Seems impossible to me, but by the time you read this, the major annual crappie spawn for all of Mississippi will be, for all practical purposes, over. April is the one month where everyone and his brother hits their favorite crappie lake - all at the same time.

Those of us who love to tournament fish for crappie, and those numbers are increasing every year, just change our tactics and location and keep on keeping on. Indeed crappie fishing for many Mississippians, tournament fishermen or not, is a year-round activity.

May finds most crappie leaving the shallow, easy-to-find spawning grounds and basically scattering. This scattering used to make me think May was the absolute worst month to crappie fish. No more, friends. Since I've gone crankbait crazy, May has become one of my favorite months.

I learned last year during May that if you fish where the fish are, you'll catch plenty of big crappie. Sure, they're kind of skinny right now. I mean, you would be skinny too if for the last four to six weeks you'd been doing nothing but making this year's crappie crop. Making and raising fish fry is work.

But once that annual run is done, the crappie you didn't catch shallow have migrated back toward their summer homes. I believe they're in transition, and scattered, unlike later in hot weather where they become predictable targets all gathered in some cool shady spot somewhere on your favorite lake.


May is crankbait month

If there ever was a time to try pulling crankbaits, May is it. Why? Well, you've got to cover lots of water to catch a mess of crappie during May, and pulling cranks will make you cover lots and lots of water.

Once you find fish-holding locations and establish depth, color and speed patterns, the catching is easy and loads of fun. There is nothing like seeing that 2-pounder come to the surface 80 feet behind your boat with a mouthful of Bandit or Wiggle Wart crankbait.

Let me tell you when you know you're on them. If you're fishing with four to six rods behind your boat, it is not uncommon to hook up with more than one big crappie. And you know you've got the puzzle figured out if those "big mouth" crappie swallow the crankbait so far down their throats that you have to get those long needlenose pliers out.

Color, speed, depth and location make a difference. You can drag the paint off the wrong color crankbait in the wrong place at the wrong speed and go home swearing at the crappie and at me. Practice, friend, practice.

Here are some starting points for cranking for crappie:


1) Carry several colors and depth-range baits with you. Bandit 200s and 300s are good in May. Any similarly sized baits from Strike King, Storm, Rapala or your favorite 2- to 3-inch bait that swims anywhere between 8 to 15 feet deep will work. And sometimes, none of them will work. The point is you need several alternatives, and you need to try them all.


2) Speed control is essential. If you don't have one of those really expensive MinnKotas with built-in GPS cruise-control features, get yourself one of those $99 specials that at least tells you how fast you're pulling those crankbaits.

In May, crappie are much more likely to take a bait pulled from 1.5 to 1.9 mph. Guess what? I start with 1.7 mph and decrease or increase from there if necessary. Now, that's vastly different from when water temps are in the 50s and 60s. These cooler cranking temps usually occur in March and April in the spring and October, November and December in the fall. Then I slow down to 1.1 to 1.4 mph.


3) Depth control is essential, too. Remember that crappie feed up, and May crappie are not real deep most of the time. Eight to 12 feet in May on my home lake of Barnett Reservoir seems to work best. Obviously you can change your depth by changing shallow-running baits for medium or deep runners. You can also bring a deep bait up by shortening your string.


4) Speaking of shortening your string, you obviously need a starting point. Some of my cranking cousins use those clunky-looking, butt-ugly line-counter reels. I don't. I've stated here before that I like to use the "shade tree" method. That is, while under the shade tree somewhere next to the lake, I'll pace off 100 feet and physically walk off my line for each of my cranking reels - one at a time. I'll load monofilament on my baitcasting reels - 35 turns. Then I'll tie on my "measured" line. I only use braided line tied to the crankbait, so I know that when I get to the knot on my reel I have the lures running 100 feet behind me. Then, I shorten from there, and I keep up with the number of turns I make on my handle. Ten turns at a time is usually what I do. If running a crooked path, I advise you keep your lures all the same distance from the end of your rods.


5) Color is important. Don't ask my why one color is better than another on any day, but it is. I can have out six different colors all running the same depth, and one color will do all the catching. Of course, I try to have multiples of all colors, so that if orange is their favorite color today at 12 feet at 1.5 mph, I try to feed them that over and over on every line.


Last year, in June, the top six finishers in the Magnolia Crappie State Championship all pulled crankbaits. That tell you anything about catching 'em as big as they grow this time of the year? Lesson over.