Joe Giles studied his LCR for a few minutes before pitching a couple of marker buoys out into the muddy waters of Okatibbee. Giles was scanning the bottom for the Gin Creek channel that cut through the Gin Creek Flats.

After fishing only about 30 yards, he caught his first keeper crappie, and threw yet another marker buoy out to mark the spot. He quickly put the perch in the "supper well," and pitched his jig-and-spinner combo. Another fat one nailed it.

"I like to use a jig-and-spinner combo when searching for pre-spawn crappie," Giles said. "I usually tie on a jig first and then put a small Beetle Spin-type spinner on the rear of the rig to slow my retrieve down and give me more feel and sensitivity at the same time."

Over the next 30 minutes, Giles and his partner caught or missed fish on almost every cast until they both had their limits of crappie.

Though it doesn't always happen this way for Giles, it is not unusual for him to catch a limit of pre-spawn perch without ever moving the boat once he's located a hotspot.

"Where you find one, you'll usually find a school of them this time of year," he said. "Always fish the spot thoroughly before moving on, or you're liable to miss out on some fantastic fishing action."

The Collinsville resident has been fishing "the Big O," located about 8 miles northwest of Meridian just off Highway 19 North, since the early 1970s with great success. He's learned how and where to fish by trial and error over those years, and has kept up with the recent changes in the lake as well.

Depending upon weather conditions, the pre-spawn crappie fishing may be red hot during February. Sometimes that happens early in the month, but usually the crappie will be ready from mid-February on through March.

Giles searches for crappie in different areas, and most will have active pre-spawn fish at different times.

"I prefer fishing around shallow ditches, ledges and creek edges that have stumps or brush on them," he said.

Due to his intimate knowledge of the lake gained over years of trial and error, Giles knows the areas in which the crappie will be staging depending upon the time of the month and the current water level. Once he surveys the current conditions, he'll set up a plan and determine where the fish are staging, and usually catch them wadded up.

If the fish are lethargic and the water temperature is too cold for them to actively chase the jig-and-spinner combo, Giles will turn to the jig-and-cork rig.

"You just can't beat the jig-and-cork rig when it comes to catching fish this time of year," he said. "I learned to fish the jig and cork from my grandfather, J.P. Nolen, back in the 1970s at Ross Barnett Spillway.

"There are two main benefits of fishing this rig. The first is that you can keep that jig in the strike zone longer and give the finicky perch a chance to bite. The second is that you can keep the jig just above the stump or brush, and this prevents a lot of hang-ups and lost jigs."

And finally, if the crappie move up into the willows, or grass patches, Giles will switch to a graphite crappie pole, and tightline a jig.

"I'll drop my jig right beside the willows or into the buck brush, and just hold it there a second or two," he said. "If the fish bites, I'll jerk him out and then put the jig right back in the same spot. We have caught a limit of perch in an area no bigger than a pickup bed.

"Sometimes they want the lure completely still, and other times they want a little jigging action. But usually February perch want as little movement as possible.

"Sometimes they need a little extra enticement, and that can be found in Crappie Nibbles or Crappie Candy."

Just a Nibble can be the difference between catching a limit and going home empty-handed, according to Giles.

The following 10 GPS locations are pre-spawn staging areas where Giles finds pre-spawn crappie this month. Try a few of these areas yourself, and you'll get an idea of the typical places to catch crappie in February.


No. 1: N32 28.734 x W88 48.204 - Leaving the Corps of Engineers boat landing at the west end of the dam in the marina cove, follow the channel markers east toward the open lake. When you get to the last pole on the left, begin fishing just west of the pole, and follow the ledge northwesterly. Okatibbee Creek runs right along the shelf, and is loaded with stumps and roots.

"Crappie stack up along the submerged ledge and hold on structure as they prepare to make their move to shallow water in the coming weeks," Giles said. "The key to catching crappie this time of year is to keep your lure in the water until you catch a perch. And 99 percent of the time, where you catch one, you'll catch a wad of them."


No. 2: N32 28.842 x W88 48.246 - Continue fishing in a northerly direction along the drop-off area until you get to this GPS reading approximately 150 yards to the northwest. Here you will find a distinctive submerged point that is 5 to 8 feet deep on top with 12 to 16 feet of water on either side. On top of the point and ledge are a brushpile and stump that hold crappie. Other stumps and roots are found along the main ledge, and attract crappie as well.

"Depending upon the current water level and temperature, the fish may be on top of the point on the structure, or they may be at various depths ranging from 5 to 12 feet deep right in the channel itself," Giles said.


No. 3: N32 29.301 x W88 48.521 - After leaving this hole, continue north past the big island on the west side of the lake about a quarter mile north. Take your left, and run back into the Twiltley Branch Cove. When you get to the back of the cove, you will see a beach. Turn left past the point, and fish toward the south and back of that cove.

"There is a submerged pond dam that has plenty of sunken structure including Christmas trees, and a large oak that has been placed there as well," Giles said. "Crappie will relate to the dam as well as the wood and brush structure that have been placed along it."

Another thing to remember this time of year is that the crappie may gang up off any clay bank that has a stump or structure on it. This cove has several prominent clay banks that may hold crappie at any time.

"If the water is high enough that the willows are partially submerged along the banks, it's a good idea to fish those as well, as they will also hold good concentrations of fish," Giles said.

From mid to late February, the fish will move right up into the warmer water, and relate to the cover when the temperature is right.


No. 4: N32 29.855 x W88 48.314 - Leave Twiltley Branch Cove, and head north until you see Collinsville Landing. Turn left into the cove, and go just past the first point on the left. That point, which is directly across from the landing, is also a good pre-spawn holding area for the crappie as it has a hard clay bottom, good depth change and has willows on either side of the point.

On the west side of the point runs another point extending west into a smaller cove.

"Crappie will also stage just off of this hump, and also move into the warmer shallow water of the cove formed just to the south to feed," Giles said. "Fish with a jig-and-cork rig about 15 to 18 inches deep along the edge of the willows and brush."


No. 5: N32 29.890 x W88 48.295 - Directly across from No. 4 to the north is our next location with a red-clay point, submerged brush and willows on either side of the point.

"When the water is at winter level, the fish may relate to the sunken wood structure and brushtops," Giles said. "If the water is in the willows, however, the crappie will also move into and along the edges of those when the surface temperature warms slightly."

Continue fishing around the point and further into the shallow pocket to the right.

"This pocket is chock full of brushtops, grass and willows that hold the pre-spawn fish as well," Giles said. "You can fish the jig-and-spinner combo around the points and grass edges, but you need to switch to a jig-and-cork rig or a jig-and-pole combo when the fish are tight to the brush."


No. 6: N32 30.195 x W88 48.450 - Leaving Collinsville Landing cove, head north past the long point on the left and head due west in the direction of the beach. As soon as you see the beach, go to the red-clay point just north of the beach a couple hundred yards.

"Once you get there, you'll have several things to fish," Giles said. "Crappie can be caught just off of the point in 1 to 4 feet of water, and in the willows on either side of the point, and even in submerged brush and stickups just to the southwest side of the point about 40 yards off of the bank."


No. 7: N32 30.306 x W88 48.480 - Next, motor north about 200 yards until you spot a field of stick-ups and stumps. During years when the lake is at winter levels, you will be able to see the stump field that is about 100 by 150 yards wide, and usually ranges in depth of 18 inches to 4 feet.

"Even if you can't see the stumps sticking above the water, just fish around the area, and you'll find the stumps, and usually catch fish," Giles said.


No. 8: N32 30.806 x W88 48.400 - Going farther uplake in a direct northerly direction, you'll see the west end of the causeway and Gin Creek Landing. Gin Creek will cut through the flats about halfway to the landing from point No. 7.

"Once you get to the spot, watch your LCR, and you'll see that the creek is about 8 to 12 feet deep running through the shallow flats that are 4 to 7 feet deep," Giles said. "Fish along the creek channel that runs primarily east and west, and you'll find the crappie stacked up in places that have stumps. The cork or spinner combos work well in this area."


No. 9: N32 29.626 x W88 47.077 - No. 9 is located directly across the lake from the Collinsville landing on the east side of the main lake just north of the boat landing about 200 yards. Start fishing just off of the left side of the clay bank. This is the entrance to the old marina location that still has the Pat Harrison Landing, hotel and water slide. Portions of the old fence and rock wall are visible to the left of the point running due north from the opening.

The depth off the point will be 12 to 16 feet deep on either side of the submerged rock point that extends well out into the lake.

"The perch will be caught at different levels depending upon the current conditions, but you can be sure the crappie will stage somewhere along the top or edge of the rocks," Giles said.


No 10: N32 29.519 x W88 46.651 - Perhaps the most talked-about area of the lake is the Minnow Pond Area located on the Pine Springs side of the lake in the easternmost arm of the lake. From the dam, run in a northeasterly direction until you see the cove open up to the north.

"Don't run the big motor very fast, as this area of the lake is full of shallow stumps," cautioned Giles.

Head for the outer edge of the grass and willows that have grown out on top of the submerged dams, and start fishing right there.

"The crappie may be found on stumps and brush out in the open waters next to the dams and creek ditches, or they may hold tight up in the visible structure," Giles said. "You just have to fish the area to find out where they are at that time. If the weather is mild and warm, they might be found right up in the structure. If it's still pretty cold or the water is low, they'll be found along the submerged dams and stumps that cover this area of the lake.

"There's no real secret to catching crappie during February, just get out there and fish these pre-spawn areas until you catch one. But once you do, pitch out your marker buoy or anchor in a hurry, or you just might miss out on a hidden honeyhole."

With a lake full of hungry perch and not many folks fishing for them this time of year, the opportunity to load your boat will be good.