know it all when it comes to figuring out crappie's fall patterns. It seems to me that they change from year to year and from lake to lake.

Some crappie "experts" say crappie go shallow in the fall, locating close to the same places where they spawn every spring. These "shallow-water" experts say you can expect to find the most and the biggest crappie feeding on shad that have gone shallow. Migrating shad are the key, no doubt, but they don't all go shallow every fall in every lake in Mississippi.

And I find "shallow" to be a relative term. What's shallow on your lake, may not be shallow on my lake. In fact, up until last October when the crappie club fished Arkabutla for the first time ever, I would have argued the best place to find those October slabs would have been close to the deepest water in the lake. And I tried to prove that point for two full days, unsuccessfully fishing the deepest drops in 'Butla and catching only a few fish each day.

Finally, just before putting the boat on the trailer on Friday afternoon, I turned toward some shallow water where we saw a couple of boats off in the distance "just to see" if they were having any better luck than my partner and I.

Did we get a lesson! The first fish we saw a pre-tournament fisherman catch was a really good slab. I looked at the depth finder and told Jim McKay, "He's in 3½ feet of water!"

We watched two different boats catch several nice shallow slabs before my hard-headed partner admitted that we probably ought to "try shal-ler in the morning, Murster."

Turns out that's where the fish were. Jim and I had spent two days practicing where they weren't. We just knew that the fish were out here in this deep water - they must not be biting. Boy, were we wrong.

On Saturday morning, T-Day, we went shallow in the back end of a bay where there weren't any other boats. And as we worked down a bank, close enough to the edge that I had to prop up the trolling motor to get it out of the mud, we began to catch fish.

We found the "sweet spot" on that shallow bank, and worked a 100-yard stretch of it all day with my partner saying every now and then, "Get closer to the bank, Paul, get closer."

"Jim, if I get any closer, you're going to have to get out of the boat and walk this bank!" I said.

Man, did we have a ball catching some beautiful, big white perch in water so shallow the boat would hardly float.

By the time you read this, MCC will have fished our second October tournament at Arkabutla. You can bet that my partner, this year it's Tommy Moss, and I will have worn out some shallow water on practice days. I'm betting we'll be closer to the front this year than Jim and I were last year.

The Magnolia Crappie Club just completed our 19th season with a two-day State Championship event on Grenada Lake. The fishing for most teams was good, and almost every team at some point caught a big fish or two. The new state champs are Kent Driscoll of Cumming, Ga., and John Harrison of Calhoun City.

These two Grenada veterans came from way back in the pack after Day One to take an early lead on the scoreboard on Day Two. In fact, John and Kent weren't even in the top 10 after Day One.

Although John wouldn't tell me the particulars, he said they completely changed location on the lake and changed their tactics altogether. Being able to go from a mediocre day to a spectacular day in a two-day format is indeed one mark of a champion.

Tommy Moss and I were in fifth place after Day One, and hit the lake on Day Two with a great deal of confidence. We hadn't fished our best spot where we'd caught gigantic slabs on a practice day because of the wind on Friday. So Saturday morning, with the wind down, we went directly to our "big fish hole."

Get the net, get the net, is all we were thinking as we got our poles and gear ready for the start time. In fact, I believe Tommy must have adjusted the position of the dipnet half a dozen times before we started, just knowing we'd need it immediately when the start-fishing time came.

We did almost immediately start catching fish. They were just too short to weigh. Hey, we weren't worried. Heck, on practice day our trolling motor would only go around in circles, and we were catching 2.5 pound fish coming and going - laughing and playing - "oh, it's just another 2-pounder" - never bothering with the net.

So we were confident that we'd find the big fish soon in the area where we started Day Two. Two hours into catching nothing but short fish - we may have had three or four just barely legal fish in the boat by then - I pushed the panic button and suggested that we go back to the area we'd fished the day before.

"No sir," my partner, who was running the trolling motor, said. "Not until we get seven legal keepers out of here."

Well, finally, with an hour left to fish, we moved to the area where we'd had success the day before. A fellow competitor was in the area and told us "the big fish bit really good out here this morning," but that they had just turned off.

We went from within striking distance to win the championship - 5th place - to 23rd place overall. How do you go from 5th to 23rd? Practically every other team did just the reverse. Saturday was their best day, where Saturday was a nightmare for Tommy and me.

Hey, that's fishing, and it doesn't keep us from loading right back up and trying 'em again. I know darn well Tommy and I will catch 'em as big as they grow at Arkabutla, Oct. 22, and at Chotard, Nov. 12. We may have to arm wrestle over who's going to run the trolling motor and where we're going to fish, but we'll get it figured out.