Sometimes it seems impossible to report on crappie fishing here in Mississippi under the column heading of "As Big As They Grow." I will admit it. For over a month now (at the time of this writing), crappie fishing in Mississippi has been kind of an "on again, off again" proposition.

The February crappie tournament on Barnett Reservoir for the Magnolia Crappie Club provided one of the lowest catch rates in our 19-year history. And we were at Barnett Reservoir, one of the premier crappie lakes in the entire country.

Pitiful is the best adjective I can use. Half of the 42 teams entered did not catch a fish on T-Day. The winning team, Kent Driscoll of Germantown, Tenn., and first-time tournament fisherman guest partner Todd Wyssinger of Jackson managed to win with seven crappie weighing 7.52 pounds. And they told me that at noon, they hadn't had a bite.

The winning strategy was a desperate last-trick-in-the-boat kind of thing, "dock shooting." They went to the Main Harbor area, out of the wind, and starting "shooting" the docks and decks with short whip-like rods in a sling-shot fashion in that shallow cove. They caught seven fish averaging just over a pound. They won.

I recall only two other tournaments in 19 years - that's over 200 tournaments total - where the bite was worse. Once at Grenada - that's right, I said Grenada - we only had eight teams catch at least one fish. That was back in the 1990s, for crying out loud. And 2 years ago on Ferguson, we couldn't pay more than 10 teams because that's all that brought at least one fish to the scales.


Things change

As we all know, this time of the year, things change quickly when we're talking about crappie fishing in Mississippi. This early spring marks one of the fastest transitions from cold-water winter conditions to "it's on" springtime fishing.

Our February crappie tournament on Barnett was fished on frigid waters with the surface temps ranging from 38 to 41 degrees. Two weeks later, after a run of near record-high temperatures during the day and warmer-than-normal nights, the surface temperature jumped into the low 60s.

Here are some early reports I've gotten. Bee Lake, located on Highway 49 E, north of Yazoo City, is currently burning it up. "It's on" is the timely phrase for this old oxbow. Reports of limits of huge slabs have come to me from several sources. Do not attempt to launch a big fiberglass boat on Bee Lake. Launching is not the problem. Getting that heavy boat back on the trailer and off that broken ramp is.

And Eagle Lake seems to magically be producing limits of slab crappie once again. I'd given up on Eagle after our last two tournaments over there during the winter months. Seemed to me that unless you happened upon the right pier, you couldn't get a bite at Eagle. They tell me that's not the case this spring with monster white and black crappie hitting the shallows early.

Lake Washington, one of my personal favorite lakes, is currently hot. This old delta lake, more than 700 years old, is one of the most fertile and productive lakes in Mississippi. I just hope it doesn't turn into the next Eagle Lake because of the pressure.

Seems Lake Washington has made the radar screen of our crappie fishing friends "up north." And, man, do they ever cover up this grand old Mississippi treasure during the early spring.

Personally, I've tried to determine the upper and lower temperature ranges where crankbait trolling for crappie really are. We've been told by "experts" that crankbaiters shouldn't waste our time until surface temps hit the 60-degree mark.

Based on personal trials and tribulations, I'll agree that crankbaits don't produce in early spring until we hit that magical 60-degree mark. But I'll also contribute that there are exceptions to the 60-degree rule. Examples - I had a really good day on Chotard this winter trolling crankbaits in 48-degree surface temps, and I've had several really good days the last couple of late falls/early winters with crankbaits when the surface temps were in the low 50s.

I've made it my mission, just because I like it, to continue to test the waters trolling crankbaits. I must remind everyone that last year's Magnolia Crappie State Championship held on Ross Barnett was "crankbait city," with the top six teams in the tournament all pulling cranks. That was in June - prime time for cranking for crappie in Mississippi.

Another hotspot worth mentioning this early spring is Sardis. Although known by many to be a crappie-cranking haven, huge, bigger-than-ever slabs, the 3-plus-pound variety, have reportedly been showing up this year at Sardis.

Hey, that's a huge change for that North Mississippi lake. Sardis used to be known as the place where crappie fishermen could go and catch a peach basket full of small crappie. They introduced a 12-inch limit on that lake a few years ago, and this year, for the first time that I know about, Sardis is rivaling Grenada for huge wall-hanger crappie.

Speaking of Grenada, the early bite has been huge. Waders are realizing the greatest success. MCC member Vic Finkley of Grenada reported weighing a white perch at 4 pounds, 2 ounces. Brother, that's like catching a 20-pound largemouth bass. I can't wait to get back on that wonderful impoundment for our club tournament, April 9. By then, the water level should be up to a point that opens thousands of additional acres to crappie fishermen.

In closing let me say, that yes, Mississippi continues to produce crappie as big as they grow. My wish for you is that you never tire of giving them one more try. Hey, I'm currently challenging myself to master this crankbaiting thing, and I'm loving it - regardless of how many bite today. Mix it up, friend. Try a new lake. Try a new technique. Go catch you one that you can claim is as big as they grow.