Winter fishing can be wonderful

These Barnett Reservoir fish were caught on deep running crankbaits on the main river ledge close to the Highway 43 bridge during a recent November.

The 2015 Central Mississippi drought has hit us all hard in one way or another. Everyone from farmers to fishermen has been affected by the deep drought.

At my favorite fishing hole —the Ross Barnett Reservoir — all but the three major ramps have been closed due to low water levels. The only places fishermen could put in were on either end of the spillway, at the Madison County Landing and the Rankin County Landing, and the ever-popular Highway 43 or Goshen Springs Landing.

You’d think these limited launching choices would cause some extreme crowding conditions. For me, that has not been the case. In fact, I’ve wondered where everybody has been the last few times I’ve launched at Highway 43.

Perhaps the fact that lower water levels seem to have influenced the “normal” fall patterns for my favorite fish is discouraging the normal fall fishing crowd. The fish and the fishermen just aren’t where they are supposed to be — at least, I haven’t found them, and from what I see while surveying the few in-sight fishermen no one else has, either.

The key to catching white perch in the fall is to find large schools of shad. Normally, the millions and millions of shad that live in the lower main lake during the summer migrate north — upriver. And, the Highway 43 bridge and naturally occurring deep main-river ledges found on either side of that span serve as a bottleneck or staging area for gobs and gobs of shad and, subsequently, lots and lots of slab crappie.

I’m just not finding them.

I’m not giving up. I am going to figure out this once-every-100-year drought, just in case it comes around again while I’m still here.

Winter crappie fishing

December, January and February are typically our coldest months.

Sure, most years the early part of December and the latter part of February are not real cold. In fact, for a lot of Mississippi, late February can be when those pre-spawn, fat-bellied Big Mamas start to show up.

But certainly our winter is right around the corner.

Let me give you a couple of cold-water techniques that produce good numbers of quality cold-water fish.

Before I ever heard of pulling crankbaits for crappie I actually jig-fished for deep cold-water crappie.

That’s right: I’d have an 8-foot B’n’M Ultimate jig pole in each hand, and I’d bounce my little crawdaddies off or near the bottom on Barnett drops and ledges at least 16 feet deep.

Over 25 years ago, I thought I was going to have to move to East Texas because of my job. I actually worked out there for a year while my family lived in Rankin County.

I spent some time looking for a good crappie lake. Look, if I’m moving to East Texas, I’ve got to find the best crappie lake and focus my move in that direction — that was my thinking at the time.

So one cold January day I was out circling around Lake of the Pines near Marshall, Texas. I had been told by several local crappie fishermen that Lake of the Pines is the crappie mecca in that part of the world.

Down on one end of the spillway, I saw a single boat slowly moving toward the ramp from the main lake. There was only one pickup with a boat trailer in the parking lot.

I eased down that way and was standing at the ramp when an elderly gentleman who was so cold he was literally blue pulled up in his boat.

“Sir, can I help you get your boat on the trailer?” I asked. “Pitch me your keys and I’ll back your truck up for you.”

No response — just a blank stare as the older feller walked passed me toward his truck.

OK, he didn’t know me, or maybe he didn’t hear my offer to help. So I hung close and attached the trailer strap to the front of his boat when he eventually put the boat on the trailer.

Then, without saying anything, I jumped under the steering wheel and pulled him out of the lake into the parking lot.

“Say, mister, how did you do today? Catch any?” I prodded.

Still no response — just a steady, methodical, slow moving-around by the fisherman as he strapped down his boat.

“Sir, what did you catch today?” I persisted.

Without a word the fisherman reached over into his boat and raised the lid on his cooler.

It was slam-full of slab crappie.

Holy moly, I’d found the East Texas Promised Land, I was thinking.

“Mister, mister, you’ve got to tell me how you caught these beautiful crappie,” I said. :I’m from Mississippi, and we just don’t fish much for crappie this time of the year. What’s going on here?”

Finally, the man spoke.

“Buddy, here you have to find the deepest water in the lake and fish on the bottom or right next to it,” he explained.

“How deep?” I asked.

“Here, the deepest holes are close to the spillway, and today the water depth was 45 to 50 feet deep,” he said.

“What? You’re catching these fish 50 feet deep?” I said.

“Yes, sir, and when you get the limit you have to leave the lake — period,” the man said. “And you can’t throw any fish back. What you catch is what you keep — period.”

Of course, I asked why that was.

“Well, all the fish you’re going to catch come from very deep water, and they all die when you bring them to the surface,” the angler said. “There is a 60-day period during this time of the year where that rule is in play. Before they started that, there would be acres and acres of dead fish on the surface of the lake, especially on the weekend.

“Fish really deep, and keep whatever you catch and leave when you get the limit. That’s it.”

And the blue man tipped his hat as he moved past me to the cab of his truck.

After I learned I didn’t have to move to East Texas, I started fishing deep at Ross Barnett in the winter. Admittedly, I have not found any 50-foot-deep crappie at Barnett — in fact, there is no 50 foot in Barnett, especially right now.

But, I’ve caught a bunch of deep crappie on a jig pole, and I can’t wait to go back to that this winter.

Where did I put those little crawfish jig bodies?

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