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Rising river keeps crappie fishing on hold

My mentor quickly proved to me that we could catch bass and slab crappies in the coldest weather if we were tough enough to brave the elements.

Ordinarily by mid-March, Delta fishermen and fisherladies would be in the midst of maybe the very best time of the year for catching lots of our fine crappie — perhaps the most popular fish we have and very likely the tastiest. Many of our favorite fishing holes are at a very low stage or else overflowing with Mississippi River high water. It remains to be seen whether or not the river will continue to rise and produce a real flood. Most of us devoutly hope it does not.

Crappie in reservoirs and inland lakes are being found in shallow water, either spawning or about to spawn, which makes them much easier to catch than at any other time.

There was an interesting article in a recent Memphis Commercial Appeal on the debate between live bait fishermen and jig fans. I daresay that the majority of crappie fans now stick 100 percent to jigs, but there are still quite a few around who continue to drown minnows, some of them using a combination of minnows and jigs.

One of the very best crappie catchers I know, Charlie Christmas of Shelby, Miss., sometimes uses jigs only, but when fishing is slow he tacks on a small minnow and improves his success greatly.

Charlie is a long-time operator of an agricultural aviation service, and that accounts in part for why he does most of his serious fishing in the dead of winter before his firm's services are in heavy demand. It is not, however, the only reason that he fishes mostly in winter.

I used to be stuck on winter fishing myself. I grew up near Grassy Lake in Tallahatchie County, Miss. My mentor was a fine gentleman who operated the local ice plant, which back then was extremely busy during the hot months and required his constant attention. He very quickly proved to me that we could catch bass and slab crappies in the coldest weather if we were tough enough to brave the elements. We came to prefer very cold weather, sometimes fishing on days when the line would freeze.

Our primary fish were bass, but we also caught a decent number of slab crappie almost every time we went. One reason for the crappie being slabs was that we used huge shiner minnows that we caught with traps or minnow seines in Delta barrow pits. We liked our minnows to be as much as 5 inches long (we nicknamed them “bass hounds”). The huge minnows would be constantly on the move, seeming able to seek out big bass and crappie that hung out about 5 feet deep in and along button willow brush that encompassed all of the lake proper.

The Grassy Lake area was made up mostly of cypress timber, tupelo gum and other species that had died during long periods of being covered with floodwater from Tallahatchie River. A portion we called the Deadening was just that, an area of perhaps half of the lake with rather shallow water and dead trees.

Most of our wintertime fishing, however, was confined to the lake proper around the button willow bushes.

That was an unforgettable period of my fishing life. Our catches were sometimes astonishing. I recall one bitter cold day when we boated so many huge bass and crappie that we were forced to cull them greatly because we had to walk over a mile back to our car.

None of our catch was ever wasted. Many families in those Depression days welcomed some of our fish, a source of much-needed food for many of them.

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