After giving up on trying to catch deep crappie in hot water and even hotter air this past summer, many North Mississippi crappie anglers await October with the anticipation of a real Republican running in the 2010 elections.

To hear crappie tournament angler and B'n'M pro John Harrison from Calhoun City tell it, "People have been in the house all summer long, and they're just itching to get out on the lake and drop a jig for a big crappie. When the weather starts cooling off in October, there's no better time to shake off the summertime blues and slam some North Mississippi slabs."

Harrison pointed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes as being particularly good waters for catching fall crappie as they undergo a nearly simultaneous transition that turns them on this time of year. Sardis, Enid and Grenada begin cooling off as their water levels fall to winter pool, and that is the combination that leads Harrison to assert that they all fish the same.

According to Harrison, what typically happens to the corps lakes is that they are gradually drawn down to their winter conservation pools beginning on Aug. 1, and this slow fall creates current throughout the lake.

While this alone is enough to concentrate crappie on the downcurrent side of shallow wood cover, there are other forces in action that only amplify the action.

"While that water is falling, it's also cooling down," said Harrison. "Those two forces at work send the crappie swimming up the lakes until they find a sweet spot that offers the perfect combination of bait and water temperature. Add in the fact that the water gets all stained up, and we get a perfect combination that puts crappie tight to stumps in shallow water."

Although there's no doubt that typical fishing logic dictates that these shallow crappie get on the downcurrent sides of these stumps and the muddy water puts them "between the tree and the bark," Harrison feels there might be something else at play.

"Have you ever been out in the woods deer hunting on a cold morning?" he asked. "You lean up against a tree and felt how warm it was? Well, I think crappie like to get close to those stumps for the same reason. A tree in the water will hold heat just like a tree in the woods, and when the water starts to get really cool, they'll snuggle right up there against it to warm up."

To find concentrations of fall crappie in the corps lakes, Harrison and his tournament partner Kent Driscoll with B'n'M Poles point their boats to the east and go as shallow as they can, even to the point of kicking up mud with their trolling motors.

They look for wood cover in the form of the aforementioned stumps or other kinds like stake beds or brushpiles.

"They like to get out on the flats in the middle of the lake," said Driscoll. "There really doesn't have to be a creek channel, drops or anything like that around. They're just out on the flats. And because the water tends to be falling, we don't find them up near the banks. It's all out on the flats."

Productive stump flats bottom out in about 6 to 8 feet of water during October, but as the water temperature cools even further, the most productive depth gets even shallower. Harrison and Driscoll typically get up in 2 to 3 feet of water by late October and into November.

What typically happens when the crappie gang up at their preferred depth is that they continue to hold in that depth as the water falls by moving back toward the main lake with the water.

In other words, crappie holding in 3 feet of water won't be in 1 foot next week because the water fell out on them. Rather, they'll stay in 3 feet by adjusting their position to stay at that same depth.

Harrison has discovered in his 40 years of fishing the corps lakes that the crappie seem to like the small stumps better than the larger ones. In fact, he searches for stumps that are no bigger than his arm and as small as his thumb - nothing more than stickups really.

"And I like for these smaller stumps to be scattered rather than grouped up in tight thickets," he said. "There are some stump thickets in Grenada that I've never caught a fish on, but I've smoked them on the scattered stuff around those same thickets. My rule of thumb is the smaller and more scattered the stumps, the better."

Harrison and Driscoll work their way back toward the main lake as the water continues to fall and the crappie continue to move with it. However, they rarely make it back out in the main lakes because these corps lakes generally have the best stump fields in what would be the upper ends of the lakes toward the east, and Sardis, Grenada and Enid all run from their dams to the east.

Wherever they find productive stumps, Harrison says their most productive presentations have usually been almost dead slow. He related some friendly advice he got from a good friend of his that is on up in age, and he's taken his words with him fishing ever since.

"He told me something that didn't make sense to me at the time," Harrison began. "He said that if I moved into the stumps and fished 10 (stumps) without catching a fish I was fishing too fast. And he didn't care how slow I was fishing 10 without a bite, it just wasn't slow enough. Since then, I've dedicated myself to fishing slow and hard."

Slowing down slower than slow might seem like an impossible task to most anglers, but Harrison says the key to slowing down is to realize when you're getting caught up in the "grass is greener at the next stump" kind of mentality.

"You get out there in those stump fields and every stump looks better than the one you're fishing," he said. "Before you know it, you're moving from stump to stump so fast that you've spent more time bouncing around than you have fishing. If you sense you've gotten in that kind of rhythm, force yourself to slow down and wait them out."

To get the right presentation in the shallow, muddy water, Harrison and Driscoll hold bright-colored jigs like orange/black, pink/black and orange/chartreuse as still as they can beside the stumps. And the shallower they fish, the lighter the jighead they use.

"We use a lot of 1/16- and 1/32-ounce heads," said Driscoll. "And since the bite can be a little finicky this time of year, we go down to the 1/32 a lot.

"Harrison told me one time last year he had been catching his limit every day, then one day he struck out with the 1/16-ounce head. He tied on a 1/32, and caught 17 within just a couple hours."

"That's right," Harrison said. "A lot of times you've got to put that jig beside that stump and just hold it there, especially if you're after the bigger fish. I can't tell you how many times I've put a jig beside a stump but didn't get a bite until I had counted past 10. You may catch a few small ones by putting a jig in there and bumping it a time or two, but those old big ones didn't get big by being stupid."

While the great fall crappie fishing will last until early December on the corps lakes, Harrison says that the early part is when the fish will be most at the mercy of passing cold fronts. In fact, cold fronts will shut them down early in the morning throughout this month until the fish get used to the changing weather patterns.

"They won't shut down as bad during November and December," Harrison said. "During October, they've just come out of the hot-water summer pattern, and those fronts will lock them down for a while during the mornings until the sun has a chance to warm the water. Stick with them long enough, though, and you can still catch crappie after fronts, but it probably won't be until later in the day."

Although we don't know when the insanity coming out of Washington D.C. might end, we do know this bite will come to an end with the onslaught of winter. So if you've been sitting around anticipating the crappie bite to turn back on, don't wait too long.

No matter if you fish Grenada, Sardis or Enid, you can find them biting around shallow stump fields throughout the fall.