While talking with Magnolia Crappie Club tournament director Hugh Krutz recently, he told me that crappie never really stop biting at any time during the year.

"People just stop fishing for them," he insisted. "And Ross Barnett is just about the best place you can catch crappie when lots of people have just stopped fishing. There's a bottleneck there where the Highway 43 bridge crosses the lake, and the spot there known as the Welfare Hole just congregates so many fish."

I could only surmise that a spot called the Welfare Hole was a place that was only recently named as such under some new government program that promised a fish in every net. However, Krutz informed me that the Welfare Hole is a well-known community hole during the winter.

"I've always been told that the Welfare Hole got its name because it was a place that everybody could fish and catch enough crappie for dinner," he added. "That's an old tale from the beginning of the lake, so I guess this spot's been the place to be for a long time."

Although Ross Barnett Reservoir in Jackson is known as one of the state's premiere crappie fisheries, knowing how to fish the lake during the coldest winter months can keep you from becoming one of those anglers who hang up their poles until the spring.

According to Krutz and his tournament partner and Magnolia Crappie Club president Brad Taylor, fishing the Rez when the temperature is low starts at the Welfare Hole. That is, if there is current flowing through the bottleneck at the bridge. If there's not, catching crappie becomes a little bit more of a challenge.

Once the air temperature in central Mississippi gets down into the low 30s and upper 20s, shad move into the deepest holes throughout the main lake, and where the shad go, the crappie are sure to follow.

If there is current pushing through the lake, Krutz and Taylor say both move to the deep holes off the edges of the main channel to get away from the swiftly moving water. However, if there is little to no current, the shad and crappie will relocate back to the main channel itself where they can be found either on the edges or right out in the middle

"As those shad start migrating up the river channel, the crappie follow them," said Krutz. "And if there is current, the Welfare Hole has the best bite in the lake. When the water flows under the 43 bridge, it creates a big eddy pool, which is slack water, right there at the bottom of the bottleneck - the Rankin County side of the bridge."

Aside from the Welfare Hole, Taylor says anglers can also fare just as well by fishing two similar areas down the lake a little bit. The deep holes known to Taylor as Big Lake over by Brown's Landing and Clear Lake are as good as the Welfare Hole and maybe just a little bit less crowded.

"Why I like Big Lake is that it's kind of on the west side of the lake," said Taylor, "and the current comes through the bridge and makes a big eddy over there because Highway 43 kind of blocks the current.

"Just like the Welfare Hole, shad and crappie get in this hole to get out of the current. Most crappie that live in that general area around Brown's Landing move there also because it's a deep hole close to the river channel."

Clear Lake is down toward the middle of the main lake, and it isn't much more than just a deep hole right off the river ledge. There is a bunch of structure in it, but Taylor says the crappie really don't relate to it during the winter. Rather, they get in Clear Lake behind a group of stumps that break the current.

What the Welfare Hole, Big Lake, Clear Lake and another spot called the Oil Well Woods all have in common is that they all offer slack water when current flows through the lake. Shad and crappie stack up out of the current and become easy pickings for anglers who don't mind fishing in cold weather.

However, when the current slows or disappears altogether, many crappie return to the main channel, where they would really rather be in an effort to migrate up the lake. Although there may not be any rhyme or reason to where they can be found on any given day, Krutz says the key to finding them daily in the channel is knowing how to use your electronics to find balls of shad.

"If there isn't any current, you just have to slowly move around from the river ledge to the middle of the channel until you locate some shad," he said. "They'll show up as big gray balls on your fish-finder screen. Crappie could be sitting right on the ledge, or they could be schooled up out in the middle. You've got to move around."

Actually, fishing Ross Barnett when the thermometer bottoms requires moving around no matter if you're fishing one of the deep holes out of the current or right in the middle of the channel itself. And according to Krutz and Taylor, there's no better way to move around than with six 14-foot B'n'M Capps & Coleman trolling poles sticking out the front and sides of their boat.

During the winter at Ross Barnett, these tournament partners almost exclusively slow-troll these areas with medium-sized minnows suspended under their spider rig. And to double their chances of quickly discovering how deep the crappie are suspended, they fish two minnows per pole with the B'n'M Capps & Coleman Double Minnow Rigs.

"We use those Double Minnow Rigs because they are premade leaders that make it so easy to fish two minnows on the same line," said Taylor "I like to start out with the 1/2-ounce weight, but if they're biting and wind is not a problem, I'll go up to an ounce or two to aggressively cover a lot of water. But if they don't seem to want to bite, I'll downsize my weight to help out with that finicky bite."

"And the whole purpose of fishing the spider rig is to cover multiple water depths at the same time," Krutz interjected. "When we're fishing the Double Minnow Rig, we pay particular attention to whether the crappie bite the top or the bottom minnow. We already know how deep each minnow is running, and if we can pattern them at a particular depth, we know most all the feeding crappie are going to be stacked at that same depth."

Although many anglers might expect the tips of their poles to bounce down when a crappie bites, Krutz and Taylor say that's not the case. Because they feed up, crappie take the minnow in such a way that it pushes the weight up and takes the load off the line. This in turn forces the top of a jig pole to move upward rather than down.

"Fishing a line you can see like that HiVis Yellow Vicious line can really help you spot more of the light bites," Krutz said, "but nothing's going to beat watching the tips of those poles this time of year. If they move up, grab the pole and catch that fish because you've got a bite."

If you've already put away your poles for the winter, get them back out because the cold weather isn't nearly as bad on the crappie as it is on your psyche. And as many anglers have discovered since its inception, there's no need for the government to put a chicken in your pot because, when the temperature goes low, Ross Barnett will put a crappie in your creel.