Can you believe it? It’s 2014 — ready or not. We’re right smack-dab in the middle of a January cold front as I write February’s column. Baby, it’s cold outside!

Got those insulated boots for Christmas. The original ones didn’t fit. Took them back and eventually settled on a nice pair of Wolverine 1000 grams Thinsulated boots. Right now, I’m liking the extra insulation these puppies have — better than my old duck-hunting boots, for sure.

Let’s go crappie fishing. Naw, I’m not kidding. Get your gear and meet me at the lake. I’ve said it lots of times: Cold weather doesn’t turn the fish off.

If anything, cold weather and cold water help make the fish more predictable on where you’ll find them.

My next trip is back over to Chotard, and I can’t wait. I’m taking my minnow poles this time and my orange hooks. Right now, there’s plenty of fresh water in Chotard, and if the Mississippi River stays above 21 feet on the Vicksburg gage, all three lakes — Chotard, Tennessee and Albermarle — will be open for fishing.

I messed up the last two MCC tournaments because I was hard-headed about catching crappie pulling crankbaits in the winter. It didn’t work. What can I tell you? Been fishing these crappie tournaments since Day 1, and I believe this is the first time I’ve ever zeroed. I turned in no fish at our November and December tournaments.

We actually caught a couple at the December event on Chotard, but Gil and I didn’t want to hang around to weigh just two small black specks.

I’ll promise you this, though: Gil Woodis, my tournament partner, and I will not zero again this season. We firmly believe we can go from zeroes to heroes at the next tournament.

Actually, Gil threatened to throw me in the lake if I pulled those crankbaits out before May. Hey, I got a lesson — I now believe there is a bottom end regarding surface temps adversely affecting those plastic lures, and it appears to be somewhere just south of 52 to 54 degrees.

You know that here in Mississippi our winters seem to be relatively short and mild. And, February can bring early spring-like temps as the season’s first yellow flowers start popping up.

I know this: February through March are the months when the most wallhangers are caught. Those big, fat females start showing up on the scales, breaking that magical 3-pound mark. A 3-pound crappie is a once-in-a-lifetime fish for most crappie anglers, and right now is the time to start looking for these monsters.

I’ve caught two crappie over the 3-pound mark in my lifetime, and both came in cool weather before the fish started spawning. 

And, just when do crappie begin their spawn? That’s a question that has many answers. It depends, of course, on water temperature. Some experts believe crappie begin to spawn as soon as water temps return to the low 60s. Barnett master crappie fisherman, Rabbit Rogers from Brandon has long maintained that 72-degree water coincides with the peak of the spawn at Barnett.

At Barnett and other large reservoirs, the spawn starts in certain parts of the lake early. Crappie usually spawn first in pockets of “the bay” — that’s the Pelahatchie Bay area for you non-Barnett regulars — in late February. The spawn at Barnett can literally run from late February to very early June. 

I also believe the sun — including the length of the day, the angle of the sun in relation to our part of the globe and the lack of clouds — pushes the spawn to happen sooner or later. That is, as the days get longer, the sun warms the shallows as the sun moves more directly above us, and crappie find their biological clocks setting off alarms, rushing them to their annual reproductive duties.

Lakes that can spawn earlier than others include Eagle Lake, Barnett Reservoir, Lake Washington, Okatibbee Reservoir. In addition, we always hear about those fishermen on foot and four-wheelers wacking the early spawners at Grenada in late February, early March.

Tournament action

For the Magnolia Crappie Club’s 2013-14 tournament season it’s halftime. We scheduled nine regular tournaments this season, beginning back in September at Grenada, and holding one tournament a month through May. Our February tournament is at Lake Washington on Feb. 22. You may recall that last March on Lake Washington, with the temps in the 20s and the wind howling, MCC teams weighed in seven monsters over 3 pounds. Paula and Mike Nowell of Meridian set the new club record for heaviest crappie on T-day at 3.49 pounds. Now that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Big crappie bite in cold weather!

Following Lake Washington, our remaining tournament schedule is March 15 at Grenada, April 12 at Barnett and May 3 at Enid.

The Grenada tournament will be a Big Mama Open, which means the cash prizes go way up. And the tournament is open to all crappie fishermen, whether you’re an MCC member or not.

The Barnett tourney will be at the peak of Barnett’s spawn, and the Enid tournament is our third World’s Largest Crappie event sponsored by the City of Water Valley, and will be open to all competitors.

Come join us. MCC, in our 23rd season, is a family-oriented, fishing mostly for fun — certainly not for a living — bunch. Being one of only a couple of charter members still active in the club, I continue to be amazed at the new faces that show up at practically every event.

And, the last couple of years, we’ve had more and more kids fishing on T-day with parents and grandparents. The new influx of youth is great to see — speaks volumes about the future of MCC — and, I believe, it has been sparked because we relaxed our rule about the number of fishermen per boat.

Basically, MCC allows two fishermen per boat on T-day. However a couple of seasons ago we said, “What’s wrong with letting Grandpa or Dad bring his kids fishing on T-day?” So, now, we allow kids to fish with no “penalty” for having more than two fishermen in the boat on T-day.

We keep the number of poles a boat can fish limited to six. God bless Papaw if he wants to try to teach his 10-year-old grandchild the whys and wherefores of catching a slab on T-Day.