As I write this in early February, it's spitting a combination of snow and sleet outside my office window. Although I've had a crappie-fishing buddy of mine call this morning to tell me he thinks I ought to be fishing today, I can't seem to really get in the mood. Temperatures in the mid-20s and sleet tend to dampen my enthusiasm.

I love winter crappie fishing - to a point. And right now is the time to be catching the biggest slabs of the entire year. Yep, late February through March for most of us here in Mississippi is that magical period where the biggest crappie in our home lakes take the bait and make the wall.

I've caught two 3-pound "wall-hangers" in my lifetime, and both these monsters were caught in March. The first came from Barnett on the last day of March several years ago, and was caught in "the big fish hole" down in the Roses' Bluff area of the Rez.

The heavier of the two displayed on my wall weighed in at 3.41 pounds, and was caught in a Magnolia Crappie Club tournament March 20, 2004, at Grenada. This monster still holds the MCC record, and, although the fish came on my pole, I must give my partner at that time, Charlie Henry of Morton, most of the credit.

Charlie showed us the spot where some monster fish were hanging out the day before. While pre-fishing what is known as "cow pasture" area, Charlie caught and weighed on certified scales a 3.38-pound monster. So guess where we went first thing on tournament morning the next day? The first fish of the day was that club-record fish.


Magnolia Crappie Club

Speaking of MCC, let me give you some details and information about the fishing club of which I am so proud. This personal appreciation has been focused for me by calls and emails from three similar organizations from three different states in the last few days. Or, stated another way, I've come to understand how others around the country view this Mississippi-based organization.

Recently, I have been contacted by folks from Missouri, Georgia and Alabama wanting some advice on crappie-club organizing, fundraising, membership drives and even a question or two on what we call "Splash for Cash" - our current fundraiser.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that serving as an example to others who see MCC, as one caller put it "doing it right," as a good model to follow, causes my chest to swell a little with pride. Some of my closest friends would say that's my head swelling, not my chest. But you get the point. MCC is doing something right - enough right that folks from other states are calling wanting to emulate us. Hey, that's pretty dadgum fine.

Here's what I know for sure. MCC is almost 20 years old. That makes us one of the oldest crappie fishing organizations, profit or non-profit, in the entire country. I think that longevity means that we must be doing something right.

And, get this. After almost 20 years of holding crappie tournaments, MCC is having a growth year. Imagine that - with the economy still waxing and waning, we're growing at a 20-percent clip this year. Folks, if I were a businessman (and I am), I'd be grinning from ear to ear if my business were having a 20-percent increase this year (and I am - grinning, that is).

MCC is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization. We don't pay anyone to be president or tournament director. This is not a business, but, as president, I do keep score when it comes to the club's overall health and growth. I know the benchmarks we've set in previous years. I've seen our best years and the worst years, and this year is turning out to be one of our best-ever years.

Don't misunderstand me. This is not just my baby. It has taken a lot of hard work from lots and lots of volunteers for lots of years to build what we have. I just happen to have been around when a handful of us started this thing, and I still enjoy the heck out of it. So, yeah, my head and chest swell just a little when some feller from Missouri or Georgia or Alabama calls and wants to know the "secrets of our success."

Those calls caused me to do a little "Sherlocking," as my buddy and another previous MCC president, Charles Lindsay of Pelahatchie, would put it. I pulled up "crappie clubs" on the search button of the internet. The only "local" club I could find that is bigger in numbers of members is a club in Texas. But, shoot, Texas is always bigger than anyone or anything, aren't they? CAT, or Crappie Anglers of Texas, is a big dog-gone outfit. They have over 200 members, and their tournaments appear to attract well over 50 boats per event.

MCC has just over 100 members, the most we've ever had as I recall was 135 or so, this year, and, through five of 10 scheduled tournaments this season, we're averaging 38 boats per event.

In addition to our regular tournaments this season, we held our first-ever (and largest event ever) Open back in September. We had 63 boats enter, and I can promise you that because we raised much-needed operating funds and signed up several new MCC members. We had such a great response from local and national sponsors that we'll definitely be doing this Open event again.

Plus, we'll close our season with the Magnolia Crappie State Championship - a big deal for us. This annual two-day event is the reward we treat ourselves to every year. The State Championship this year will be held at Wolf Lake, Yazoo City, in mid-September.

Look, the callers wanted to know our secrets. Here is some of what I told them. Our club is like a big family - sometimes a big dysfunctional family, but nonetheless a family. Here's why: We, by the nature of our game, come together on a regular basis, and winning is not the most important thing for most of our competitors. Don't get me wrong. We've had some of the most competitive and best fishermen in the country in our club, and most of our teams show up planning, plotting and, yes, even scheming how we're going to win.

We keep secrets from each other. We're constantly trying to come up with a lure, or a technique, or a spot or two that no one else knows about. And, we practice - that's right, I said practice - to perfect our crappie catching skills a lot.

We're bad to lie about where we caught them on practice day, what we caught them with or the size we caught. We'll just naturally gather somewhere off the lake under a shady tree, fire up a tailgate grill or two, and the fun and the lying commences.

We've been doing this for years, and we know that whoever has the floor, and is doing most of the talking, is telling a big one. And we like it. Family, remember, we're family.

Like a family, we also support one another without question to personal cost or convenience. Time and time again, I've seen our tournament competitors put down their jig poles and help another MCC boater in distress or disrepair, or help another fellow load and unload his boat, or loan another member a pole or two, etc, etc.

I've also seen some bickering, in-fighting and squabbles since day one over some of the silliest things. But none of our worst moments have resulted in bloodshed or gunfire - that I recall.

I'll be the first to admit that I've been right smack dab in the middle, or maybe even the cause, of some of the disagreements. But, that's family too, right? For the most part, like big families, we get along just swell 99 percent of the time.

I've seen chapels or churches filled with MCCers when we've served as pallbearers, or when I've been asked speak at a deceased club member's funeral. But that's what families do too, right?


We're getting younger, not older

Demographics and customer profiles are terms businesses use to describe our customers. Well, the demographics in MCC keep getting younger and younger, and that's a good thing.

One of the secrets to our longevity and success is our ability to attract new members. When I look at this year's roster, half our members are in their first or second year. I used to be concerned that as the natural course of things followed its path, that MCC, along with our older members, would eventually die, too.

Thankfully, that's just not the case.

Shoot, if I were running this as a business, my biggest asset and the thing of which I'd be most positive is the number of new faces that keep showing up. And let me tell you, MCC has attracted some of the brightest, most competitive and cooperative new members we've ever had.

Hey, I'm impressed with the energy and effort our newest members, some who are half my age or younger, bring to the table.

I'm here to tell you that MCC is in good hands for years to come. I look forward to competing with my changing, younger "family" - catching them as big as they grow on T-Day. You young fellers better watch out. There are still a few tricks up my sleeve.

Can somebody tell me where I put my jig pole?