Many years ago while fishing Pickwick Lake with his father, Roger Gant of Corinth made a startling discovery after he laid his rod down and let the boat drift across the lake.

The father and son had been casting for crappie along Pickwick's shoreline, and decided to take a break to eat lunch. The unattended jig on Gant's line eased across the bottom of the lake, where it was promptly devoured by a crappie. The pair spent the rest of the day plucking slabs from the middle of Pickwick just drifting across the open water.

This came as somewhat of a surprise to Gant, who at the time was under the impression crappie only lived in shallow water.

Later on, Gant would also come to discover that crappie not only bit in deep water out in the middle of the lake, they were also active out there year round. These findings changed the way he fished for crappie forever.

Fast forward to the present, and it's no secret that fishermen can catch crappie by going to them in deep water rather than waiting for them to come to the bank in the spring. Especially with April looming on the horizon, many crappie fishermen will be out on lakes all across the Magnolia State, drifting and trolling with as many rods as they can handle.

Most of these modern-day deep-water crappie anglers can be seen trolling from the front of their boats, with rods sticking out in all directions like floating pin cushions.

If you look closely enough, especially on Pickwick and surrounding waters in the northwest corner of the state, you'll even see some of them trolling sideways. Most likely, they learned this tactic from Gant - and so can you.

"Side pulling is a controlled way of drift fishing," Gant said. "It's a way to put crappie jigs precisely where you want them and keep them in the strike zone. The trolling motor is mounted on the opposite side of the boat, and we're pulling the boat backward while watching the depthfinder."

According to Gant, a good depthfinder is a necessity to locate groups of crappie scattered over creek edges and holding on stumps and humps. He believes crappie will seek a preferred depth as a comfort zone. Once he finds that depth, he can load the boat with slabs.

"I'll fish along an area starting on the shallower side and work my way deeper until I find a depth at which they'll bite," he said. "Once I know that, I can go to an area that has stumps or edges at that depth, and wear them out."

While structure is a plus, he also believes that this specific "comfort zone" is more important. He says crappie will use depth as a sort of structure, holding at that ideal depth, and ease their way up through the water column until they are ready to go into shallow water and spawn.

Over the years, Gant has refined his approach to side-trolling, which has resulted in War Eagle Boats seeking his assistance in designing a boat especially for the tactic. The most noticeable difference to Gant's approach is that the trolling motor is mounted to the side gunnel of his boat. This allows him to control both the tiller steer outboard motor and the electric trolling motor without ever leaving his seat at the rear of the boat.

"When I turn the boat sideways, all of my clients have an equal shot at the fish," said Gant, "whereas in a tight-lined setup, the two in the front get first crack, and anybody behind gets leftovers. It becomes a friendly competition between my clients, and it's usually the one who pays the most attention to the rods who wins."

For pulling March crappie out of Pickwick, Gant and his brother Bill, who together operate Super Pro Guide Service from their bait and tackle shop just across the state line in Counce, Tenn., target natural structure on flats along breaklines. The guide relays that when Pickwick was cleared before impoundment, the trees were cleared by hand using cross-cut saws. The result is a lot of leftover stumps that hold plenty of crappie.

"For us, we try to get that jig down on the bottom and pull it just across the tops of those stumps," said Gant.

This month, the Super Pro guides will be targeting three of the main creeks that feed the Mississippi side of Pickwick. Gant looks for crappie to be staging along breaklines moving from deeper water to shallow in Bear Creek, Indian Creek and the connector to the Tenn-Tom waterway, Yellow Creek. Gant provided a run-down on where he typically finds crappie as the month progresses.

"In Yellow Creek, we'll find crappie in around 20 feet of water moving from the area around the Elks Club down to Goat Island," said Gant. "By the end of the month, they'll be on the other side of Goat Island working up into shallow waters for the spawn.

"For Bear Creek, the fish will stack up real good in Mill Creek. Then as the month progresses and the water warms up into April, they will be all over the shallows in Mill Creek all the way up to the railroad bridge."

"Indian Creek is the smallest of the three. We'll find crappie about midway back as the month begins, and then they'll work back into the shallows from there."

The guide offers that Pickwick is not normally a muddy water lake, but if they get a lot of rainfall, he will move down the lake to fish some of the tributaries closer to the dam that get more mountain stream water, which he claims does not muddy up as badly as creeks that collect a lot of farmland run-off.

Gant's arsenal of baits is either a ¼- or 1/8-ounce hair jig that's made by his older brother and is sold under the name Super Pro jigs.

Up until the first of March, the guides will use only the hair jig loaded with Bait Mate fish attractant. Once March rolls around, they'll begin tipping the jig with either a Southern Pro hot grub or a live minnow.

"Hair jigs have more action in the water than plastic," said Bill Gant, who began making jigs over 40 years ago. "After people found out we made them, we started selling them in a little café in Corinth. Now we sell a few of them through the mail, but most of them are sold through Pickwick Store, our bait shop and convenience store.

"We tie two jigs on each rod. The upper jig is tied straight in line with three half hitches, and the bottom jig is tied to the end of the line about 18 inches below that using a barrel knot. I don't like loops in the line, they can foul and cause problems. I'll even pull the bottom jig knot forward to the front of the eye."

According to the Gant brothers, the trick to keeping the jigs in the strike zone while side trolling is to maintain contact with the bottom without dragging bottom. Side-trolling with the wind is preferred because any water current created by the wind will cause crappie to face into the wind, and going with the wind makes the boat easier to control.

"Find the right depth the crappie are at, then work across that depth with the wind," Roger Gant suggested. "I gauge my jig depth by pulling off a length of line from the reel to the first guide. Then it's just a matter of counting down the number of pulls until that jig hits bottom. As the speed of the troll increases, more pulls are needed to keep the jigs in the strike zone.

"From there, the fish will tell you if you're on the mark, or you can watch the rod tip to see if you're bumping bottom, then a turn or two off the bottom is where you want to be."

With jigs just off the bottom, Gant instructs his clients, who fish with two rods apiece, to set their rods across the side gunnel in specially designed rodholders and then lay the rod butts together on the seat between the angler's legs. In this manner, the rods form a "V" across the gunnel. Concentration is key because any movement in the sensitive rod tip can be a fish.

"Seeing the bite is the difference between you catching fish and watching your buddy catch fish," Gant said.