Let me tell you from first-hand experience the winter crappie pattern is on over at Chotard. Seems that every winter season on this beautiful, hidden-away crappie paradise located north of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, there is a day or two where the fishing is so outstanding that it is hard to describe.

New Year's Eve was a day with a couple of things dead-set against it - namely a very high and rapidly rising river stage. Plus, to beat all, it was the day of the dreaded full moon! And, if you've ever read any of my stuff, you know my personal feelings about the full moon phase and how I think (make that thought) it detrimentally influences the crappie bite.

Now, I've said many times here that I personally don't think the rising river keeps Chotard white perch from biting. Just because the river is rising doesn't mean they stop eating. Well, brother, they ate on this magical day.

The day started out an hour late for me because when I got up at 3 a.m., a dense fog (as predicted by the weatherman the night before) had descended upon my little part of the world.

"Yep," I said as I looked out the kitchen window pouring my first cup of coffee, "the weatherman got it right about the fog."

So I resigned myself to not risking life and limb driving 90 miles in the "soup." I told myself that it was OK - the full moon was going to mess with the bite anyway.

But around 5:30 or so, I pulled up the live traffic cams on the MS DOT website, just to look at the foggy conditions on I-20, and it was gone - the fog had lifted. Dang it, I'd wasted two hours putting around the house and the office. I should have been over at Chotard.

In a mad dash - knowing I was running at least an hour later than I usually am when headed to Chotard - I yanked my boat out of the shed, stopped and got minnows and gas, and gunned it toward Chotard.

When I finally got to Chotard, it was a beautiful morning. No wind, warmer than normal and the crappie were jumping in the boats of the "early crowd." Minnow fishermen all around me were steady catching huge crappie as I hurried to get set up. I'd made up my mind that I was going to try something new - trolling DEEP, and I mean really DEEP - running crank baits on winter time crappie.

You see, there is a popular, and I believe inaccurate, thinking out there by more experienced crappie crankbaiters that cold water slows down crappie to the point that they won't "chase a crankbait." I was about to test the lower limits of that water-temperature theory.

Chotard legend Shelton Culpepper, who had heard this same cold-water theory, was minnow fishing.

"Paul, you'd rather prove a man wrong than catch a fish, wouldn't you?" he said as he witnessed what I was putting in the water.

"Yep, I gotta try this, Shelton," I said.

So I ran cranks from about 8:30 til noon. I learned three things: 1) Wintertime crappie will bite cranks when the surface temperatures are in the 40s. Don't let anyone tell you they won't. 2) The active, feeding crappie were crowded into small schools and not wide-spread all over the lake this particular day. Only small hotspots produced bites as I pulled cranks through them. I spent most of the morning traveling long distances between schools and bites. But the bites I got were huge! 3) A magnum crappie will bite a magnum-sized crankbait.

Now, you more innovative, flexible, willing-to-try-something-different types pay attention. I'd been using crankbaits about 3 inches long from tip to tip - a deep diver with lots of action (see last month's column). This time, I put on its big brother. Storm Lure Company calls it a Magnum Wiggle Wart, and it is approximately 50-percent bigger with a deeper dive claim than its little brother, the regular Wiggle Wart.

This monster bait caught monster crappie. I was so surprised and impressed. I was within bragging distance of Mr. Culpepper when I caught the first slab on these deep divers, and I couldn't help but let him and everyone else within earshot hear about it.

Out of the hundreds of crankbaits I own, I had only five of these huge baits with me. I bought these things by accident over the internet thinking I was getting the "regular" size. Basically, I had thrown these over-sized "mistakes" into my "never use" tackle box.

But this was a magical day - one filled with challenges, and I loved every minute of it. The predicted fog didn't last long. The late start was challenged and dealt with - I was catching up quick. The rising river was not a problem. The full moon - the biggest challenge of all from my point of view - was a non-factor. The supposed challenge of catching crappie on fast-moving, long-lined artificials when the water temperatures are in the 40s? Yeah, right, you keep believing that one, brother.

And the urge to put down my experiment and take up a minnow pole every time I came within sight of Culpepper and his fishing partner, Brian Battle, throwing another slab in the box? Challenge met, at least up til about noon.

Then I couldn't stand it any longer, and put the cranks up and "got serious" about trying to catch up. I didn't know the minnow bite was so danged good. You see, Culpepper's a sneaky, quiet kind of guy. Battle ain't much better. They limited out (that's 100 fish, folks) before 1 p.m., and motored in to the cleaning table.

I stayed much later, catching 'em "as big as they grow," one after another, trying to get my limit, too.