The day was one of those where winter hadn't fully relinquished its grip and spring hadn't completely taken over.

There were elements of each. The breeze was brisk and chilly, and there was a gentle chop on the water. But the sun was bright, making temperatures jacket-cold in the early morning but shirt-sleeve warm as the day aged.

Everything was near perfect.

We were fishing a reservoir in Central Mississippi. A river channel ran through this impoundment, and countless feeder streams joined it sub-surface along the upper reaches of the lake. Stump fields littered the shallows.

We reckoned crappie would be nearby. We were correct. The month was February.

A bit later - March - we were in a similar situation on one of the Tenn-Tom pools of Northeast Mississippi. Channels of feeder streams and drops from excavation work created the edge leading to shallows where crappie were preparing to spawn. The weather was a touch warmer than it had been on that outing a month earlier, and by midday the windbreakers came off in favor of short sleeves.

Same story: Crappie were there.

Both of these excursions focused on white perch, and both were geared around an annual occurrence that spells the beginning of one of the grandest times known to crappie anglers. It was that time of pre-spawn, when fish move back and forth between shallows and deep water.

We call it, appropriately enough, crappie on the edge. And to say simply that crappie are popular fish in the Magnolia State would be a gross understatement.

Crappie have collected quite a few names over the years: strawberry bass, calico bass, sago, papermouth perch. In Mississippi, however, the most common name is white perch. The bigger specimens may go by the nomenclature slabs. But regardless of the name, this is one superb specimen to pursue.

Mississippi is home to two different species of crappie: the white crappie and the black crappie. From an angling point, the difference is moot. The two typically overlap to some degree, and either the white or black variety is a grand fish.

And while the name suggests otherwise, color is not a reliable key for identification. White crappie tend to be somewhat paler than black crappie, but even this is not a given. The white variety has five to six dorsal spines, with vertical dark bars on the sides. The black has seven to eight dorsal spines, and possesses black spots irregularly about the body.

Regardless of the species, finding this fish on the edge is dependent upon weather. When water temperatures begin to reach the upper 40s and lower 50s, the urge to set up housekeeping takes over. This is the stage at which the fish move from the deeper haunts and perhaps venture into the shallows.

But they won't stay there long, not until the temperatures settle steadily at a bit higher level. What they will do is move in shallow, and then go back deep if the weather/water cools. Such movement makes this on-the-edge behavior an on-again/off-again affair. It can be frustrating, but it can be productive.

When does it happen? Well, that depends. The moving in and out will be somewhat localized, with the earliest activity taking place in the southern portions of the state and the latest in the more northern reaches.

"But," says Fred Nazary, retired fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP), "February and March will about cover the average time south to north."

And the days within these two months are the ones anglers should be out looking for edge.

Edge is a generic term referring to areas that separate the deep water from the shallow spawning grounds. Channels, excavation areas and natural slopes of lake bottoms are common creators of edge. These are the locations the angler needs to isolate for pre-spawn perch. A depth finder will do most of the work, and a detailed lake map will be of great benefit. Once such spots are found, it is time to start fishing.

Anglers shouldn't expect that frenzied action of the spawn while fishing for crappie on the edge. To the contrary, fishing can be quite slow. Great concentrations of fish are not the norm. Rather, there may be only a scattering of fish here and a few more over there. Some judicious prospecting, both with a jig and an electronic fish finder, will be in order. One key to this is structure.

Crappie are extremely light-sensitive. They hold near structure to avoid the sun's rays, and the brighter the sun and clearer the water, the deeper the fish will hold. Bottom is not the definitive factor here. Fish may be off the bottom but in the shade of structure.

Depth can be a relative thing. The bottom may be submerged 20-feet down, but the fish may be scattered about some old stump field in 12 feet. In fact, 12- to 14-foot depths are common if the fish can tolerate the light there. And they may also be sluggish, not fully removed from their winter doldrums. They generally don't rush to the bait as they do a bit later in the spring. This is where finesse fishing comes into play.

"Fish the mood," advises Billy Joe Cross.

Cross, a former director of the Game and Fish Commission (now the MDWFP), is passionate about crappie fishing. He advises to fish slowly and deliberately. The jig most often will have to be presented in a structured fashion and put directly in front of or slightly above the fish. A few inches can spell the difference between success and failure.

Nazary also addresses this issue.

"I've always been of the opinion that when the mood is slow is when the skilled angler really shines," he said. "You have to finesse. You have to pay attention. You can get bites you don't even know you got."

So, be ready; stay focused; don't drop your guard at times when fish are not rushing to the jig.

Lethargic crappie of late winter/early spring may suspend beside a stump - perhaps two or three fish together - in an area that affords the amount of light they prefer, and basically ignore a meal unless it is presented in an irresistible fashion. That is where the mood and finesse come into play. The fish are not very active; thus, the presentation should not be very active. The jig must hang horizontally in the water, and must be worked slowly in and around all possible spots. And it must be worked at the proper depth.

Additionally, if there is a current, the jig should be worked in the same direction as that of the current and at about the same speed. This produces a more natural presentation, and allows the crappie more time to commit to the attack. As noted previously, the jig should be fished in the same plane as the perch or slightly above. Jigs that run beneath suspended fish will seldom be taken.

Water color is another factor. Remember that business about light sensitivity? Darker water may coax the fish to suspend much higher in the water than does clear water.

"Match the color of the jig with the color of the water," Cross advises.

If the water is dark, a dark-colored jig is the way to go. If it is light/clear, a light-colored jig works best. Cross's tackle box is filled with a broad assortment of jigs in an enormous array of shades. Experimentation will often isolate a specific color that crappie will take when they will disregard anything else but that one. Don't be hesitant to change jigs and explore.

Jig size is often debated. All will work. But the truth is that the wise angler has some of several sizes. Common sizes range from 1/64- to ¼-ounce. One size seldom fits all requirements.

There are even some anglers who say the bigger jigs catch the bigger fish. There is some validity here. And for a fact, deeper water, particularly where there is any significant current, demands the heavier offerings. Water that is deeper than 15 feet can generally be fished more successfully with the heavier jigs.

Now let's assume you have found that just-right spot of edge and the crappie are there. You catch some the day you are there, but when you go back, there is no action. What happened? There can be many variables - like water clarity - but the most likely event is a change in water temperature. If a cold front blew through, the water temperature probably dropped. A slight drop - or rise - can impact the fish. The same is true of bluebird days with bright sun and an increase in ambient temperatures. These factors will move the fish. But where?

If the temperature dropped, the time is right to move from the edge suspension zones back into deeper water. The fish should be there. If the opposite occurred, try the shallows. No, the fish have not likely begun the spawn just yet, but they could certainly have scooted into those shallows and are there considering what will take place within the immediate future.

Don't get locked into a one-area mindset. Be prepared to adapt and move and prospect. With modern fishing devices that measure temperature, locate structure and even find fish, this chore should be simplified.

A general rule for sorting out potentially productive areas at the outset is to take a look at the northern and western reaches of impoundments. Because of the sun's angle, these receive the most light; as a result, these begin to warm a bit more quickly than do the eastern and southern areas. This difference can often be significant, allowing the process of finding fish on the edge to cover a week or more. With this practice, particularly on the larger lakes, the angler can perhaps pursue "edge" fish and early spawning fish in the same body of water for a few days. This adds a most interesting twist to an already superb endeavor.

Where in Mississippi can crappie be found? Just about anywhere. Traditional hotspots include all the major lakes and reservoirs, such as Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid, Grenada, Barnett and Okatibbee. And to that list must be added those lakes commonly referred to as State Lakes. These are those impoundments - more than 20 statewide - that are owned and/or managed by the MDWFP.

These are all well managed and maintained, clean and open to the public. All can produce good catches of a wide variety of fish.

Certainly the massive Tenn-Tom Waterway must be considered when crappie are on the agenda. This water source stretches along the eastern part of the state from north to south. Along its route are several "pools" (lakes) that are associated with the locks and dams. Excavation played a major role in the creation of this waterway and the resultant pools, and those areas produce some extraordinary edge for pre-spawn crappie fishing.

And there are the Delta oxbows. Generally old river runs that have been left apart from the stream that created them - the Mississippi River - these lakes are available from the northwestern reaches of the state to as far down as Vicksburg. They tend to be lined with willows, into which early spring waters usually push. The tree edges are often "the edge" where early season crappie suspend.

At least one of these - Eagle Lake - has piers jutting out into it. Early crappie are often there. Anglers will find no shortage of rich crappie waters anywhere across the Magnolia State.

The time is near. Crappie are on the edge. They are on the edge of a spawning frenzy, and they are on the edge of drops and channels and structure, waiting for that time to move to the shallows to begin that annual process.

Tony Kinton's Fishing Mississippi is available from local book stores, or from the author: P.O. Box 88, Carthage, MS 39051; cost is $24.95 plus $1.50 S&H.