It's April, and it's the peak of the annual crappie spawn on most lakes in Mississippi. If there were only one month out of the year that a fellow could choose to go crappie fishing, most anglers would pick April.

Crappie this month have one thing on their minds, and that's making more crappie. For that reason, crappie become easy, predictable targets all month long. Just find shallow water on your favorite fishing hole, and put your jig next to the first stump or brushpile you find.

It's really not that simple, but the reality is not far from this simplistic approach. It is true, especially on large bodies of water, that not all shallow water holds spawning crappie. Fish will find their preferred spawning areas, and will use these same areas year after year.

The best spawning areas tend to have sandy or hard bottoms and offer some sort of structure. Woody structure tends to be the best type. The best spots are also protected from wind, current and fluctuating water levels.

And, shallow is a relative term. "Shallow" spawning crappie at Ross Barnett may be from 2 to 10 feet deep, with the most popular depth being 3 to 5 feet. At Grenada, Enid and Eagle, waders find spawning crappie in water so shallow that much of the good area is not accessible by boat. On Lake Washington in the Delta, crappie tend to spawn really early and really shallow. They especially like the cypress trees found on the west side of the lake.

One important thing to remember this month, and every other month for that matter, is that some days are better than others. Even spawning crappie "turn off" or move because of environmental factors. Everything from dropping temperatures to wind to current to fishing pressure to changing water levels will influence where spawning crappie locate and how well they bite or don't bite.

Some of my favorite shallow-water experiences are worth sharing. We were fishing a crappie tournament on Grenada during the spawn a few years ago, and my partner and I were struggling to find big slabs when a young lady driving a 4-wheeler carrying a cane pole drove up the bank in front of where we were fishing.

She asked us how the fish were biting, and we told her that we were not catching many. She put on some rubber boots and waded out into ankle deep water, and, using the end of her cane pole, she "swept" away a big bunch of floating debris. We watched with interest as she readied her pole with a very short line and dropped that jig into really shallow water right under where the debris pile had been.

Bam! Immediately she stuck and landed a big slab. Pitching the slab onto the bank, she quickly turned back toward the lake and dropped her short-lined jig back in the same place. Bam! Turn, pitch, rotate back, drop, bam!

Well, you get the picture, right?

After she repeated this process half a dozen times, she waded back to her beached fish, threw them in a bucket on the back of her 4-wheeler and smiled at us as she waved over her shoulder, and drove to her next spot.

I used to love to fish the grass beds at Barnett. I had my favorite patches of grass that seemed to hold big crappie for most of the month of April. On one tournament at Barnett, I had found really big fish in a grassy area east of the S-Curve on Friday.

On Saturday, the morning of the tournament, my partner and I waited with great anticipation for the blast off and raced to this not-too-secret hotspot. We were so proud to see that we were the first to hit this area on this particular morning, and we hurriedly fished through our first three or four patches without getting even a bump.

By the time a fellow tournament team, Monty Blount and Steve Price, showed up, we were convinced the crappie had changed their minds or changed their location. Monty and Steve started on the same grass patch where we had started only 15 minutes earlier.

"Don't waste your time, boys. These crappie have moved," we volunteered to our two tournament buddies.

Well, you guessed it: Monty and Steve put on a clinic much to our dismay. We had to move on to our next spot to get out of their way and to leave the embarrassment.

And, yes, crappie spawn as deep as 10 feet on some of our lakes. I said it. I stand by it. I can prove it. I'd like to see a wade fishermen tackle these babies.

On my home lake of Ross Barnett Reservoir, there are some 8- to 10-foot-deep ledges that hold spawning crappie every year. The ones I know about are down on the deep end of Barnett in the Roses Bluff area. Typically, these deep-water spawners run later in the season, and may even spawn into June.

One of my favorite ways to catch spawning crappie is to pitch a jig into a spawning area suspended under a small cork. Typically, I use this technique in "open water" situations where there is no visible cover or structure. But, something - usually a submerged brushpile, a sandy shelf with a distinct drop or some man-made fish attractor - is holding lots of spawning crappie. The trick is to fish these crappie without disturbing them buy running your trolling motor over them or wading into them.

I find that an 8-foot jig pole with a spinning reel, cork and my favorite crawdad jig doctored with some Real Craw really works on these "open-water" spawners. I love these situations because so many crappie fishermen key in on what they can see, and every wader or every person with a boat hits the visible, easy targets.

Find yourself, or make yourself, something that holds spawning crappie that is totally below the water's surface, and try pitching a cork to it. You remember the thrill of watching that cork disappear into the depths from your younger years, don't you? Well, I sure do, and I really love catching 'em as big as they grow every time that cork goes under.