We all have our favorite pastimes and hobbies. Golf, gardening, pitching horseshoes, family picnics, hunting and fishing are all good outdoorsy things to do, don't you think?

Mississippi is a beautiful outdoors-oriented state. We are blessed with many, many natural resources, especially when it comes to our state waterways and lakes.

Many Mississippians love to fish, and crappie fishing is a popular outdoor activity for thousands of us. To me, one of the beauties of crappie fishing is that it can be as simple and relaxing as anything you do, or it can be a very active, competitive sport.

"Crappie fishing? A competitive sport?" you ask. "I thought only old men and little boys with cane poles and buckets of minnows fished for crappie."

Brother, have I got news for you! Competitive crappie fishing is here to stay, and it's fun!

Crappie tournaments

My favorite thing to do is to crappie fish - that's a given. For me and many more like me, fishing competitively in crappie tournaments is even more fun than going by myself and catching a mess of crappie.

Now, I must admit that 20 years ago when I ran into my first tournament fisherman at the boat ramp on a Friday and he told me he was "practicing for a tournament the next day," I found it funny.

"Practice fishing? Who ever heard of having to practice fishing?"

Now, crappie tournaments are a natural fit for me and lots of others. After years of fishing crappie tournaments, I still get up early - real early - on tournament day. I think competition is a healthy thing for most people. It forces you to keep sharp, to try hard, to do your best, to learn.

There are several choices for Mississippians when it comes to crappie fishing competitively. There are two national circuits that swing through Mississippi two or three times a year. Crappie Masters and Crappie USA are the two national circuits with which I have a little personal experience. I've fished in both a few times.

My absolute favorite thing to do is fish in tournaments with the local Magnolia Crappie Club. This bunch has been staging crappie events for the last 16 years here in Mississippi, and I've made darn near every one of them. Check out MCC on line at www.magnoliacrappieclub.com.

The competition is just good, clean fun. You think you're a really good crappie fisherman? Try one of the MCC events. I promise you'll have fun putting your fishing skills to the test against some really fine folks who just happen to be really good crappie fishermen, too.

I just came back from our annual event on Grenada Reservoir. Catching a tournament limit of seven really big fish was a challenge for every team. Low, muddy water, wind on practice days, cold and damp air on tournament morning made finding the really big fish tough.

On T-morning, my partner, Gil Woodis of Brandon, and I had no clue where to go. We'd fished the day before, catching only two keepers, and they weren't "tournament-size fish."

Man, we were discouraged when we came back to the motel Friday afternoon. And then as a bunch of us were digging into some boiled crawfish out under the shade tree behind the motel, our jaws really dropped when one team brought in and weighed in front of everyone their best seven from practice day.

They were showing off, and I didn't blame them. On Friday, their best seven weighed over 15 pounds - certainly a winning weight anywhere for seven crappie.

So on Saturday morning, when Gil and I got ready to launch our boat at Choctaw Landing, to say we were "down in the mouth" would have been a great understatement. Shoot, we were desperate and lost all at the same time.

Then just as we were backing into the lake, a couple of "locals" came walking down the ramp to their boats.

"Catching any?" I asked.

One of them just grinned, looking at my big 20-foot fiberglass tournament boat as he climbed into his small johnboat.

The other nodded a response to my question.

"How deep?" I asked.

He held his hands a foot apart.

"Shallow, huh?"

Another nod. Then he said, "But the bigger fish are still deeper."

"How deep?"

He held his hands about 4 feet apart with another I-know-where-and-you-don't grin.

Gil and I watched them leave the boat ramp with their 20-horsepower outboard whining wide open. We followed them, keeping well back, until they turned into a stump field and kept going - disappearing beyond our big boat's reach.

We immediately left the area, and tried a couple of our practice spots. After an hour of not catching a darn thing, we decided to go back to the area where our two new best buds had gone earlier. We knew we couldn't find them, and we didn't really want to. We just wanted to get close, to get in the general area where they were headed.

That move carried us into a huge stumpy area we had never fished on Grenada. We saw five or six other boats jig fishing in the 4- to 5-foot depths, so we broke out our jig poles. Soon, I caught our first slab - a male crappie that weighed 2.13 pounds (and that's as big as they grow, folks).

I suggested that we could cover more ground with our four drift poles placed up front instead of jigging individual stumps one at a time. Gil agreed, and soon we were "slow-trolling" right through some of the fishiest looking water and stumps we'd ever seen.

Not having brought any warm clothes, we were about to freeze in the damp breeze. But, man, as soon as we started catching a few, we forgot all about the cold and miserable conditions.

Did we win the Grenada tournament? No, not even close, but we were in the money. Did we catch a box full? No, we caught eight keepers, and we were so proud of the seven we weighed in.

We didn't exactly go from "zeroes to heroes," but we weren't far from there, either.

Did we have an absolute blast?

You bet.