"Hello, Paul, this is William. Whatcha doing? You catching any fish?"

"Heck, no. Too hot for me, William. You?"

"Yeah, man, I'm catching the stew out of 'em at Enid. Going every weekend and limiting out."

"Aw, shoot, William. Tell it to somebody else. You're just like me - sitting on your butt under the air conditioner."

"No, no, buddy. I'm telling you. I've had the best summer ever catching white perch as big as they grow up at Enid."

Before I could quiz him on the details, he said, "I tried your suggestion - bought every Wally Marshall crankbait Bass Pro had on sale a few weeks ago. Pink/white has been my best color trolling in 18 to 20 feet water from Point Pleasant to the Water Valley Landing.

"Man, talk about fun! This summertime crankbaitin' is a blast, man! Hey, when's our first tournament?"

Throw in some genuine chuckles and even some little-girl-like giggles coming from the earpiece end of my phone and some groans and expletives, not printable on these fine pages, coming from yours truly, and you've got the picture of a recent phone call from a Magnolia Crappie Club buddy of mine, William Clark of Clarksdale.

What's a fellow who loves to crappie fish and then write about it (but hates hot weather fishing) supposed to do this time of the year? It's hotter than Hades right now with no relief in sight.

I admit that going to the lake to catch a bunch of white perch is about as likely for me as the most ardent deer hunter shooting a big buck this month. I just don't like fishing when the real-feel index is in triple digits.

I'm pretty sure my buddy, William, knew that before he called. That sorry ... .

Fall fishing

Right now, I prefer to day-dream of cooler weather and bigger crappie. Truly, one of my favorite times of the year begins in October. Let me recommend some of the following this fall.

Lake Washington, 20 miles south of Greenville on Highway 1, has become absolutely the most heavily fished crappie lake in the state of Mississippi - in March and April. In October, Lake Washington is practically abandoned by everyone except a handful of local fishermen. Those damn Yankees have long since headed back to wherever they came from - the freezers in the back of their pickups filled with some of Mississippi's biggest and best crappie fillets. The ski boaters and weekenders have loaded their boats for the last time, covered them up and carried 'em back to the barn - thank goodness.

The trick with Washington white perch is to not fish too deep. Regardless of the time of the year, Washington's slabs are shallower in the water column than you think. Whether you're fishing live bait, jigs or trolling crankbaits, your best success will come from fishing within 4 feet of the surface.

Get a lake map or ask on-the-lake fishermen for directions to hotspots like the John Henry Slough area, the Glass House, the Pink House, Cuckleburr Creek, the Highland Club and Cordell's Landing.

Other primetime fall spots on Washington include "the narrows" in front of Southern Stars Landing or the flat in front of the old Linden House.

Whatever you do, stay away from the Red Top area. There are no fish there.

Lake Ferguson, just up the road from Lake Washington, is located in downtown Greenville. It is a well-kept secret when it comes to crappie fishing. Indeed, I get a lesson and a surprise every time I fish this beautiful old oxbow.

When's the best time to fish our river-connected oxbows? The quick answer is "Why, the very next time you can go."

But the real answer is whenever the river stage is not falling too much or rising too fast. Typically, in the fall you can plan on the water level in Ferguson being as stable as it ever gets and the water clarity being as clear as well water.

These water quality variables are hard to come by on Ferguson, but when these two conditions come together, the crappie fishing can be outstanding. Add to these two perfect water conditions the annual pre-winter "need to feed" felt by these river perch, and the race is on, boys.

Here's a secret technique for catching fall crappie at Ferguson: Troll the upper end using medium- and deep-running crankbaits. Last November, MCC's tournament on Ferguson was won by a team pulling crawdad-colored crankbaits.

I highly recommend spending more than a couple of days fishing these Delta diamonds. Leroy Percy State Park (662-827-5436), which is kinda sorta located in the middle of these two wonderful fishing holes on Highway 12 just west of Hollandale, is a clean, convenient and a beautiful change of pace from the Delta's mostly agricultural landscape. It's very picturesque - a great little surprise for sportsmen.

Moving south about an hour, I love to fish Chotard in the fall, too. Chotard is another Mississippi River-connected oxbow located north of Vicksburg - just north of Eagle Lake. The same great water qualities mentioned above for Ferguson ditto here.

New owners have privatized the old Dent's Camp and Landing on Albemarle, leaving only two places left where you can launch your boat. Put in at either Laney's Landing or Chotard Resort Landing.

From Chotard Lake, you can access the connecting lakes of Albemarle and Tennessee. Success can be found in water depths from 10 to 30 feet fishing from 4 to 18 feet deep. Now, I know that's a wide range to try on such a big body of water.

Narrow your search by looking for shad activity on the surface. Fish where the baitfish are. Try jigging the laydowns on the east bank in Chotard Lake between Laney's Landing and Chotard Landing, or go south from Laney's and fish "the ditch" across the lake from the last few cabins on Chotard.

Hey, stay away from the upper end of Albermarle, whatever you do. If the river level on the Vicksburg gauge is above 20 feet, try Tennessee Lake.

Again, live bait (medium minnows) is hard to beat. But last fall I saw limits caught on straight jigs fished vertically on hand-held jig poles as well as double-rigged jigs cast toward the banks on light spinning gear.

The whole area around Chotard/Eagle Lake is an outdoorsman's dream. You can access the Big Muddy from Lake Chotard, and I promise you've never seen anything like the beauty and the power of the Mississippi River until you've actually taken your little motor boat up and down it.

Chotard Landing Resort (601-279-4282) and Eagle Lake Lodge (601-279-6210) have cabins right smack dab in the middle of this adventureland. Plan on being there several days, because this crappie paradise is hard to leave once you get on the fall pattern.

Ahhhh, I feel better already. I can't wait for cooler weather and those wonderful fall days spent catching some Mississippi Delta crappie as big as they grow.

Oh yeah, contact Brad Taylor with the Magnolia Crappie Club (662-820-4581). It's time to sign up for our new tournament season. Brad'll take care of you. It's great fun, folks. I promise.

Ol' William told me he'd already sent in his club dues.