Wednesday (April 10) was the day that crappie fishermen started reporting the first true sign that the spawn is imminent at most of Mississippi's perch-jerking hot spots.

Males are turning black - their traditional formal spawning attire - and starting to bite in shallow water at Barnett Reservoir and the Aberdeen, Columbus and Aliceville pools of the Tenn-Tom, as well as Okatibbee, Grenada, Enid and Sardis lakes.

"I can now, for the first time, say that I have seen a sign that the spawn is just ahead," said Phillip Jones of Brandon, who fished early Wednesday ahead of approaching bad weather. "The first fish I caught on the rocks of the dam was a big male, about 1½ pounds, and he was really black. You know how black they can get, well he was well into that.

"I ended up catching several keeper males and some smaller ones in 2 and 3 feet of water on the rocks, and they were all pretty dark. I did not catch one female that shallow though, so I moved out and finished my limit with female slabs fishing 5 and 6 feet deep about two boat widths out from the rocks."

What surprised Jones most was how he caught the females.

"I moved out and dropped my jig down to just off the bottom and fished for 20 minutes without a bite," he said. "Then I moved down the dam a bit and when I put my jig in the water, I got a bite before it was halfway down. It was a solid slab female. The fish were in deeper water, but they were shallow. Every female I caught was suspended 3 or 4 feet down. I went back to where I started and I caught them there, too."

Later when he got home and was cleaning the females, he noticed the egg sacks were still bloody, which biologists indicate is a sign they are not ready to drop.

"If you still see those bloody veins in the eggs, they are not ready and still have a while to go," said Ron Garavelli, the chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

An avid crappie fisherman, Garavelli fished at Sardis last weekend.

"We found the same thing, males moving up and the females back out in 5 or 6 feet of water and even deeper," he said. "The egg sacks were still very red and you could see the veins so they aren't close. They will be pretty soon."

Rabbit Rogers of Fannin said he isn't sure it will happen as quickly as most people think, at least not at his favorite fishing hole.

"I fished at Barnett Tuesday and I was still catching the fish on the edge of the river channel, deep, deep, deep," he said. "I've heard people are starting to catch fish, especially males, shallow, but with as many fish as we're still catching deep I think we've still got a while."

The full moon is on April 25, which is late for a peak of the spawn.

"But I think that it will affect when the fish will spawn," Rogers said. "I've always said April 15, tax day, is when you can start looking for them. This year, it will probably be a little later.

The males will be in there but the females, from what I've seen, have a while yet. But that's just up on the upper end of the main lake where I really like to fish. I bet the lower main lake will be close to the full moon."

On other lakes, and even other parts of Barnett Reservoir, the spawn is already underway.

"I've been getting the limit of black males and fat females on shallow cover in Pelahatchie Bay (on Barnett) for a week," said Gilbert Robinson, who lives in a subdivision off the bay. "They started right around April 1 and have gotten better every day."

Eagle Lake near Vicksburg, Lake Washington at Glen Allen and Calling Panther Lake at Crystal Springs have seen spawning activity as well.

"I've hit Eagle twice and Panther once over the past week and caught a lot of nice fish shallow at both places," said Ron Thomas of Clinton. "They were definitely spawning. People were wading and catching a lot of them, too. My buddy from Greenville called me and told me he did the same thing at Washington and caught a 3-pounder Monday. We're going there next."