"Are the crappie biting yet?" I hear that question over and over this time of the year.

For a lot of crappie fishermen, April is the time - the only time - to head to their favorite fishing hole.

That's good, and that's too bad, too.

April is prime time for catching crappie. It is the height of the crappie spawn, and for many "part-timers," it's the only time they know where and how to catch a mess.

It's good that more folks pick up a fishing pole this month. It's great seeing everyone having lots of fun catching crappie. A day on the lake this month can yield lifetime memories of catching limits of white perch.

April is a great month.

But it's too bad that many people think crappie bite only this month. They're missing out on great crappie action the rest of the year.

But I'll leave those lessons to later columns. Just let me say that if you had to pick one month to concentrate on crappie fishing, April is definitely the month.

Catching crappie in April is easier for most of us because crappie are very predictable. You'll find that year after year, crappie will migrate back to the same shallow-water spots, and they become easy targets because of this repetitive cycle. You'll find the same stumps or grass beds or shorelines hold spawning crappie year after year. Where you've had success before is the place you can expect similar success this year and years into the future.

OK, so let's suppose you're new to the sport or would like to find some new April honey holes. What do you look for? How do you know where to fish in April in an area you've never fished?

Experience tells me that crappie look for spawning areas that have some of the following characteristics.

Woody structure is the preferred place for crappie to lay their eggs and raise this year's crop. Fish shallow water, that's usually anything less than 5 feet in depth, around stumps, brushtops, laydowns, stake beds, piers or anything else that is wood. The best woody structure will be dead, but don't overlook flooded live willow bushes, iron wood thickets and cypress knees.

Grass beds and pad stems are good spots, too. For many lakes, the grass beds don't come into play until late in the month of April, and the water depths will typically be 1 to 2 feet.

There is no more fun to me than busting a crappie up through some thick grass. They all look like giants for some reason when they first appear in the middle of all that matted-up green stuff. I find the best pad stems to be the dead ones left over from last year's season. A few new green stems will begin to show in the same spots, too. After all, the lily pads come back in the same places year after year.

Little or no wooden structure in your lake? No grass beds in sight? No pad stems? Then look for sandy shorelines and sandy bottoms. Even small gravel cover can be good. Now, if you find sandy bottoms with some isolated woody structure (natural or man-made), you've just hit the jackpot.

What fishing tackle do I recommend? I prefer to use a jig pole 10 feet in length and straight jig. Some experts will tell you that hair jigs work better than rubber skirts, and they're right - sometimes. And sometimes it just doesn't matter.

Location, location, location is the key - not so much the color and texture of your jig, although there are some days when the "correct" jig color will catch twice as many fish during the spawn. The best advice I can give you concerning specific jig type and color is to try several. The crappie will let you know which ones they prefer.

When do the fish really start biting? There's that question again, dog-gone it. My normal answer is, "Sir, they bite every day."

I will amend that smart-aleck answer to say the action really picks up as the water temps warm into the 60s. I firmly believe that not all the crappie spawn at the same time, and certainly when we compare lakes around the state, the crappie spawn is spread over a six- to eight-week period.

The first area in the state to turn on seems to be the southern Delta. Lake Washington, for example, has been good for a month now. Generally, when the surface temps hit 62, buddy, the annual run is on.

Take a kid with you this month. Teach that girl or boy how to jig fish, bait a hook and take a fish off the hook. April is the best month to make those lifetime memories for those impressionable youngsters.

And while you're teaching 'em how to fish, teach 'em a little about conservation and sportsmanship. The daily limit on most crappie lakes in Mississippi is 30 per person per day. Teach our youngsters that we don't have to keep every dad-blame crappie we catch.

Leave some so they can get to be "as big as they grow."