The big news around the lakes and streams of central Florida is that the specs are on the beds.

That does not mean someone has lost his eyeglasses.

One of the most popular early spring game fish up north is the crappie. Floridians call them speckled perch, or specs.

Last week there was a full moon. It has been a mild winter in Florida and those who follow the movement of speckled perch were convinced that the fish would spawn on this full moon, earlier than normal.

When the specs are on the spawning beds it means great fishing.

We found them already moving to the spawning grounds last weekend on Lake Tohopekaliga, south of Orlando.The locals were still catching small fish in deep water, but we took a small aluminum boat back into the shallows, cast in minnows and came back with fat, reo-laden crappies from the grass beds.

Down here they grow them big and a spec of 1 1/2 pounds or larger is not uncommon.

Fine for Floridians, you say, but what does that mean for me?

Only that the spawning ritual moves-north, and that means in a little more than two months' time the season will have shifted to Washington and points even further north.

The next big stop on the spawning march is in March on Santee-Cooper reservoir in South Carolina, where they also grow them big. Two years ago I visited Polly's Landing on Santee and took a small boat out among the cypress trees.

Talk about high sport. Armed with a long cane pole and a bucket of minnows I could skull up to the base of the cypresses and drop a bait around the swollen bottoms of the trees.

Often enough there would be an angry female in there, preparing her bed, and often enough the arrival of the minnow would spur her to angry attacks. It was silent, hot and exciting.

Most people who care already know that there is great crappie fishing in Florida and Georgia and South Carolina, but few know how good it can be in the backyard of the nation's capital.

The best crappie fishing day I ever had was practically in the shadow of the Whitehurst Freeway.

I won't say exactly where for fear I won't be able to get within a mile of it when the time is right. But it's an easy spot to get to.

Lyle Korn, a physician, called the office last spring and said he'd found what he figured was the major spawning grounds for all the crappies in the Potomac.

A little overstated, but not by much.

We went out the following day and caught a mess of crappies.

But that was nothing compared with what happened the following week. My daughter had been bugging me to take her fishing, so we headed to Dr. Korn's hole on a Sunday morning. I rigged her line and told her to toss it in the water while I rigged one for myself. Before I could tie on a hook she was yanking out a huge crappie, and she pulled two more out before I ever wet a line. It was fast and furious, with many big fish.

But that's true all over the tidal stretches of the Potomac in and around Washington. April minnow fishermen tear up the crappies in the Tidal Basin, off the points at Fletcher's Boathouse and in eddies and pockets on both sides of the river.

Crappies in the close-in lakes like Occoquan, Rocky Gorge, Manassas and Burke are plentiful but they don't come close to those in the Potomac in terms of average size.

For big crappies, fish the river.

This all probably sounds a bit premature, with winter still howling out there. But it's been six weeks since the days started getting longer and crappies, like yellow perch, need very little encouragement to begin their spring games.

It won't be long.