Crappie fishing explodes

Autin McDaniels and Sammy Hill of Louisville caught a seven-fish tournament limit on March 15 at Grenada weighing 18.98 pounds to win the Magnolia Crappie Club tournament.

Warming waters pushes fish to eat

What a great spring season for monster — I mean as big as they grow — slab crappie here in Mississippi.

Lake Washington in the Mississippi Delta had a banner early spring, with 3-plus-pounders beginning to show up in February.

In March, Grenada showed out, producing record tournament catches — including a record seven-fish sack going 20.54 pounds and a record 3.87-pound slab hitting the scales on T-Day.

In late March and April, Eagle Lake reports of gigantic white and black crappie made the papers.

And Barnett started its annual run.

Let me tell you about some of the highs and lows that I personally experienced.

At Lake Washington in February, Brandon’s Gil Woodis and I found the fish on practice day before our Feb. 22 tournament. Yep, we caught our tournament fish the day before. I’m guessing we could have weighed 15 to 16 pounds on Friday.

And, that was for just Friday afternoon.

We started the day on the south end of the lake and fished until almost noon without getting a bite.

We moved to the north end, where the surface temps were 3 to 4 degrees warmer, and, as soon as we hit 5-foot depths and less fishing 2 feet deep or so, we started picking up some huge prespawners.

I mean these fat-bellied females were hammering minnows on the top hook of our two-hook rigs, and these top hooks were no more than 15 to 20 inches under the surface.

The water temps were in the low to mid 50s. The sun was shining, and all Gil and I could figure was that the warmest part of the water must have been on the surface in this shallow part of the lake.

When we came in on Friday, we retied our minnow poles so both hooks were closer to the surface.

On tournament day, we got bit, but we couldn’t find the great big fish like we had the day before.

Nonetheless, we had a ball.

It was a great weigh-in for the club, and MCC kept more than 200 prespawners alive and returned them unharmed to the lake.

On Grenada in March, things really got interesting. I fished two weekend tournaments in a row in mid-March.

The Magnolia Crappie Club’s March 15 event featured our Annual Spring Big Mama Open. Fifty-four teams from seven states competed in the cold, muddy, shallow Grenada waters.

I struggled with the conditions, failing to get on a pattern. On T-day, Magee’s Herman Duckworth and I could only manage to weigh three white perch — a real low point for the otherwise great season.

Some teams caught fish — not a lot of fish, but enough to fill out their seven-fish limit.

Sammy Hill and Austin McDaniels of Louisville won the crappie club’s March 15 tournament with seven huge fish that weighed 18.98 pounds, including a 3.24-pound monster.

Of the 242 fish weighed on March 15, the average fish doubled our normal tournament average weight, topping the scales at 2.35 pounds. And that was “average,” folks.

The Big Mama Open, held at the same time (teams could enter both events), was won by Tennessee anglers Matt Baker and Kenyon Huggins with a 3.31-pound Big Mama.

Again, tournament fishermen did a great job of keeping their catches alive and returning these prespawners to the lake.

Then, for me, came the highlight of the spring — shoot, maybe the highlight of all my years of tournament fishing.

Crappiemasters rolled into Grenada, and I had to give it one more shot. The CM event was a good enough excuse to convince me to turn right back around, once I got home from the MCC tournament, and head back to Grenada.

Shoot, I had seen too many 3-plus-pounders caught by other fishermen, and it haunted me that I had only managed to catch three on T-Day the Saturday before.

So I convinced Sid Steen, an MCC buddy of mine from Kosciusko, to partner up with me for the two-day CM tournament. Sid and I prefished on Wednesday and Thursday for the Friday and Saturday tournament.

Wind kept us from producing or learning much, other than “eliminating water,” while prefishing for two days. But we did pay attention in the motel parking lot, getting some valuable insight on the end of a tailgate or the back deck of a competitor’s boat. You know, you can learn a lot just through observation and listening.

Basically, Sid and I had fished in parts of the lake that weren’t producing, but some of our “fish fry” buddies had found fish — I know because I ate some of them — in areas we had not tried.

So, on the first day of the tournament, Sid and I found ourselves in a stump field in 3 to 4 feet depths. Interestingly, the surface temp was 2 to 3 degrees warmer than the areas we had prefished, and we immediately started catching fish.

Although our early bite disappeared when the wind got up, we brought seven good fish to the scales that weighed over 15 pounds. Normally, that would be a real good weight on T-Day, but we found ourselves somewhere down around 65th place out of 109 boats that weighed on Friday.

Dang! One fisherman from Missouri weighed a tournament record slab sinking the scales to 3.87 pounds. The heaviest 7 fish stringer on Day 1 was over 20 pounds.

Our little 15-plus-pound stringer looked kind of puny. But, we came back on Saturday, anyway.

Knowing we were out of the running for the money, Sid and I decided to see just how shallow these early prespawners were. We went to the Red Grass stumps and went in as far as we could with the big motor. When we put the trolling motor down, we were so shallow that it was kicking up the bottom. The first fish we caught was in a water depth of less than 3 feet and hit a minnow fished about 15 inches under the surface.

And, brother, it was on.

We caught slab after slab there for a while, putting on quite a show to competitors in the same area. I mean, these huge fish all looked alike — that is, they were all “two-handed” fish that required you to carry them like a football back to the live well.

And when we’d catch just a 2-pounder, it became kind of a disappointment.

“Aw, just another 2-pounder,” one of us would say as the other partner rather nonchalantly got the net.

Sid and I agreed as we were carrying the box of huge fish to the scales that this seven-fish limit was the heaviest that either of us had ever weighed in a tournament.

Our second-day’s total was 18.77 pounds, and we finished in 28th place overall for the two days — just out of the money.

But what a treat. To have gone from catching only three fish the Saturday before to weighing in almost 35 pounds in a two-day tournament was such a wonderful feeling — a relief, if you will.

Heck, I’m still grinning from ear-to-ear over those “as big as they grow” Grenada slabs.