Don't expect to go to Pickwick Lake and see numbers of treetops, brush tops, standing timber and invisible cover that you can fish, because you won't.

To locate and catch crappie at Pickwick, you need a good lake map that shows bottom contour, a quality depth finder that you can read and understand and a GPS receiver. You won't find most of the best crappie hotspots within rock-throwing distance of a bank in any direction. In some of Pickwick's better crappie-fishing places, you can't hit the bank - even with a slingshot and a rock.

If one man can catch a number of crappie out of Pickwick all day, every day, then you know the lake has plenty of crappie in it for anglers who know how to fish it. Perhaps many Mississippians haven't considered Pickwick as one of the state's best crappie lakes because few anglers know how to pinpoint crappie in Pickwick.

However, if you doubt Pickwick's position as a premier crappie lake, just show up at the boat ramp every January afternoon when Roger Gant of Corinth comes in. He generally has 40 to 70 crappie in his livewell.

To understand why Gant consistently finds success at Pickwick, you must realize that Gant has fished this lake almost every day for nearly 45 years, and has guided on the lake for 20 years.

"Most crappie fishermen don't think of Pickwick as a crappie lake because most of the structure crappie hold on lies in deep water, making it difficult to detect," Gant says. "We don't have much bank structure here at Pickwick, but one of the advantages is you can catch crappie there all year."

I asked Gant if he thought we'd catch crappie on the day we were scheduled to fish together.

"I guarantee we will," he shot back. "I've got 'em trapped. The crappie can't get out. I know where they are, when we'll catch them and how we'll catch them.

"I've got a dam on one end of the lake, a dam on the other end of the lake, and there are banks on both sides. The crappie can't escape. They're right there in the lake, and we're going to catch them."

Although anglers use a wide variety of techniques to catch crappie at Pickwick in January, Gant has developed a unique tactic that at first glance appears goofy. However, after understanding why Gant uses this tactic, anglers will wonder why more people don't fish this way.

"I put the trolling motor in the middle of the boat, so it pulls the boat sideways instead of pushing it from the bow or the stern," Gant explains.

The first time I fished with Gant and saw his trolling motor mounted in the middle of his boat, I thought he'd lost his mind. Boats generally go forward or backward, and I'd never seen a fishing boat designed to drive it from the middle.

"By mounting the trolling motor in the middle of the boat, I can move the entire side of the boat down the edge of a drop-off or a ledge," Gant said. "Then both of my fishermen will have baits trolling just above that bottom break. With their lines in front of the boat instead of being pulled along the side, the fishermen can see their strikes better and have better chances of setting their hooks.

"I also can regulate the speed of my boat much easier with this technique. The wind doesn't blow the boat and move it nearly as fast when the boat's sideways to the wind as it does when the wind's at the back of the boat. If the lake has no wind, I can use the trolling motor to pull the boat slowly along the drop of the break. If the wind's blowing too fast, I can slow our progress by using the trolling motor in the center of the boat to push against the wind."

To fish Pickwick successfully this time of year, anglers must understand how the current and wind affect the fish.

"On a day that's not very windy, use the current to move the boat, which allows you to troll deep structure," Gant advised. "On a windy day, when the side-pulling technique proves most beneficial, fish in bays like Yellow Creek, Indian Creek and Bear Creek. I prefer to side-pull creek edges or old flats with large numbers of stumps on them in deep water."

Also in January, Gant likes to fish on the tops of creek channels and ledges, 15- to 20-feet deep, with a sharp bottom break down to 30 feet or more. Stumps grow along the edges of those bottom breaks and the flats in deep water (15 to 20 feet or more). Crappie love underwater stumps like Br'er Rabbit loves the briar patch.

"One of my favorite places to catch crappie is the edges of underwater creek bends," Gant said. "I slow-pull along the creek bends fishing with hair jigs. I set up my jigs so they'll swim as closely to the tops of those stumps as they can. I move the boat as slowly as I can so those jigs pass within the strike zone of the crappie, slowly enough for the crappie to see them and move up in the water column to eat them."

Most crappie fishermen use 1/16- to 1/36-ounce jigs when fishing for crappie in the winter, but Gant fishes with a whopping 1/4-ounce jig.

"We're fishing deep water on Pickwick, and the heavier jigs are easier to get down quicker and hold in the strike zone of the crappie than the lighter jigs," Gant said.

Gant ties two jigs on his 10-pound-test line, 14 to 16 inches apart.

"Because we're fishing deep water, the bigger jigs are easier for the crappie to see," Gant said. "I've found that crappie take the bigger jigs better than the smaller jigs at this time of year."

Gant prefers lime and chartreuse jigs at any time of the year.

"With these two colors, it's possible to catch crappie at Pickwick year-round," he said.

Knowing the history of Pickwick Lake gives Gant an advantage over most area anglers.

"When Pickwick was backed-up, the power saw hadn't been invented," he said. "All the trees that were cut down were cut with a cross-cut saw. Anyone who's ever pushed a cross-cut saw knows that it's not a device to be used on hands and knees like a chainsaw.

"When the trees at Pickwick were cut, the lumbermen cut the stumps about 2 feet high, because that was about as far as they could lean over and push the saw back and forth. Knowing that helps me understand that if the bottom's at 30 feet, the tops of the stumps on that bottom must be at about 28 feet. So I want my jigs to run just above 28-feet deep to clear the stumps and attract the crappie."

Gant also understands that because of the current in the lake, there's no siltation building up around the stumps, nor do the stumps rot, due to their deep-water homes.

"Maps will show these stump fields," Gant said. "Slow-trolling the stump fields can reveal numbers of crappie holding on these underwater flats."

During a mild winter, Gant primarily trolls in 20- to 30-foot-deep water. He generally side-pulls in water deeper than 30 feet during an extremely cold or harsh winter.

Often anglers will find crappie lakes shallow, with a 10- to 20-foot bottom. However, you won't find this characteristic at Pickwick, and Gant believes he has a different type of crappie in this lake than those found in most of Mississippi.

"The water fluctuates during the spawn at Pickwick, so the crappie have learned that the only way to a successful spawn is to spawn in deep water," Gant said. "Pickwick's waters also have cleared up a tremendous amount over the last 40 years, which also drives the crappie deep.

"We have large numbers of crappie in this lake spawning in water 20 feet or deeper. In December and January, the eggs in the crappie at Pickwick are beginning to grow, and the crappie are in the pre-spawn mode, which is earlier in the year than other crappie. These crappie are much more comfortable at this time of year in really deep water than most crappie in Mississippi."

Gant catches plenty of 2-pound crappie, and sometimes catches 2 1/2- and 3-pound fish in January and February at Pickwick.

Why do it now?

To catch numbers of big crappie, fish Pickwick this month. Since many outdoorsmen prefer to hunt or watch football or basketball in January, they've rolled up their crappie poles and put them under the porch.

"Now's the best time to crappie fish on Pickwick Lake, because you can fish anywhere you want and any way you want, and not find a crowd of other anglers," Gant said. "Anyone else you see fishing is a die-hard crappie fisherman, and won't interfere with the way you fish like a novice will. However, if everyone learns how good the crappie fishing is and how big the crappie are at Pickwick Lake this month, there will be more people on the water."

To catch large numbers of any type of fish or consistently catch big fish, you must pay attention to detail. Since Gant fishes at least five days a week, he's particular about how he fishes for Pickwick's January crappie.

"We catch more crappie by using Baitmate Fish Attractant on all our jigs," he said. "We've had two B'n'M poles out side-by-side before, and the jig on the pole with Baitmate consistently out-produces the pole without Baitmate."

Some people use fish attractant only in warm weather, but Gant catches more crappie in the winter months using fish attractant.

Also particular about the type of rods he fishes, Gant's been working with B'n'M Poles, and convinced them to make an 8-foot side-pulling rod - the Roger Gant Pro-Staff Trolling Pole.

"This pole's extremely sensitive, making the crappie bite easier to see before it's felt," he said. "It's loaded with enough guides to keep the line from binding. If another rod tilts too much on the end, seeing the bite is often difficult. But on this pole, every movement of the jig and the fish is visible. We're sight fishing, and seeing the bite quickly is essential to catch the crappie. This new pole solves that problem."

At this time of year, if you want to catch a cooler full of crappie, side-pull hair jigs on 10-pound-test line at Pickwick Lake in the northeastern corner of Mississippi.

For more information about Pickwick Lake, call Roger Gant at (662) 287-2014 or (731) 689-5666.