Anglers are notorious for jumping the gun. Just as soon as Jack Frost quits nipping at their noses, they hook up their boats and hit the lakes. For too many, though, they find that the fishing doesn't match the forecast.

Crappie anglers who have been waiting on the big slabs to move into shallow water are no exception. Then when they don't get as many bites on the shallow cypress trees as they expect, they tuck their gear away for a few more weeks.

Rather than waiting it out, Greenville crappie tournament angler Brad Taylor suggests fishing a lake where the crappie really don't care that it's still a little early. For him and several of his fishing buddies, that water body is Lake Washington, which spans the distance between the small towns of Chatham and Glen Allan.

What's so special about this speck of a lake? To hear Taylor and his tournament partner Hugh Krutz put it, Lake Washington has the earliest spawning crappie in the state of Mississippi.

What does that mean for anglers? It's simple, really. If you want your first forays in February to be successful, point your truck toward west central Mississippi, and drop your boat into Lake Washington.

"The reason Washington is so good so early is that it is really shallow throughout the entire lake," Taylor explained. "There's one little old spot that's maybe 19 feet, but most of the deepest water is only 14 to 16 feet, and that only being in a limited area. Most of the lake is 6 to 8 feet deep."

Naturally, shallow water warms quicker than deep water, and as the water temperature starts to creep up throughout February, the crappie move up. There's no certain time they move up because crappie go off water temperature. And in a lake that warms quicker than all the rest, Taylor has seen crappie laying eggs during the middle of February.

"That's really early for the state of Mississippi," Taylor said. "And that lake has a history of producing big numbers of large fish. It's got a lot of pressure the last 10 years, but there are still a ton of fish and a ton of big fish, especially during the spawn."

There may not be the same number of 3-pound crappie that there were a few years ago, and Taylor acknowledged that a 2 1/2-pound crappie would be considered a big fish now. Anglers catch a lot of big crappie during the spawn, but a box of 2-pound crappie would be a more realistic goal.

For Taylor and Krutz, February is all about catching the big females. That's why they've developed a specific plan to ensure their baits are in front of the big girls rather than the little boys.

"What we've really got is a transition from deep to shallow water that starts at the beginning of February and goes on to the end of February and on into March," Krutz explained. "When we get a few warm days in a row, the fish start to disperse from the deep water into the shallows."

Krutz went on to verbally illustrate the scenario as being one in which crappie suspended out over the deep water first move to the shallow flats outside, and sometimes in between, the cypress trees. From there, the males will move to the outside edge of the cypress trees.

The females will hang out on the first little drop off out from the cypress trees where they wait for conditions to get just right to run into the shallow water and lay their eggs. The bigger female crappie won't stay shallow long, tough, so Taylor and Krutz spend more time on the water spider-rigging the drops rather than jig-poling the trees.

Depending on the time of the month and the weather patterns, Taylor and Krutz begin their search for the big females in one of two ways. If it's early or the weather has been cold, they start deep and work shallow. If it's late or the weather has been warm for a few days, they start shallow and work deep.

"If we start deep, we like to get in 10 to 12 feet of water somewhere in the middle third of the lake and just move around with our spider rigs until we locate some fish," Taylor said. "Every day as the water warms, they'll move shallower, and by the end of the month, a lot of fish will be on the edge of the trees."

On the other hand, if the team starts shallow, they run the edges of the trees mainly with a spider rig but sometimes with single jig poles to look for the males. Once they find the aggressive males, they back out a little bit because they know the females are holding somewhere close by in just a little bit deeper water.

Krutz defined their favorite section of the lake as the stretch between the locally known Glass House area to the north and the town of Glen Allen to the south. The deepest water in Lake Washington is positioned between these two points, and it gives crappie the ideal scenario for being able to check out the shallows without being too far from the deep.

"Lake Washington is definitely an open-water fishery," Krutz pointed out. "If they're not up on that first drop off, the big females are suspended just kind of hanging out in open water. There's really no way to pinpoint them because they don't relate to structure much at all. That's why we spider rig."

For most crappie anglers, the ideal way to find the big females will be to run the outside of the cypress trees with a spider rig until they catch some males, which are easily identified by their darker color or flat bellies. By this time, the females will have grown their egg sacks to the point they are really protruding at their bellies.

"If you're up there spider-rigging the outside of the cypress trees and you get on a bunch of males, start moving out toward deeper water just a little bit at a time," Taylor instructed. "Normally, the females aren't very far away from males that are up making beds. You may find the females 10 yards away, or you may find them out in the middle of the lake. Either way, they'll be out from those males."

You'll know it's time to make a turn off the trees and toward the lake when you get on a good pod of males. It's common to run a half mile of trees and not get a bite then catch 15 males all in a row.

When you get on that many all in a little area, something is right. Turn around and move out looking for the first little drop off. It may only be a foot or two drop, say from 3 feet down to 5 feet, but that's where the females are going to be.

Because they would rather catch eight 2-pound crappie rather than 30 1-pound crappie, Taylor and Krutz rarely stick a pole inside the trees. However, anybody just looking to catch a bunch of fish can have a field day fishing the males inside the trees with single jig poles.

If you would rather spend your time fishing instead of searching around for just a few females, Krutz said to pay attention to the weather. Although the water temperature will generally be in the mid 40s for most of the month, a week of warm weather will send droves of males to the cypress trees.

"I'm sure people have seen similar references in bass fishing stories," Krutz said, "but it's amazing how they won't bite for nothing during the winter, and all of a sudden three days of 60-degree weather and they go to busting. It's the same way for crappie. They're not going to spawn until the water hits the mid 60s, but they're heading to the banks when it gets in the mid to upper 50s."

To wrap it up, Taylor pointed out that not all the females are going to run into the cypress trees to spawn at Lake Washington. Many of the largest females will spawn in the open flats out from the trees - just another reason why Taylor and Krutz spend their time in front of the trees rather than in them.

Jack Frost may still be squeezing the warmth out of Mississippi during much of February, but he can't hang on forever. When his grip slips just a few days, you can bet the Lake Washington crappie are going to be making a beeline toward shallow water.

The only question is, are you going to be making a beeline to Lake Washington?