The sluggish economy has combined with a break in the weather to produce an explosion in fishing interest.
"The economy is bad, so everybody who has a boat is going fishing," said Jason Tucker of JR's Marina on Lake Weiss in northeastern Alabama.
The recent surge has been good for area bait-house operators hurt by months of icy temperatures.
Crappie fishing has been a main reason for the upswing, sales personnel say. Jerry's Bait Shop near Watts Bar Lake needed six employees to handle sales for crappie anglers last Friday, according to Donna Cox, who operates the business with her husband Jerry.
"We're thankful because it's been a long, cold winter," she said.
Weiss is another lake where casting for the panfish is annually a top draw, regardless of economic situations. Large numbers of Kentuckians, along with anglers from Georgia and Alabama, have streamed to Weiss.
Many of the crappies being caught there now are small, said Tucker, who believes the best fishing is just ahead.
"We're at mid-spawn," he said. "Another couple of weeks should see a lot of fish being caught."
Weiss anglers are hopeful that 2-pounders will become more commonplace.
Tucker reeled a 30-fish limit within a five-hour span Monday by "flipping" docks, finding the fish two feet deep. Several that he caught weighed more than a pound.
Watts Bar and, farther away, Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee also are producing plentiful crappie catches. Brisk jig sales are a measure of the success.
Some baits have become more popular than others. Sources at Jerry's list the Bobby Garland Baby Shad among the hot items. The late Garland began making baits near the southern end of Arizona's Lake Powell, then moved to Missouri, where his panfish lures received much praise.
The Baby Shad was among them. He also produced the highly acclaimed crappie bait Gidzit.
Kalin's Grubs, produced by the Uncle Josh Bait Company of Fort Atkinson, Wis., likewise are faring well. Green colors seem to sell best.
Still another popular bait at good crappie lakes such as Weiss and Watts Bar has been the Jiffy Jig. Jeffrey Roberson and his wife began making them out of their Eastman, Ga., home. Their friends J.C. and Belinda Brantley of Vidalia bought the business in 2002 and now make Jiffy Jigs in a building converted from a coin laundry. Their sales territory covers most of the South and ranges as far west at Texas and as far north as Wisconsin.
"We started in Georgia and thought it might stay in Georgia," Belinda Brantley said, "but thankfully it has blossomed."