From the depths of December through the cabin fever days of March, many Palmetto State sportsmen decide their plan of choice is to trade time on the water for armchair adventure. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with being a couch potato curled up in front of a fine fire, perhaps with a good fishing book in hand, but when the walls seem to be closing in and some fresh air seems mighty appealing, a session of winter crappie fishing might be just the tonic.

Most of South Carolina's larger reservoirs, and many of the smaller ones as well, offer fine crappie fishing. On sprawling Lake Murray in the heart of the state, slabs aplenty await the angler's attention, and arguably, no one knows crappie fishing on this reservoir better than Jackie Hite.

A genial resident of the little town of Leesville, Hite is a local icon thanks to many years as mayor - and even more for his culinary landmark, Jackie Hite's BBQ. But if you find Hite holding court at the restaurant, it's unlikely he'll be talking about food. The topic will possibly be politics or sports - or most likely of all, crappie fishing.

Over the years, Hite has been a fixture in state and regional tournaments, and anyone who keeps up with the competitive side of crappie fishing knows the man with the huge smile has long been someone to be reckoned with when it comes weigh-in time.

"I don't fish tournaments like I used to," said Hite, 69, "because open-heart surgery a couple of years back slowed me down a bit. Still, I like to compete occasionally, and my love for fishing hasn't diminished a bit.

"If I didn't need to run the restaurant and make a living, I'd be on the lake every day."

Hite's proven technique for winter crappie fishing on Lake Murray is a straightforward one, but underlying it is a lot of work and preparation.

"Just a few weeks back, I put in 27 beds (as he calls brushpiles), and for winter fishing, I like to have them at depths of around 30 feet," said Hite, who eases his boat into a location marked through visual triangulation using landmarks, then relies on his depthfinder for precise location before throwing out a locator buoy. "I try to throw it just to the side of the bed, because I don't like that weight running right down into the middle of the hide."

At that point, it's simply a matter of dropping down an offering, in the form of a minnow-tipped jig, to the crappie gods. Hite keeps his motor running rather than anchoring, "just like I was stump-jumping," and if the action is slow at one place, it's easy enough to reel in and head off to the next bed.

"I work hard to have fish-attracting cover in place, but anyone with a good depthfinder can locate crappie in Lake Murray. It's just a matter of finding beds at a suitable depth, probing them, and moving around until you find fish."

Hite said there are untold thousands of beds in Lake Murray, "and I've done my share in getting brush in place over the years.

"A man's got to have some secrets, so I'm not going to announce to the world the whereabouts of every bed I've put in the water or found, but if you got some gumption, you can find fish."

Hite is particularly pleased with the new regulations with which the S.C. Department of Natural Resources is managing Lake Murray - a 20-fish daily creel limit and an 8-inch size minimum - and he constantly talks about the future of fishing.

"I was delighted when the (SCDNR) stocked 61,000 crappie in Lake Murray a couple of years back, and I want coming generations, such as my grandson, to have plenty of fish," he said. "I can't think of a finer gift to give to young folks than a love of fishing, and even in the depths of winter, I can't think of a place I'd rather be than at the business end of a crappie pole on my home water."