Mother Nature has certainly played some tricks on us for the last several months, causing crappie fishermen to scratch their heads more than a time or two.

Beginning with one of the coldest winters on record for these parts, followed by flooding conditions in many of our lakes and rivers, only to be belted by severe, devastating tornadoes, Mississippians have had a tough six months or so.

I am especially mindful of the horrific damage and loss of life in Louisville and Tupelo from the late-April tornadoes. I have crappie-fishing friends and family who were impacted by those storms. Thankfully they lived through the worst outbreak of tornadoes in decades.

When you read this, it will be late May/early June, and the crankbait bite should just be hitting high gear. Purposely, I tested the limits the last few months just to see if there is an “off season” for catching crappie on hard baits.

Based on last fall/winter and early spring field trials, here is what I’ve learned.

In the fall, when surface water temps are falling, crappie will hit crankbaits down to the low 50s. The trick is to fish where the fish are.

At Barnett Reservoir in the late fall/early winter, the baitfish go to the river channels. Yes, bass fishermen, some of the baitfish go to the back side of your favorite shallow bays. But, a boat load and a half of shad swim to the edges of the Pearl River in the north end of the main lake, bringing with them every crappie in the lake, I believe.

I had numerous days, up until about mid-December when I caught them as big as they grow as fast as I could on Wiggle Warts and Bomber 6As.

The water at Barnett was as clear as it ever gets, and the weather was really nice — not too hot, not too cold, not too windy. Seemed the bite slowed down significantly when the surface temps dropped to the 52-degree mark.

I broke out the cranks earlier than normal this spring just to get a lesson. When the surface temps came back up to the 50-degree mark I couldn’t stand it any longer and tried the crankbaits with no success.

Finally, I started catching a few after the surface temps rose above 60 degrees.

Look, I’m hardheaded, and I really wanted to make these dad-gum things work. So I tried many days in many places this spring, with limited or no success until the thermometer hit that 60-degree mark.

And, yes, I know I was fishing where the fish were because minnow and jig fishermen were catching them and I wasn’t.

I don’t fish for food. Heck, I haven’t cleaned a crappie in over 10 years. This spring I was trying to get a lesson, and I guess I must be a slow learner.

But, I showed myself and several others who fished with me or saw me landing crappie in April on crankbaits that the traditional timetable for breaking out the cranks just got expanded to include at least six more weeks on the front side of this annual season.

Yes, I still like to jig fish — did a lot of that this spring, too. I’d pull crankbaits for a while in an area on the Rez, and then get out my short, 8-foot jig poles and crawdads and check to see if there really were or were not fish holding where my crankbaits had not worked.

Did so much jig fishing that I had to find my “tennis elbow” straps for each arm. Caught a bunch of fish, too, with my jig poles.

But, my main objective, again, was to give myself a lesson, to write myself a fishing calendar.

Heck, I broke out the crankbaits the first day of May while pre-fishing a crappie tournament at Enid Reservoir. Caught some nice tournament-size fish, too — although, we finished out T-day with minnow poles in my spider rig, and we finished in the money.

The main problem with my cranks those early May days at Enid was that I didn’t have any crankbaits that would run less than 3 feet deep. All our minnow-caught fish came from no deeper than 30 inches or so, and that was fishing in depths up to 25 feet deep, not up next to the bank.

You can pull the paint off crankbaits, but if you’re not fishing where the fish are, you’re wasting your time. At Enid, I believe the fish were there; I just couldn’t get the cranks I had with me to run shallow enough.

What’s coming up next for me? Well, I’m excited at the time of this writing to be getting ready to fish the Magnolia Crappie State Championship Tournament. This annual two-day Championship will be held the last weekend in May — just after Memorial Day. And, we’ll be hitting a crankbaiter’s dream lakes — Sardis and Enid.

Brother, trust me. I’m going to be hard to beat May 29 and 30, and I bet we catch every fish my team weighs on either Bandits, Bombers, or Wiggle Warts.

I was at Sardis over 15 years ago pre-fishing our two-day event when I first heard of pulling cranks to catch crappie. When I got to Sardis the first morning, I stopped at the local bait store to ask directions and get some local advice on fishing this giant reservoir that I had never seen before.

The man behind the counter started trying to sell me some Bandit crankbaits when I asked what the crappie were hitting.

“No, sir. I’m fishing a crappie tournament, not a bass tournament,” I told him.

“Yeah, I know all about the Magnolia Crappie Club tournament,” he replied. “You’re going to need some of these if you want to win the darn thing.”

A local fisherman overheard our conversation and invited me to tag along with him. He showed me that all his jig poles had crankbaits tied on them.

“Man, I appreciate the advice and the invite, but Sardis is off-limits until the Day One of the tournament,” I said.

“Can you fish on Enid?” the man asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Well you can go practice down there,” they guy told me. “They’re hitting cranks just as much there as they are here at Sardis.”

So, I did that. I bought a dozen or so crankbaits, tied them on my minnow poles that were outfitted with spinning reels and went to Enid. After just a couple of hours of fishing I had 11 as big as they grow in the livewell. I came off the lake about noon and called my partner who was coming up the next day.

“Harvey, bring all the crankbaits you own and some rods that have baitcasting reels on them,” I said.

Then I explained what I had learned. We minnow fished and pulled cranks back then over the course of the two days. We came in eighth overall as I recall.

I’m betting we do even better this time around.