What happened to that bad winter we were supposed to have? Didn't the local weather gurus promise one of the coldest winters last fall? I'm not complaining, mind you. And I know you fishermen aren't either. Talk about some really great wintertime fishing - boy, this has been nice!

And the fish in most Mississippi lakes have been cooperating. I told you last month about the recent resurgence of Eagle Lake, and it continues. In fact, if possible, it's better right now than it was a month ago. Don't take my word for it. Get on over there and try it out for yourself.

Lake Washington is currently as good as it gets, too. As I write this, I'm actually packing for a Magnolia Crappie Club tournament to be held the second Saturday in February. "Packing," in this case, not only includes the clothes I'm taking, but more importantly, the fishing gear my tournament partner, Tommy Moss, and I plan to use.

We started out saying all we were taking was our long-lining gear. Although Tommy and I have never long-lined jigs, we geared up for it this winter and decided to break out our new gear and tactic at Washington. After all, we've seen other long-lining teams really smack 'em at Washington, and we figure, "How hard can it be?"

But given the current mild nights we're having, we're also packing our jig poles with intentions of trying 'em real shallow, too.

 

I remember

My first trip ever to Lake Washington was 20 years ago, and I had no idea of even where to launch the boat. I was by myself and found a store and ramp way down on the very south end of the lake. To the best of my knowledge, both that little white store and ramp are gone now. It was well south of Glen Allen. In fact, for you Lake Washington aficionados, it was south of the original rock dam that still exists in the lake. I fished around those exposed rocks all morning long when I first got there.

While down on that end of the lake, I eased over to a pier where some folks were cleaning fish to get a lesson on how to catch these hard-headed crappie. That's where I learned about the Lake Washington snakes.

As I talked to these folks, my boat drifted up under some huge cypress trees right next to the bank, and I couldn't help but notice a foul odor coming from something close by. I asked my new friends, "What is that awful smell?"

"Snakes, buddy, snakes."

"Watta you mean, 'snakes'?"

"Just look around you. If you smell 'em, they're really close to you."

And they were, and there were lots of them. And the ones I spotted first were dead black cottonmouths, literally dozens of them, some of them as big around as my forearm, wrapped around the cypress knees and on the very edge of the bank. I mean they were everywhere - so many that it startled me.

As I began to ease away from the bank, I said to my new friends, "I'm leaving the snakes with you." One of the fellas cleaning fish said, "Don't mind that one above your head. He's just a water moccasin."

Yep, there he was, just above my head, close enough for me to bump into him.

I hate snakes. Why do you think we schedule Lake Washington in cold weather all the time?

Once, on tournament morning, there were 10 or 12 boats within rock-throwing distance of each other waiting on our official start time. We were discussing the weather and forecasting the day's fishing when someone yelled, "Okay, it's time."

Back then all we did was jig fish. Every competitor had a jig pole in each hand. One of our very best teams for many years was Rabbit and Jane Rogers, and they were closest to me when the fella yelled "it's time!" Jane and Rabbit hit the water with four jigs at the same time, and I don't think their jigs ever bottomed out before they had four huge fish on.

My partner and I watched in amazement as they boated four trophy-size fish, and Rabbit dropped one of his jigs back in the water as he was taking the fish off his other pole. Yep, you guessed it, a fifth monster grabbed it. That's just not fair. Within 60 seconds, the best of the best teams had half their weigh-in catch in the boat. Back then, we weighed 10 fish - now it's your best seven. Not fair, dammit, just ain't fair!!!

One year, my partner was Charlie Henry of Morton. Charlie and I motored into a shallow area across the lake from Cordell's Landing, and as I shut the outboard down, I jumped to the back deck to take care of some personal business. And, floating, still kicking some, was a huge white perch cut almost in half by my prop. I told Charlie, "You gotta see this. These things are so thick in here we're running over them with the outboard." I bet you've never seen that before. We hadn't.

Sure enough, as soon as we set our minnow poles in the front racks we started catching 'em as big as they grow, as fast as we could. Charlie said, "Let's get out of here before someone sees us catching these things." So I put the trolling motor on high, which brought our top minnows to the surface as we raced from the hot spot.

Then the darndest thing I've ever seen happened. A huge crappie appeared behind one of those on-the-surface minnows. Slowly, deliberately, in no hurry whatsoever, this huge white perch turned into "Jaws," and simply eased up on that surface minnow and inhaled it. We caught the thing, or, rather, she caught herself. Most radical thing I've ever seen fishing these tournaments.