In most of Mississippi, the peak of the crappie spawn, that magical time of spring when the popular fish move shallow and are vulnerable, happens in April, but veteran crappie fishermen love March just as much.

“Heck, anybody can catch them when they’re spawning,” laughed Paul Thomas of Jackson, who loves to fish at Barnett Reservoir, Eagle Lake and Lake Washington. “But, you can catch a bigger average fish in the month before that if you can track their migration to the shallows. That just means finding a ditch or creek or any other roadway they can follow from the deeper open water to the shallow coves or pockets where they spawn.

“Later in March, as the males start to move up in the shallows, you can find the females staging in deep water. That’s when you can really wax the big slabs. If you know a spawning area in 2 to 4 feet of water, back out to the nearest drop to 5, 6 or even 10 feet of water, and start fishing that drop or troll around a deeper flat until you find them.”

Mississippi’s Top 5 pre-spawn crappie lakes are no surprises, since they’re already considered among the best waters in the country.

1. Eagle Lake: This old oxbow lake north of Vicksburg is a rarity in that it provides both black and white crappie, and two entirely different patterns to find them. For black crappie, fish under the big piers and boathouses, but the secret is to fish shallower than you’d expect. Eagle’s big black slabs suspend shallow in the shade even on the coldest of fronts, making them perfect candidates for a single pole and jig/minnow combo. The big whites stay in open water and suspend deep to dodge the sun. Using electronics to pinpoint the schools, saturate the area with multiple rigs with minnows and jigs.

2. Barnett Reservoir: The big lake near Jackson is an ideal pre-spawn lake since it provides so much deep timber in the old lakebeds and stumps along the creeks and ditches leading from the river to the shallow spawning grounds. But, one often-overlooked pattern available in March is the many riprap banks on the lower main lake. Spring sunshine warms those rocks and generates the food chain that draws crappie to those banks. They will eventually spawn on those rocks but before that they will move close and stage just off the first drop.

3. Grenada Lake: For pre-spawn on this lake, find the suspended females in the creek channels that lead back into the big coves. Secondary points that jut out near the creeks are ideal areas to concentrate fish. On warm days, by late March, the deepest pockets will have females hanging on the edges of drops in 4 to 6 feet of water. Trollers can wax them good in that situation. The upper river channels are also good to learn because in March, winds can eliminate a lot of main lake waters leaving only the rivers as viable choices.

4. Chotard and Albermarle Lakes: These linked oxbows just north of Eagle Lake were always thought impossible to fish in the colder months due to rapidly changing water levels in the Mississippi River. However, in the past two decades as fish-finding electronics have improved, fishermen have learned that crappie hold in big wads chasing shad schools. Electronics can pinpoint the fish and it usually requires a multi-pole rig with an array of jigs and minnow combinations at staggered depths.

5. Lake Washington: Further up the Delta and just off Highway 1 near Glen Allan, this extremely old oxbow presents a totally different challenge for crappie fishermen. A relatively shallow oxbow with limited open water natural cover, its crappie population stages on the flats outside the tree lines in various depths from 5 to 10 feet of water. The key on Washington is to cover as much water as possible until you find the hot area. Then it’s pretty easy to fill a limit by just drift fishing.