When's the best time to go crappie fishing? Are they biting yet?

Well, although my personal answers for these two questions are usually, "The best time to go is the next time you can" and "Sir, they bite every day," I will admit that for many Mississippi crappie fishermen, the "crappie season" begins this month.

Indeed, we have survived another winter and hunting season, and now our attention must turn back to the many beautiful lakes and rivers here in Mississippi. You already know, if you read my stuff, that more and more crappie anglers are fishing year-round.

But, I admit, it's obvious that this is still a seasonal sport for many, and the season's peak hits in April.

When, Where, How

When? I can't help but say that if you limit your crappie fishing to your old grandpappy's philosophy of "the fish bite when the dogwoods bloom," you're missing out on some of the best crappie action, but Papaw had something there.

Yes, the fish do bite when the dogwoods are in bloom. This is one of many signals telling us that spring has sprung, and crappie and crappie fishermen "get busy" during this time of year.

It's April, and with the longer days and shorter nights come warming temperatures and the crappie's seasonal urge to reproduce. Although the spawn is actually spread over parts of four months here in Mississippi, from late February through early May, April seems to be the time that crappie get the most attention from everyone.

A good friend and Ross Barnett Reservoir legend, Rabbit Rogers, says that if he had only one day a year to fish, it'd be April 15. Although my personal "only one day a year date" would be different from Rabbit's (mine would be a full month earlier just because every 3-pound-or-larger crappie that I've ever seen has come in March), I can't argue with his logic that this is the peak time when the water temps are consistently holding at the preferred 70- to 72-degree mark.

Crappie biologists will tell you that crappie begin their spawning ways as soon as water temperatures hit 62 degrees. I can't argue with that, either. Shoot, some of us have been catching females with huge, even bloody, egg sacks since mid-January. Certainly, not all crappie hit the shallows at the same time, but April is probably the one month out of the year when most of our crappie are caught.

Where? That's an easy and, at the same time, hard question to answer. Naming lakes tends to get me in trouble. Some of you don't want the publicity for your favorite lakes. You think it's a secret, and you want to keep it that way. At the same time, when I leave a lake off my list, I tend to rub some of you the wrong way. You think I'm slighting or snubbing your favorite fishing lake if it doesn't get a mention. My intent is to neither give away your secret honeyhole or to leave any good crappie lakes out.

It's a given that I don't personally fish every good crappie lake in the state of Mississippi. I have some personal preferences and favorite honeyholes. At this time of the year, I leave Chotard behind and the Barnett Reservoir tops my list, followed by Lake Washington and Grenada when it's got some water in it (above 210 on the gauge at the dam is my favorite level for Grenada).

More important than naming lakes, let me answer the "where" question by narrowing it down to "how" to fish this time of year.

How? Indeed at this time of year, the "where" and the "how" answers tend to blend together. Surprise, surprise, "fish shallow" is the answer to both these questions.

Where do I fish in April? I fish shallow. How do I catch fish in April? Same answer: I fish shallow.

Shallow water is the place to be regardless of what the "welcome to" sign by the boat ramp says.

You're fishing Lake Washington in April? Go shallow, my friend. Barnett on your plate for April? Shallow up, buddy. The Tenn-Tom calling you this month? Hit the shallows, bub. Arkabutla got your attention? Bring the dip net, and get in the shallows.

They tell me they're biting at Sardis, y'all. Tackle the back-end of the large bays and coves and the shallow east end. Okatibbee, north of Meridian, is burning it up. Guess what, they're shallow.

Specifically, narrow your search to water less than 5 feet deep on most Mississippi lakes. In fact, some of you "experts" or "old pros" just rolled your eyes when I said 5 feet. Your jig pole doesn't have more than a foot or two of line on it. I know, I know. Shallow means less than a foot for you.

Grenada locals who travel on 4-wheelers to their favorite fishing hole (instead of getting there by boat) fish with less than 15 inches of line and one jig. Deep to you is when the water starts coming in over your knee-high rubber boots.

Nothing like it

And, boy oh boy, isn't it a blast to stick those slabs on short line!?! You know, don't you? That little tick you feel through your graphite jig pole that immediately turns into a wild, gone-berserk white perch scooting across the top of that shallow water and then doing a back flip on the end of that short string is addictive. Admit it, nothing else in our freshwater fishing pursuits (other than hand-grabbing catfish) puts us so close to the action.

That odd combination of the predictability of our shallow-water crappie while at the same time that exploding surprise, time after time, on the end of a very short string is unique, indeed. Quiet now, we know they're here - they're always here this time of year. Move slowly, stealthily. BAM, something just slammed our bait and stretched our string to the limit.

Hey, it's another slab, and it is as big as it's going to grow!

Basic techniques

Forget the minnows and the drift poles. Grab the jig box, boys. There are lots of jig choices, perhaps too darn many. Some of my favorites are Mississippi-made Slater jigs. My favorite colors are anything, so long as chartreuse is worked in there somewhere.

Soft plastics shine, too. Personally, I like Bass Assassin's Tiny Shad (1 1/2-inch stubby tail) on a yellow, orange or fluorescent red 1/16-ounce jig head with a No. 4 hook. Black/chartreuse, tomato seed, electric chicken and tequila sunrise are good colors for me.

Something new: I must say that I'm coming to like Blakemore's Road Runner more and more. Road Runners are not new. They have been around for 50 years, but their Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Model is something special.

They gave the Magnolia Crappie Club a bunch of these new baits a couple of months back. We handed them out as door prizes, and I'll tell you, I believe they finally got something I can catch a crappie with. I like that gold willowleaf blade and that red hook in the 1/16- and 1/8-ounce sizes.

Lastly, I can't get away from my upbringing. I learned to fish sitting on the bank by my one-armed Granddad. Sitting there on the cool springtime ground, I'd chew on a new blade of grass and listen to Papaw quietly tell stories about giant fish he'd caught. Then suddenly that cork would disappear, and I'd jump into action.

The fish in Plantersville's Mabry Lake were usually small and paper-thin, but I didn't care - I didn't know any different. I loved to see that cork bob one time then just disappear into the depths. I still do. I hope that's one tradition I get to pass along to my grandkids one day.