The fall 2011 fishing season has provided some surprises and some wonderful crappie fishing for lots of us Mississippians. First of all, the weather changes have been more abrupt, with cold weather fronts coming more often and with greater intensity than recent years.

Mid-October brought record early frosts and cold days for North and Central Mississippi fishermen. Weather fronts, especially very strong ones, tend to give our favorite "papermouths" lockjaw for a day or two, and there were no surprises from here concerning trying to catch a fish immediately following a front.

Mind you, I didn’t want to fish immediately following the first cold front in October, but I had to. The Magnolia Crappie Club staged our first tournament of the 2011-12 season immediately following record cold and windy days. We have to plan these events months in advance, and we missed a really good trip by only one weekend.

Seems the weekend before our Arkabutla tournament provided our "pre-fishermen" with unbelievable catches of huge, and as one MCC veteran, Bernard Williams said, "elephant-sized" slabs.

My partner, Tommy Moss, and I made the trip on Thursday before the tournament, the day after the front came through, and found only a windy, muddy lake with only a couple of fish biting.

Practice day, Friday, was better than Thursday, and Saturday, tournament day, brought good catches to several of the 39 teams entered in the tournament. The winning team was MCC veteran Ray Williams of Puckett fishing with a guest, his preacher, Mickey Ferguson. Their best seven crappie weighed in at 15.08 pounds.

At this writing, they tell me Chotard is better than ever. Seems the record flood of 2011 re-loaded this ancient oxbow. MCC loves holding tournaments at Chotard just because of its unique features and locations. In the past, winning tournament weights have averaged well over 2 pounds, and we expect this season’s two Chotard tournaments to not disappoint. Yes, the flood wiped out Chotard Landing store, but owner Jerry Johnson has worked hard all summer and fall getting cabins and condos ready for rent, and he has opened a relocated bait store close to the ramp. Call him at 601-279-4282 for accommodations and fishing reports. Point being, it takes a lot more than a 500-year flood to put the Chotard folks out of business. We can’t wait to get there!

While we’re fishing Chotard twice this season, expecting unparalleled fishing success in both November and January, we’re fishing Barnett Reservoir in Jackson only once this season for a couple of reasons. One, our membership is no longer a majority of Barnett-based fishermen.

Two, it seems the crappie had a bad spawn a few years back, and big crappie have been impossible to find this summer and fall. I’ve seen this cyclical nature of Barnett before. Never fear — based on all the "dinks" I’ve caught this fall on my home lake, it’ll be back to the head of the class in a couple of years — guaranteed.

One other new thing on our 2011-12 season is the May 5 event on Enid. We’re partnering with the World’s Largest Crappie Fest folks out of Water Valley. As many of you know, the world record crappie was caught out of Enid back in the 1950s. This 5-plus-pound monster is the basis for the fine folks at Water Valley staging a multi-day, multi-cultural, multi-interest festival in early May.

When I learned of their first crack at this event last spring, I contacted them and asked why they weren’t holding a crappie tournament commemorating the basis of the event — the world’s largest crappie. Tournament organizer, Amos Harvey, said, "That’s a really good idea; can you help us with that?"

We agreed to hold an "open" event on May 5. That means that we’ll sign up fishing teams who aren’t MCC members, and we’ll fish following MCC club rules. From MCC’s website, you can link to the World’s Largest Crappie Festival and get more details on this springtime event.

Through all the turmoil caused by one of the worst and longest recessions in our nation’s history, MCC has remained as strong as ever. In fact, based on our first tournament at Arkabutla, MCC continues to hold our own and even realize some growth. We began our new season with more first tournament entries than last year. We had our largest event ever back in September with our Grenada Big Mama Open with 69 boats entered. We have several new members and teams already this year.

I’ve had folks from Texas to Tennessee call recently to ask what makes our club so successful in these "tough times." They ask what is our secret? They ask what are they missing?

My answer begins with an explanation that MCC members actually like each other and have a wonderful time on and off the lake at our events. Since day one, and we’re now in our 20th season, we’ve had what we used to call "Friday Night Get Togethers." Tailgating is the current term used by football fans, and our get-togethers certainly involve some of the same stuff. But more than just tailgating, ours usually involves a campfire, several grills cooking every thing from deer sausage to Boston butt, set in some of the most beautiful lakeside scenery anywhere, and lots and lots of good folks all having a really good time telling tall tales about how many we caught today and where we caught them. It’s more like a big family reunion.

We’re always changing things a little, trying to make our club more open to more people. One of the new things we’re doing this season that I am personally excited about is that we’re allowing three people in the boat instead of just two. That third person must be under the age of 16. We waive membership dues to fishermen under the age of 16, also.

What we’re trying to encourage is more youth fishing in the club. Last season, we had eight or 10 different kids under the age of 16 fish with us. Only three were full-time partners of their dads or granddads. With this new rule, we hope to put more kids in the boat on T-day catching ‘em as big as the grow.