Last month I told you about the Magnolia Crappie Club tournament at Sardis. I want to use the March 2 Lake Washington tournament as the backdrop for this month's column. Both tournament experiences are unique and were great fun.

The weather was terrible for both events. In early February at Sardis, we caught some of the fattest, healthiest crappie in the rain that I have ever seen. Sardis is definitely a lake you need to fish if you're looking for some of the heaviest crappie in the South.

It snowed, and the north wind blew on us at the early March Washington tournament - and even bigger slabs were brought to the scales. Thirty-five teams competed in the rain at Sardis. Thirty-nine crazy teams competed at Lake Washington in the wind and snow flurries.

What in the world would cause a fisherman to hit the water on such foul-weather days? The call of a 3-pound-plus crappie is the answer.

Just the weekend prior to our club event at Washington, a local "fruit jar" crappie club held a tournament, and their group of 20 teams weighed five fish over 3 pounds. The heaviest was a giant, once-in-a-lifetime white perch weighing 3.77 pounds.

Caught by Chris "Slick" Hemphill and Sammy Hill of Louisville, this giant could very well be the heaviest crappie ever weighed in on a tournament day.

Well, the word spread quickly, and everyone in MCC couldn't wait to get at these Lake Washington prespawn big-uns.

Quick note to those concerned about how crappie tournament fishing may impact a lake's crappie population: I want you to know that MCC returned 96 great ol' big, egg-ladened females to the lake in great condition as soon as they were weighed.

Here are some unbelievable tournament results from a cold winter's day on one of the Delta's premier crappie lakes. There were nine fish over 3 pounds weighed. That may be a club record, and we've been doing this for 21 years.

The average size for all the fish pushed the 2-pound mark at 1.94 pounds per fish - another club record, I believe. And, remember, we have fished all the great crappie lakes in Mississippi for decades - including Grenada, Barnett, Sardis, Enid and Arkabutla.

Our normal average-size crappie is less than 1.25 pounds when spread over our 10-month tournament season.

A good tournament fish anywhere at any time is a 2-pounder. A 2.5-pounder is a kicker. A fish over 3 pounds is almost unheard of anywhere at any time of the year. For most perch jerkers a 3-pound crappie is a never-in-a-lifetime fish.

Personally, I've caught two monsters over that 3-pound mark - one on Ross Barnett Reservoir and one on Grenada. The monster caught on Grenada was on tournament day (March 20), and up until this last Washington tournament it was the all-time MCC record for our heaviest fish.

Charlie Henry of Morton was my partner and net man when I caught that record-holding fish in short-sleeve weather, according to the picture hanging on my office wall.

Well, records are made to be broken, right? And, that's just what last year's husband-and-wife MCC Rookie Team of the Year Mike and Paula Nowell of Meridian did. Paula and Mike broke the 10-year-old club record at Lake Washington on a dadgum cold, windy, snowy day on March 2, with a 3.49-pound monster.

And, they caught two other monsters on T-Day that weighed over 3 pounds. Three 3 pounders on one cold, miserable day - that's amazing.

Paula and Mike blew the old record up, and blew away the day's competition with a total weight for seven fish at 17.23 pounds. Let me let Mike give you the play by play:

"The 3.01 was 15 3/4 (inches), the 3.14 was 16 (inches) and the 3.49 was 16 ½ inches," he said. "I caught the 3.49 and the 3.01 at the same time.

"Paula was great netting the biggest one first, getting it clear and secure while I kept control of the second. As she was netting the second one, I hooked up on a third big fish.

"Unfortunately, that second monster fish and hooks got hung in the net, and the third one ripped off before I could get it in the boat. All this action happened at the same time - only seconds of the most unforgettable action we've ever had, tournament or no tournament.

"About 30 minutes later Paula hooked up on a big one. She played the fish perfectly, handling the big fish on a 14-foot pole with only 3 feet of line. I netted her big mama, and it was 3.14. Paula said it all with a 'That's what I'm talking about!'

"We lost two more pigs on our next pass across the lake. All this fun started as it began to snow. We finally had enough at 1 p.m. with 13 fish and came to the bank. Paula did not realize what a commotion she would stir when she walked up and poured our culls into the 'lake return tank' before the weigh-in started. It was worth the 210-mile drive. Plus, we got to see our good friends. Glad to be a part of the MCC family."