As I write this column, I’m listening to Elvis’ Christmas album. My favorite Elvis classic (and I sing along) is “Blue Christmas.” My “Blue Christmas” rendition varies in entertainment value based on the audience (my family has long endured my caroling, and they actually request “Blue Christmas”) and the amount of scotch missing from the Oban bottle.
My point here is that it’s close to Christmas as I write this, and I was on the lake today trying my damnedest to catch a crappie with a crankbait. You faithful readers will recall a Thanksgiving issue a year or two back where I had phenomenal success at Barnett on cranks. In fact, today, I had a fisherman quiz me about that article as I trolled by him.
"Say, you’re the guy who writes the articles for that magazine, aren’t you?"
"Yes, sir, that’s me."
"You wore ‘em out last Thanksgiving, or was that the year before — anyway, I read your article, and I’ve been wanting to try that crankbaiting ever since I read what great success you had. How many have you caught today?"
Understand this conversation is held with my boat in motion, headed downstream at 1.5 mph and my new friend is stationary. That is, this is a very short conversation.
"Sir, I haven’t had a bite yesterday or today, and I’ve pulled the paint off these Bandits."
Yes sir, I’m buffaloed. Either Barnett has run out of crappie or I just don’t have a clue how to repeat trolling successes I’ve had in the past. Understand, Ross Barnett Reservoir is my home lake. I have (and will again, maybe) stated that this crappie fishery is the best in the state of Mississippi, and I know a high benchmark is set by lakes like Grenada, Arkabutla, Chotard, Sardis, Enid, etc.
But Barnett has consistently provided great catches of quality crappie all year long for several decades for me. Yes, some lakes, for short periods of time, produce more or bigger crappie than Barnett, and I’ve fished ‘em all. Barnett has been the best crappie lake as far as I am concerned in the great state of Mississippi for years.
I am not arguing the merits of Barnett here — especially after the last two days. My point is that Barnett has produced quality and quantity crappie. I used to know how to catch ‘em on a crankbait.
Now, I’m doubting myself, my methods, my baits, my knowledge, my history. Did I really catch doubles and triples on cranks a year ago on Barnett this time of the year? The water temp is the same — 52 to 55 degrees, depending on where I am on the lake.
It’s not a full moon — my personal nemesis.
You know, all you read in these fishing magazines is how great the last fisherman was who carried a writer with a camera and a laptop to the lake one day. How come no one ever writes, "went to the lake with crappie pro ______ _______, and, boy, did we bomb today."
I’m here to tell you that we don’t catch them every time we go out. I’m here to tell you that what worked last time may not work this time. I’d like to have seen some of the crappie "experts" catch one today or yesterday on a Bandit or a Bomber or a Wiggle Wart or a Strike King crankbait.
If they did, all I can say is that I’ll have whatever they are having. I absolutely gave it my very best try. I changed baits, changed depths, changed trolling speeds, changed locations, changed line and the length of line, and, when a jig fisherman told me on the second day, "They’re deep," I put a ½-ounce weight in front of my cranks to get them deeper.
Look, I couldn’t even catch a catfish!! That’s an oddity. I can’t tell you how much a blue cat loves a crankbait! And I couldn’t blame it on the wind or the weather or the cold or the last weather front. Conditions looked and felt perfect. I fully expected to catch them both days. Didn’t happen, not even a sniff from a crappie.
I did catch something today. Right out in the middle of Ross Barnett in 25 feet of water I caught the heaviest bass I’ve ever caught. This monster was slam full of shad. I mean her belly was the size of a football — packed, brother, I mean packed.
Now, trust me, I used to bass fish. I know what one weighs, and this monster, with a belly full of shad, would have pushed 9 pounds. That’s a monster on Barnett or anywhere else.
Well, I don’t plan on taking up bass fishing again, and we have a crappie tournament coming up next weekend. So, I’m laying down the crankbait poles, putting the iPilot trolling motor in the corner of the boat shed, and looking for my minnow poles.
My fishing partner and my wife and my employer (that’s three different people, by the way) all call me "hard-headed." Must be something to it. Magnolia Crappie Club VP Shelton Culpepper told me one day over at Albemarle that I’d "rather prove a point than catch a fish," as he was landing one Albemarle speck after another on a jig pole. I was trolling cranks within ear shot out in the middle of the lake — not catching any.
Shelton and my tournament partner and my wife and my boss are right, I guess. I used to know how to jig fish. What happened to my favorite crawdad jigs and crawdad oil? It’s time to get my "short jig poles" dusted off and start walking those crawdads on the bottom.
Look out Roses Bluff — here I come. Look out, MCC! I’ve about had enough of trying to catch ‘em as big as they grow on a crankbait — at least until about May or June. I’m fixin’ to get serious.