Tracking greener pastures and bluer waters
The first thing I do every morning is check the NOAA website for current local weather conditions and the seven-day forecast.
By typing a ZIP code in a little white box on the upper left corner of NOAA's home page, you can get a fair handle on the weather picture anywhere in the United States.
Checking the forecast at fishing destinations about 500 miles south is part of the morning ritual. Until recently, the polar vortex has stretched its icy tentacles well past a day's drive from the City of Parks.
From a local perspective, the weather conditions in Kentucky, southern Illinois and the Missouri bootheel country are still regarded as almost ice age. Some lakes down there have actually had up to an inch of ice form in shallow, sheltered coves. The ice is gone from lakes down there now. Grass isn't green yet, but shades of brown trump the beauty of winter's white blanket for just about everybody but snowblower sales folks.
Just beyond day-trip range, the grass is green and crappies are biting. Crossing the Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 55 at Memphis is like leaving Kansas and entering the Emerald City.
The state of Mississippi welcomes you before leaving the Memphis suburbs. Continue south just 90 minutes later and you will have already passed lakes Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid and Grenada.
Lake Enid has held the world record for white crappie since 1957. My personal best—2 pounds, 15 ounces—came from tailwaters of Grenada Lake five years ago. A buddy gave me a T-shirt with “Grenada Lake: Home of the 3-pound Crappie” in a brotherly jab. Three-pound crappies get caught on Grenada and the other three lakes every day.
A Google search of any one of these lakes will produce contact information on area guides who can put you in touch with the crappie of your dreams.
Kentucky Lake has a reputation for producing two-pound crappies. This renowned slab spot is just a long day's drive away. NOAA says the temperature there today will only reach the 50s.
Crappies will be stacked in deep water stake beds off the main channel of this wide spot in the Tennessee River. You might try a little marabou jig. Don't forget to take a light jacket.
Lake of Egypt is about 90 minutes closer to Janesville. The ambient temperature near this southern Illinois power plant lake might not reach 50 degrees until early next week.
Since Egypt is a power plant lake, crappies and bass are active here all winter long. Most of the crappies you'll catch in Lake of Egypt will average about 10 inches.
Petenwell Flowage has bigger crappies than that—but you need to grind through 20 inches of ice to get after them.
There is much to be said about parking the truck and walking 50 yards to catch a crappie. Midwinter crappies on Petenwell relate to deep water wood near the old river channel.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.