Finally, we’re breaking out of a record cold and miserable Mississippi winter, and we’re looking at spring right around the corner. Snow and frozen interstates in South Mississippi? Frozen pipes and a few frozen lakes and ponds? Sixteen days in a row — a Mississippi record — where temps didn’t get above freezing in Central Mississippi?

Dang! Put another log on the fire. Shoot, I bought another pair of fleece-insulated blue jeans. Had to order them from Ebay — from somewhere up in Michigan. I’m betting the person who sold and shipped these to a Mississippi address was truly scratching his head, thinking, “Well, this is a first.”

Ahhh! With warmer and longer days hitting us now, the crappie are already on the move toward their annual spawning grounds. The spawn doesn’t hit at the same time every year on your favorite crappie lake, but there is about a 15-day window where it seems that nearly every year the prespawn crappie start showing up.

And, from one end of this great state to the other, that 15-day window is on a sliding scale by as much as a full month. That is, North Mississippi fishermen generally find their early white perch run is a full month behind Central and South Mississippi white perch.

Watch the water temps, and when they start creeping toward the upper end of the 55- to 60-degree mark, it’s time to dust off your jig pole, brother. Yes, you’ll still find some monsters deep, but they are not as deep as they were a month ago — I guarantee you.

During the coldest days of the year, crappie tend to go as deep as your lake’s deepest holes. Yes, there are exceptions to that cold-water, fish-deep theory. I’ve discussed those exceptions many times in the past in this column.

But Mother Nature starts to dictate a crappie’s motivation and subsequent movement at this time of the year. And right now ole Mother Nature is pointing those male crappie toward the shallows, and the big females are right behind them in slightly deeper water — perhaps, just off that first good drop or ledge where 5 and 6 feet of water turns into 10 and 12 feet real quick.

Study your favorite lake this early spring season. Look for bays and other protected backwater areas where the surface temps can be as much as 5 to 8 degrees warmer than the main part or open areas of your fishing hole. Experts say the north shores warm faster than the south shores due to the angle of the sun hitting the northern shores for a slightly longer period of time, and often the north shore is more protected from the cold winds coming from the north.

Hey, sounds like a plan to me. But, use your own experimentation, investigation and field trials to find those early hotspots on your favorite crappie lake.

On Barnett Reservoir, my home lake, certain backwater pockets where little or no fresh water flows into them via ditches and creeks tend to be the early spots. On the reverse of that, at Grenada the local fishermen there purposely go to the incoming creeks and streams and wade or bank fish for early prespawners. One size does not fit all when comparing one lake to another.

Potential new game-fish law

In late January, Larry Pugh, director of Fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, contacted me asking for comments and thoughts about what he believed to be legislation headed down this year’s legislative pipeline and potentially becoming law here in Mississippi.

Currently, Mississippi game fish can be raised and sold by fish producers for the sole purpose of stocking or restocking private and public waters. It is illegal to sell game fish otherwise in the state of Mississippi.

What follows are excerpts from my initial reply to Mr. Pugh. I thought every sportfisherman in Mississippi would appreciate the following:

“Thanks for asking for my thoughts/opinions/suggestions regarding legalizing the sale of crappie and other game fish here in Mississippi.

“Interestingly, over 20 years ago, I was asked to appear before a subcommittee at the State Capitol that was addressing very similar legislation. Then, the whole thing boiled down to a fish producer in South Mississippi who had raised up to eating size thousands of pounds of largemouth bass before he learned it was illegal to sell largemouth bass in Mississippi. His local state representative was trying to pass a law legalizing the sale of all game fish to address this fish producer’s problem.

“My opinion, expressed in … 20 plus years ago, was that I was not for legalizing the sale of crappie here in Mississippi, primarily because of the fear of overfishing. Have you seen what has happened to places like Eagle Lake because of overfishing? Ever been to the gates at Muddy Bayou on Eagle when fishermen are catching 350 crappie a day or to one of the few ‘primo’ piers where some Eagle Lake fishermen have no fear and apparently no idea of the creel limit? Ever done a creel check below the spillway at Barnett when the water is up and the boats are packed in there bumper to bumper? Ever counted the unmanned, unidentified yo-yos at Lake Washington or checked the freezers for hundreds of pounds of crappie and catfish fillets in the back of pickups headed back to points up north?

“Your department spent no telling how much money stocking crappie in Eagle because some of the every-day fishermen over there fished the damn place dry of crappie. And, they’ve done it again — after all your hard work and expense over at Eagle, it’s practically fished out again.

“I can’t imagine what would happen to lakes like Lake Washington, Wolf, Bee and potentially Barnett, Grenada, Enid, Sardis if folks thought they could make a living or supplement their incomes by catching pickup loads of crappie from these wonderful state resources. I’d hate to see what has happened at Eagle Lake because of overfishing happen elsewhere.

I was against legalizing the sale of game fish 20 years ago, and the issue died because of the outcry from bass fishermen, crappie fishermen and bream fishermen. I’m even more firmly committed to doing whatever I can now to keep such a nightmare from becoming a reality.”

A day or two later, Pugh told me that it didn’t look like the game-fish law would make it to this session’s lawmakers. But he advised that it could be proposed in future sessions. Folks, I don’t want you to think I’m crying wolf here: I’m bringing this to your attention for future reference. 

If you are a recreational fisherman here in Mississippi and share my concerns regarding commercializing the catch and sale of bass, bream and crappie, speak to your state representatives. They might not be aware that legislation could be proffered that could make it legal here in Mississippi to catch and sell freshwater game fish. 

Brother, I’d like to keep catching them as big as they grow. How about you?