Recently, I made a trip to one of my favorite fishing holes, Chotard/Albermarle. The fishing reports had been poor to moderate at best.

"Paul, I don't know what happened to all the fish over here. Something is going on that I can't figure out. The fish ought to be suspended in open water feeding on shad, but so far, they just haven't shown up. Come on over if you want to, but the crappie fishing has not been good lately," Eagle Lake resident and friend David Thornton reported.

I couldn't stand it any longer. I hadn't been on Chotard in a while, and with the holiday schedule, I had a little time off. So off I went, arriving that first morning right at sunup.

The lake was gorgeous with no wind blowing - a big plus on a very cool morning. Also, it had been pointed out to me that we wouldn't have to worry about the rising or falling of the Mississippi River. The river stage on the Vicksburg gauge was below the 12-foot mark, and this old oxbow was cut off from the main river - another plus.

As I backed onto Laney's Landing, I saw David catching a nice crappie right below the steep, rocky bank next to the landing. I hurriedly backed into the lake, snapping a couple of photos as David landed three or four more fish from the same spot. Oh boy, this was going to be a great day.

Once on the lake, I quizzed David about how he and our mutual fishing friend, Shelton Culpepper, fishing on down the lake, were catching their fish. Both already had several fish in the box before I arrived. I soon learned they were on a structure pattern using jigs and minnows, and catching black crappie.

"Thanks for the info, David," I said. "I'll leave your and Shelton's secret spots alone. I'm going to get out here in the middle and try the white crappie using my long drift poles and minnows. I'll talk to you later."

Anxiously, hurriedly, I put out four 14-foot-long drift poles baited with two hook sets each and minnows. I turned on the fish-finder up front in my boat, and the screen showed clouds of shad with lots of larger fish images mixed in.

It was just what I was hoping for. The shad were in the middle from 6 to 20 feet deep, and there appeared to be some larger predatory fish mixed with them. There was no wind. The major feeding period was predicted to be the first couple of hours of the day, and I had the whole middle of the pond all to myself. David and Shelton were both over on the edges fishing laydowns and stickups. Wow, this was going to be a great day!

Well, I fished hard all morning and caught three white crappie - small ones at that - out in the middle. I changed depths of my baits fishing from 30 feet deep to 3 feet deep and every depth in between. I tried fishing from dead still to trolling my baits on high. I changed the color of my hooks half a dozen times. I took my hooks off, and put on Roadrunners and minnows, and then I tried drifting straight jigs.

Every now and then, I'd catch a gar, but even these nuisances didn't seem to want to bite. So I eased back over toward Culpepper.

"Shelton, how many have you caught?" I queried.

"Oh, I don't know, Paul. I'd say close to 25 or so."

"What? Twenty-five? Are you kidding me?"

"Naw, these specks are biting pretty good, Paul. Get your jig pole out and give them a try."

Being hard-headed, I decided to move through the ditch leading into Albermarle. I went to the north end and happened upon another buddy of mine, MCC President Brad Taylor, who had out four or five drift poles, too, and was hung in a trot line with three or four of his drift poles. At the time, he was in no mood to discuss or compare strategies.

It turned out that Brad had spent the morning doing the same thing I had, and with the exception of the aggravation with the trot lines crossing Albermarle (there were several), Brad's morning had been as uneventful as mine.

Black or white

Now this story becomes more about the differences between black and white crappie, the differences between jig fishing and drift fishing and the difference between being hard-headed and flexible in one's approach to salvaging a frustrating day on the lake.

The black crappie were biting on structure in depths from 8 to 15 feet on the edges of both Chotard and Albermarle. Fishermen who were using the correct technique and lures were doing well. In fact, when I got back to Culpepper's cabin later that afternoon, the score was Culpepper 50, Johnson 3. And, he had some nice ones - some over 2 pounds a piece.

David's catch was similar to Shelton's. Both these expert jig fishermen had had a banner day. Later, I talked to other jig fishermen who had also limited out on Albermarle. I took a thrashing, boys.

Black crappie are a more structure-oriented fish, and they do well in Mississippi lakes that have clear water. Chotard and Albermarle, like a lot of our lakes, have black and white crappie populations.

There had been no river water intake for weeks over there, and it seemed the black crappie were thriving and very active in the very clear water. Looking back, I'd have to admit that the conditions were somewhat post-frontal, and, typically, that means fish bind themselves pretty tightly to structure.

My biggest problem was between my two ears, and that gray matter had turned rock hard. My electronics weren't lying to me. The middle of the lake was loaded from top to bottom with plenty of baitfish. There was no water-fluctuation issue. The white crappie ought to have been burning it up.

So what did I do the following morning? You guessed it. I broke out a jig pole and hit the edges for the first hour. I caught three again - two blacks, one white. The baitfish were busting it out in the middle, calling to me: "Out here, Paul. Put that jig pole down and come out to the middle. We're out here. Come and get us."

I couldn't stand it. I threw my jig pole down, and stormed out to the middle again, manning my minnow poles one more time. I was dead-set on proving to myself and to my fishing buds that I knew how to catch a Chotard crappie. I spent the next couple of hours doing exactly the same thing I had done the day before.

At about 11 a.m., frustrated with myself and thoroughly disgusted, and wanting to clear the area before I ran into Shelton or David again, I headed to the truck.

Shelton called about the time I hit the top of the levee.

"How'd you do, Paul?"

"Three, again," was all I said through very tight lips over my cell phone.

"Man, I hate you didn't get on them. I'm still catching 'em as big as they grow. Come on back another day. We'll do it again sometime."