Hot dog! October is finally here!

I love October because it is the beginning of a new fishing season for me. Admittedly, my fishing calendar does not coincide with every one of yours - especially you deer hunters.

Indeed, I'd have to say the majority of the fishing world, especially the crappie fishing world, considers the fishing season to be winding down right now. I even see "season-ending" specials on fishing gear in the national wish books every year about this time.

But let me tell you, if you think that we can forget crappie fishing until next spring, boy, have I got a message for you with this month's crappie column.

Absolutely, one of the very best times to catch big, healthy, slab crappie begins right now. I'm not kidding, either. I know this is a tough sell. Shoot, it took me years - I mean, literally years - to convince the Magnolia Crappie Club to include fall tournaments in our regular events schedule, and these are some hard-core crappie fishing fools, let me tell you.

Tradition, tradition, tradition seems to be the big culprit for keeping crappie fishermen off the lakes during the fall. Tradition, followed closely by lack of experience with fall fishing, keeps lots of you at home. That's a shame. You don't know what you're missing.

But the times, they are a'changing, as evidenced by the fact that the two national crappie tournament circuits hold their annual championships in the fall. Why? Because the crappie catching is never better than during the next 60 to 90 days.

In fact, fall crappie fishing yields some of the biggest fish of the year, and as the water temperatures begin to cool, the crappie become as active and as aggressive as they get.

And, man, do they ever! There is no comparison to the amount of fight that a late October/early November white perch brings. Get some new string, boys. You're going to need it.

Boat safety

I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity I have here to remind all of us to practice basic safety rules with our crappie boats.

This summer, a good friend of mine, Billy Hall of Fannin, a man who has spent a lifetime on Ross Barnett Reservoir, darn-near killed himself when he ran head-on into a marker pole at the Rez. It was 8:00 on a calm, clear Saturday morning, and he was only moving from one fishing area to the next one.

He had traveled this same path hundreds of times before. There was absolutely no reason for him to run into that pole. None, other than he just didn't take the time to put his front fishing seats down.

And now, my good friend and his family face a long, challenging rehabilitation. He's lucky to be alive, and he probably wouldn't be had not it been that his first-time partner that morning was a volunteer fireman who knew enough life-saving skills to keep him alive until help could come and get him to the ambulance.

Billy and his family have a long, tough road back, and you can help. I know for a fact that Mississippi's outdoorsmen are a caring and giving bunch. Here is a great chance for you to make a difference in a life-long Mississippi fisherman's life. Call me at 601-624-0359 if you'd like to help. Or, make a contribution to the Billy Hall Fund at any Trustmark Bank.

What happened? A very popular boat setup for crappie fishermen currently is to place side-by-side fishing seats on the front deck. Practically every tournament team uses this setup these days. I have the same setup on my boat, and I love fishing this way. But I will be taking my front seats down all the way from now on, every time I crank that big motor.

George Walker and Billy Hall won an MCC tournament last winter fishing side-by-side. Billy was seriously hurt this summer when he ran head-on into a marker pole at Barnett after failing to put his front seats out of the way before moving to his next fishing spot.

There are other safety rules that lots of us are guilty of breaking. How many of you actually attach the kill switch lanyard to your buckled-up life jacket before you put the big motor in gear?

That's what I thought.

How many of you drive on the wrong side of the navigational channel?

Every danged one of you that I meet upriver at Ross Barnett drives your boat like you drive your pickup down the highway.

Why do you think the boat's steering wheel is on the opposite side of the boat from your truck? You're on the wrong side of the river, bubba. You should meet approaching boat traffic, and pass by with them on your right - not your normal dry-land left side.

Ever ask why the single marker poles marking the navigational channel in the middle of Ross Barnett and other open waters have big red-and-white signs on top of them? The left side is white. The right side is red. What could that possibly mean?

It means get your butt and your boat over on the white side, dummy.

What about when you make the return trip? Guess what, they put those signs on the other side of the pole, too. White means "O.K." Red means "drive on the other side of pole."

I will admit that on the waters I fish, going against "standard operating procedure" can be hazardous to my health - even though I may be doing it the right way. Lots of times, I've met other boats in the middle of Barnett. Both of us are traveling in excess of 60 m.p.h., barreling head-on into one another's path, like two trains meeting on the same track. One of us is on the wrong side of the navigational pole!

I bob to my right, but the other boat weaves to his left. We're still locked onto the same track, headed for disaster - closer and closer. I move to the other side of the marked boat lane. He makes the same move. Finally, at the last moment, out of sheer survival instinct, I swerve out of the lane altogether, throwing my arms into the air. We need a traffic cop and a few more people going to boat-driving school.

Finally, I urge you to take advantage of the fall crappie fishing this year, and to be safe while you're doing it. As the surface temperatures drop into the low 70s and eventually into the 60s, the baitfish hit the natural migration channels on your favorite lake moving upriver or into large bays and back branches.

Locate the shad, and you'll catch the crappie schooled up en masse like no other time of the year. Their only job right now is to eat everything that swims by, and that includes the minnow or the jig on the business end of your pole. Let's go catch some as big as they grow.