Are you ready for some football, I mean, some crappie fishing? Well, it's here. That first little cool spell that we Mississippians call "football weather" is upon us. And, for me and lots of you, that first cool morning signals the beginning of one of the very best times of the year to catch a mess of white perch.

The Magnolia Crappie Club has just announced its tournament schedule for the 2008/09 season, and the first tournament is Oct. 11 on beautiful and bountiful Lake Ferguson near Greenville.

Boy, am I ready! I can't wait to hit the water this fall. I'm putting new string on all my poles, organizing my tackle boxes and polishing my crankbaits. Yep, that's right, after seeing the success the first-place MCC team had on the Ferguson tournament last fall while using crankbaits only, I'm convinced crankin' crappie is the ticket this fall.

More on fall crankin' in a minute.

Crappie fishing evolved

Crappie fishing has evolved for lots of us over the past few years. Only a short time ago, crappie fishing was traditionally a spring thing - almost exclusively. Jig and minnow fishermen who concentrated on the annual spawning runs ruled.

Then somebody showed the rest of us that not all the fish go to the bank at the same time, and that crappie eat every day - all 365 of them. Those innovators started moving around, trying different methods, including using multiple poles and hook-sets and catching crappie in places and during seasons having nothing to do with spawning fish.

Drift-fishing multiple rigs became the rage. Remember the first time you made fun of one of those odd-balls who hung poles out all around his boat - something we tagged as a spider rig? I do.

We laughed, we hooted, we fussed and cussed about them catching more fish than we did with our one pole/one hook traditional methods. Those "spider-riggers" weren't playing fair. Like you, I boasted to my fishing partners that they'd never see one of those rigs in my boat.

But, look at us now. Let me ask you, and be honest here: How many crappie poles do you own today? I'm guessing that like me, you had only a couple of jig poles that went to the lake with you when you went crappie fishing. Today, many of us have built special racks in our boats just to hold all the poles we think we need to catch a crappie.

We learned about and bought into things we'd never heard of. Drift poles, rod holders, drop-shot weights, swivels, spinning reels, contour maps, GPS systems, even new styles and colors of hooks began to fill our tackle boxes and our boats.

Crankin' in the fall

Then it happened. Somebody, somewhere decided to try catching crappie pulling a crankbait. And, it worked.

Today, crappie fishermen, especially tournament fishermen, are just as likely to be discussing the merits of a jointed crankbait vs. a Bandit 300 as they are the color of their favorite jig skirts.

For those of us who listened and learned how to crank up some crappie, we did what we were told - that is, we limited our thinking to pulling crankbaits during summer months on open water in big reservoirs. But, with experience and trial-and-error, we've evolved to using crankbaits in the fall as well.

Here's what I know about it. Crankbaits work best when the water clarity is at its best. Cranks work on suspended fish that are oriented to feeding on open-water baitfish. Anything here sound like fall conditions on your favorite crappie lake?

Fall brings the clearest water of the year to us. Huge schools of baitfish hold in open water. And, the closer we get to cold weather, the more aggressive our favorite slabs become.

Why the fall? Every year as the days shorten and the water temperatures cool, crappie feel the need to feed like at no other time of the year. Similar to a bear, I think, crappie know they have to put on that extra layer of fat to survive the coming colder months. Hence, they eat anything that swims by.

It just makes sense. You can cover so much more water trolling crankbaits and locate the fish faster. And once you find them and pattern out the color and depth they like on that particular day, you and your fishing buddies can have the time of your lives, crankin' crappie as big as they grow.

Recommendations

Go prepared with more than one size crankbait and several colors. Mississippi-based Bandit Lures makes cranks in Series 100, 200 and 300 that catch lots of crappie. The 100s run down to 3 to 4 feet, the 200s down to 8 to 9 feet and the 300s run as deep as 12 to 13 feet when using 8-pound monofilament.

Additionally, I use baits made by Norman, Wally Marshall, Strike King and my personal favorites are the Grave Diggers from Cabela's. All are 2- to 3-inch-long baits that the trade classifies as "lipped" crankbaits.

In the fall, I recommend pulling cranks in open water wherever there is a presence of shad. I troll with my trolling motor on a medium-high speed using about 60 feet of 8-pound mono. When fishing tournaments, my partner operates from the back deck of the boat, and I hang a couple of long trolling poles - one from each side of the boat - from rod holders on the bow.

Fall tournaments

Yes, sir. Crappie fishing is definitely a fall sport. In addition to the Magnolia Crappie Club fishing three tournaments between now and Christmas, the Crappiemasters professionals will be competing for the national titles in October down on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida. Some of our MCC teams are qualified to fish in that national championship.

I looked up the Harris Chain on the internet, and one of the first articles I found recommended the use of crankbaits year round. I've got a feeling some of my best MCC buds will be calling me soon.

Want to know more about crappie tournament fishing or crankbaiting? You can call me anytime at 601-624-0359. I invite you to join MCC at Lake Ferguson on Oct. 11, and to try crankin' up a few crappie as big as they grow this fall. Hey, I guess if you want to bring a minner and a jig pole, that'll be O.K., too.