Sliding his feet along the lake bottom, Ronny Garrison approached some buck brush just off the bank in a cove on Grenada Lake.
With an 11-foot pole, he dropped a 1/16-ounce jig in the brush and danced it around.
Garrison felt the fish hit the jig and immediately snapped back on this pole, setting the hook and beginning a brief battle of tug-o-war in the brush.
It ended with a few splashes as the fisherman pulled another crappie to the surface and quickly netted it.
About 100 miles to the south, at the same time, Tony Rankin used his trolling motor to ease his boat close to some cutgrass and primrose in Barnett Reservoir.
He, too, reached across the water with an 11-foot pole and dropped a jig next to the vegetation.
Rankin felt the sensation of the bite travel up the line and down the length of the pole, and reacted with a hook-setting jerk.
He quickly pulled the fish away from the primrose thicket and fought the fish to the boat, as his son moved up beside him and put another jig in the same location.
Tony Rankin Jr. set another hook and began struggling to get the bigger fish out of and away from the primrose.
Soon, the Rankins had a match set of spawning crappie — Senior’s a dark male and Junior’s a big, thick white female.
It’s April and the crappie spawn is on in Mississippi, and nowhere else on the planet is the sport enjoyed more than in the Magnolia State.
It might rank at or near the bottom on so many social issues, but Mississippi takes a backseat to no others when it comes to hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
And crappie fishing is where it shines most.
The Magnolia State is No. 1 on every list by every publication or website related to the species — and, for that matter, when individual lakes are mentioned, Mississippi often ranks No. 2 and No. 3, as well.
So many hot spots
No other state is anywhere close. It is that good.
On its list of top crappie lakes, In-Fisherman and Fishhound.com’s combined list has six Mississippi lakes in their latest list of the top 30:
• Grenada Lake is listed as No. 1.
• Sardis Lake ranks No. 2.
• Arkabutla Lake makes the list at No. 5.
• Lake Washington is listed at No. 7.
• Enid Lake makes the list at No. 20.
• Barnett Reservoir eases into the rankings at No. 29.
In addition, Scout.com and Wired2Fish’s combined ranking has five Mississippi waters in its Top 3:
• Grenada again tops the list at No. 1
• Lake Washington is right behind at No. 2.
• Enid, Sardis and Arkabutla share the No. 3 spot.
Those last three lakes are located so close together along I-55 in North Mississippi — is that where the term super slab originated? — that they were combined.
Grenada Lake is a consensus No. 1 crappie lake in the world, according to most publications — perhaps based on the high number of 3-pound slabs it produces annually.
Every major national crappie tournament trail has visited the lake, including many that have held their annual championships.
Yet, inside Mississippi, with its legion of perch jerkers, there is no so such consensus. Ask five instate anglers their No. 1 lake and you will likely get that many answers, further proof of just how good the fishing is.
• “Grenada is good, but I tell you, if Lake Washington was bigger in size, there’d be no comparison,” Greenwood’s Jerry Albright said. “Acre for acre, Washington is the best crappie lake in the world, in my honest, experienced opinion.
“With any kind of local knowledge, you can get a limit every trip, and if you want to target slabs, there are a lot of 3-pounders. From March through the end of the summer, the fishing is fantastic.”
• Fannin’s Rabbit Rogers disagreed.
“I don’t know how you would even compare the others to Barnett Reservoir,” Rabbit said. “I understand the lure of slab fish at Grenada, Sardis and all of those, but as far as consistency, Barnett is always right there. It is full of fish — probably the densest population as there is — and it’s the same every year despite heavy pressure.
“Most lakes, and especially those big North Mississippi flood control lakes, are cyclic, with up and down years. Barnett is not cyclic. It’s always good. You can go out there and in a day’s time, if you try, you can catch fish from as many as five or six year classes, from a few inches to big slabs.”
• David Thornton, who lives on the banks of Eagle Lake about 20 miles north of Vicksburg, tagged his home lake.
“Historically — and we’re going back decades to the 1940s and ’50s — no lake has produced the numbers and the quality that Eagle Lake has produced,” Thornton said. “There have been some issues in the past with flooding and water quality, but to this day I’d put it right up there with any lake, any time.
“I fish them all in tournaments and you can’t beat Eagle.”
April is the spawn
You can’t even get a consensus from Mississippi crappie fishermen on the best month of the year to catch fish, but you will find a heavy lean toward April.
It’s the peak of the spawn in all of the top-rated lakes, and male crappie take on a blackish hue and females are fat with eggs — and the two sexes move shallow to create another year class of offspring.
“Can’t beat April, because it’s a time of year when just about anybody can go on a lake and find crappie spawning,” Garrison said. “The males will actually move shallow first, beginning in late March. The females will lag behind and actually stage on the first or second drops, the creeks or ditches, and wait until Mother Nature signals them to join the males on the beds the males have prepared.
“On the North Mississippi lakes (Grenada, Enid, Sardis and Arkabutla), you don’t even have to have a boat, not if you got access to a shoreline in a cove. I got a lot of friends who drive out to the lake, hike in a few hundred feet or yards, and then wade and catch fish. I wade, but I boat in and anchor it, and then walk. That gives me more exposure to more areas, and there are a lot of shallow areas in lakes that are too far from the bank. They are just as good for wading.”
Rogers has a theory on the peak of the spawn, and it holds true on all the lakes mentioned thus far in this story.
“People ask me all the time when they should plan their days off to fish ... the peak of the spawn,” he said. “I always tell them the same thing: Make sure you have April 15 in that window. I can’t think of many years when the peak didn’t fall either a few days before or a few days after the 15th. You can take that to the bank.
“But I also tell them that the spawn lasts over a month, maybe even more than two months. On Barnett Reservoir, I have caught them spawning the same year as early as mid-March and as late as early June. I won one tournament one year in June on spawning crappie on the lower main lake.”
However, there is a definite peak, which could vary from one part of a big lake to another.
“That comes with luck,” Rogers said of hitting the peak. “I’m serious: It’s like somebody flips a switch and — bam! — it seems like every female crappie runs in on the beds and it’s all you can get, one right after another next to every stump or piece of grass in an area. I’ve seen 100 to 150 boats in a wad in a 1- or 2-acre area with everybody catching fish.
“It will last a few hours one day, then take place again the next day and even the next. The fisherman just has to be there when it happens and the only way he can be sure not to miss it is to fish just about every day the weather will allow.”
All about the thump
Used to be that every fisherman chasing spawning crappie did so by simply vertically jigging, either with or without a float.
Not so anymore.
“That’s a product of more and more tournament crappie fishermen,” Oxford’s Jimmy Taylor said. “No doubt, I think we’d all like to feel that thump of a crappie slapping a jig, but tournament fishermen are more about numbers and pounds. The more water they can cover, the more fish they can catch. The more fish they can catch, the more they have to choose from in culling down to a big, heavy tournament limit.
“I finally gave in about five years ago. I don’t tournament fish, but I watched those guys catching so many fish pushing jigs and minnows through shallow brush (that) I started trying it and, hey, it works.
“I can hit a bank 150 or 200 yards long with so much cover that it would take me a day or two to hit every snag or log or blade of grass with a jig pole. Trolling, I can do it twice in a morning and get a limit.”
The last holdout on trolling is Barnett Reservoir, where so much vertical cover is available.
“People have started trolling more and more on Barnett, but I think you still see more people anchored and saturating an area with 10 or 12 poles around their boat, all with minnows and corks,” Rogers said. “Crappie in that area or swimming through that area doesn’t have a chance. He’s a goner. They will fish it until the bites stop, pull up anchor, and then pull into a new spot and repeat the process,
“Me? Naw, man I’m still a jig man, one pole at a time. I still like to feel that thump. That’s what I like. Dropping that jig down there and feeling that big crappie take it. It’s all about that thump.”