Well, are you about all "holidayed" out? Had enough of those out-of-town, "I-thought-they'd-never-leave" relatives? Have you eaten all the smoked turkey and sugar-cured ham you care to for a while?

Me too, brother. I'm ready to get back to normal, and at this time of year, that means going into the bowels of my closet and finding my double insulated underwear, my Polartec fleece and my thermal socks. It's winter time, and the white perch are just a-waitin' on me. I can't stand it any longer. I've got to get on the lake, or I will go absolutely stir crazy.

Cabin fever? Yeah, I get a bad case of it every year if I hang around the house too long. I know from experience that some of the very best days I've ever had on the water have come in January, and, man, am I ready to drown a minnow or three.

It's a new year

A few New Year's days ago, I convinced my buddy Jim McKay to go with me to Chotard. We arrived at Laney's Landing right at sunup, and the deck of my Basscat was covered with a heavy white frost. It looked like it had snowed on us on our way from Brandon.

McKay was moving a little slowly, debating whether to back me into the water and remain in the truck at least until that coldest first hour of daybreak had come and gone or to put on all the clothes he'd brought and hit the lake with me.

I talked him into getting in the boat with me - told him I wasn't coming back to the bank once I got on the fish. Now, McKay's a real "sport" and a rugged outdoorsman. The fact that the temperature had dropped into the 20s had nothing to do with his hesitation. He just didn't have any faith in the crappie biting on such a cold morning.

When we hit the lake, we never cranked the big motor. We drifted out to the deep hole in front of Laney's, and started fishing. It wasn't long until we located the fish, and let me tell you, McKay and I quickly forgot all about the cold.

What a way to start the new year! McKay and I caught the two-man limit (100 on Chotard) before lunch. And, those cold-water fish had shoulders, too, buddy. They were coming from 27 feet deep, and every one of them showed out. Slow drift fishing minnows on white glow No. 4 octopus-style hooks was the ticket that day.

As I sit here in the warm environs of my office, I can't wait to get back over to Chotard and put those colored hooks to the test one more time.

Speaking of hooks

From blood red to the fluorescent colors to the glow-in-the-dark variety, colored hooks work, my friend. The other day I was fishing at Barnett Reservoir for suspended fish in the middle of the river channel just below the Highway 43 bridge. Several other boats were in close proximity, but I was the only boat catching fish consistently.

A buddy of mine from the Magnolia Crappie Club was out there, and he eased over close enough to ask for a few of the orange hooks I was using that day. My standard comment when this happens, and it has happened over and over the last few winters, is "I'll give you a few of these secret hooks if you'll tie them on, but I'm not wasting 'em if you're just going to put them in your tackle box and not use them."

In nothing flat, my MCC buddy had the color of the day, orange, tied on, and was netting some nice fish.

I'm convinced more than ever that fishermen and fishing tackle companies are missing the boat. Just when I found something that really works, the hook companies stopped selling them. About the only place I know to order these proven fish-catching hooks is from Northland Tackle Co. That's northlandtackle.com for you modern types or 1-800-SUN-FISH for you fellers who don't know how to spell computer.

I like size No. 4, and I find I have to let the fish tell me what color they want today. Some general rules of thumb that have proven effective time and again for me are to use orange when the water is stained or muddy, pink or chartreuse when the water is only slightly stained, and glow white when the water is clear and I'm fishing deeper than 15 feet. I really like the blood red color in clear to slightly stained water when I'm fishing less than 15 feet deep. Red seems to lose its effectiveness in muddy water or any water deeper than 15 feet.

Now, I know there are still lots of skeptics out there, and, yes, I still own a few gold Aberdeen-style hooks. But you just can't argue with the success that several of us colored-hook converts have experienced the last few years.

Find the fish

I'll be the first person to tell you that regardless of the tackle or bait you're using, unless you're "on the fish," it doesn't matter. Wintertime crappie can be easier to find than you think. They're not always deep in January, but generally, crappie move deeper than you normally fish when the water turns cold.

Lots of crappie fishermen never think about crappie being a deep-water fish, but they are. The deepest I've caught them in January has been 42 feet deep. Think about it. The thermocline of late summer is a distant memory. That means that oxygen-rich water may be just as prevalent at 40 feet as it is at 4 feet. Whatever "deep" means in your favorite lake is where you should try to find January crappie.

A favorite technique I use to catch 'em as big as they grow in January is to concentrate on the bottom. I may have to scout from 15 feet to 40 feet to find them, but I'm going to concentrate on bouncing the bait off the bottom, regardless of the depth. Eventually, I find where the fish are living that particular day, and I keep returning to that depth after every fish I bring into the boat.

Where's my insulated underwear? Who's got my hook box?