Hey, friend, it's that time of the year again. That's right. If there is such thing as a fishing season here in Mississippi, consider this to be the opening weekend, and you don't want to miss it, do you?

Granted, in some states, the fishing season has an official mark on the calendar. Freshwater fishing is regulated just like deer season or duck season.

That seems odd to me somehow. Shoot, we all know that crappie eat every day - all 365 of them. And I'm glad we have the opportunity to fish all of them.

Now I know that traditionally here in Mississippi, the bait shops and the boat ramps get busier starting right about now. March typically marks the beginning of spring around here, and the crappie begin their annual run to the shallows, followed closely by a horde of fishing enthusiasts.

Early spawners

Biologists claim that crappie begin to spawn when water temperatures get into the low 60s. I won't argue with folks smarter than me. Truly, here in Mississippi we have lots and lots of early spawning crappie. Some lakes "turn on" a lot sooner than others, and the early spring, whether patterning pre-spawners or spawning fish, can be terrific.

Personal experience tells me that a lot of crappie don't get busy until the water temperatures are above 68 degrees and holding there. Long-time Barnett guru Rabbit Rogers of Brandon claims that 72 degrees is the magic number on The Rez, and I believe him. We usually start seeing 70-plus-degree water around mid-April on Barnett.

But I'm smart enough to know that not all the crappie think alike, and that every lake has its own early spring pattern. In fact, by the time you read this, some crappie will have already spawned. Early spawners will often be some of the biggest fish in the lake, too.

'Go early, stay late' may be good advice right now if you're searching for some real wall-hangers. March is indeed the very best month to score those very rare 3-pounders. I've caught two 3-pounders in my life, with my largest being a Grenada slab weighing in at 3.41 pounds. Both my beauties came in March.

All my Magnolia Crappie Club buds who have reached that 3-pound mark have done it with March or earlier slabs. It's obvious that these once-in-a-lifetime fish must be caught before they spawn.

Great lakes

Opinions vary and are cheap. Everyone's got one, right? Well here's mine as it relates to where to crappie fish this month. Some lakes just "turn on" earlier than others. I don't know why - they just do, year after year.

Lake Washington, just south of Greenville, is one of the very best early lakes, and the crappie in this Delta diamond are huge. Washington's reputation for early spring crappie production reaches far north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The local fisherman population is multiplied many times by lots of out-of-state fishermen who call Lake Washington home for the month of March.

Other lakes in Mississippi draw a crowd of Yankees, too, but none attract as many out-of-state fishermen per acre as Washington. Now I know it's a public lake and the local merchants love to see March roll around every year. And some of the nicest folks I've met at Washington have had Kansas, Illinois or Missouri tags on their boat trailers. But some of the biggest jerks I've ever met out on the lake or in the bait shop have hailed from the same places.

I know this magazine is read by lots of folks who aren't from around here. Hey, we're glad to have you visit Mississippi, boys. Enjoy your stay. Spend lots of money and catch lots of really good crappie. But please leave those deep freezers and those damn yo-yos (a yo-yo is a piece of fishing gear not a Yankee fisherman, for you uninformed) back in Indiana when you come to Lake Washington.

Grenada Reservoir can be really good in March, too, and Grenada has really caught on with our cousins from up North. The Grenada locals have become very protective of their fish and their home lake. They don't like crappie tournaments much and all the attention they bring to their wonderful fishery. Oddly, Grenadians don't like the special and much tighter Grenada crappie rules designed to minimize the impact made by crappie fishermen, either.

Grenada's water level can be problematic for lots of us who try to catch these early spawners from big boats. The Corps of Engineers has a water-level management plan, but oftentimes in March, the engineers find it impossible to match the lake level to their management plan because of too much or not enough rain. The internet link to Grenada's daily water level is www.mvk.usace.army.mil.

The biggest problem for some of us early on Grenada is access to the lake's best spawning spots. If the lake level is below 200 feet on the Grenada dam gauge, leave that big boat at the house, friend.

Finally, my third suggestion for great March crappie action is Ross Barnett Reservoir. Generally, March requires a pre-spawn pattern to be successful. Barnett doesn't really hit its spawn until April.

And that's fine with me. Personally, I'd much rather catch pre-spawn crappie for size and quality.

If you want to catch 'em as big as they grow, hit your favorite crappie lake this month. Oh, and take a kid with you.

You yo-yos from Missouri need to go try Alabama one year. Just kidding. Come on down.