The Magnolia State Bass Outlook

The Magnolia State Bass Outlook

From Pickwick to the coast, and from the Tenn-Tom Waterway to the Mississippi River, our state is loaded with great bassin' opportunities. Here are a few that you shouldn't miss out on this year!

New lakes, new regulations, water-control projects and fisheries renovations will broaden Mississippi bass anglers’ prospects in 2005, but fishing in the Magnolia State is already as diverse and exciting as anything any bass fanatic has ever seen.

Largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass comprise the black bass family in Mississippi, and they’re found in waters that rate among the best in the nation. Here’s a look at the best of the variety of options for this year.

THE RESERVOIRS

With more than 125,000 combined acres of water, five large impoundments reign supreme as the big-water bass venues of Mississippi.

The Big Four — Arkabutla, Grenada, Sardis and Enid lakes — were built as flood-control reservoirs by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so their water levels fluctuate, often dramatically, in the course of a year. As a result, vegetation is found in the lakes only during periods of high water — which, according to Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks fisheries biologist Keith Meals, occurred consistently during spring and summer for the past three years. This stretch of habitat enhancement has contributed greatly to correspondingly strong year-classes of bass that should be showing up in big catches of chunky 1- to 4-pound bass this year.

Tournament angler Ron Wong of Memphis has fished bass tournaments in Mississippi for 20 year. He observes that at the Big Four, bass fishing methods among the successful anglers vary less than do length and creel limits. During the springtime spawning period, deliberate fishing tactics offer the top-grade action, the best fish being taken on jig-and-pig combos, slow-rolled spinnerbaits and Senko-type plastic worms worked on the edge of flats near deep water.

When fishing the reservoirs, Wong (who considers Sardis his home lake) targets creek channels during the post-spawn period with topwater plugs and buzzbaits. In his view, summertime bassin’ calls for tossing deep-diving crankbaits on main-lake points, while fall fishing turns back to the spinnerbaits, plastic worms and jig-and-pig combos.

Arkabutla Lake

In north Mississippi, west of Interstate 55 and 30 miles south of Memphis, this impoundment normally features turbid water conditions that put many bass anglers off. Meals suspects that in the 11,240-acre lake’s shallow-water environment, the northern-strain largemouths tend to be rather mobile, making them hard to find. That factor reduces fishing pressure on the lake, and few bass tournament events take place there. But the MDWFP biologist adds that both angler creel surveys and electro-fishing catch rates point to the presence of large numbers of bass. Locals declare the fishing to be good, and especially so in summer and fall. The lake’s main tributary is the Coldwater River.

Grenada Lake

Largest of the Big Four, Grenada Lake is the farthest south of the quartet, lying 111 miles north of Jackson off I-55 at state Route 8. Here, too, shallow water, year-round turbidity and wide fluctuations in water levels at the 35,820-acre reservoir contribute to lightening the fishing pressure. But, biologists point out, low shocking-survey catch rates of bass contrast sharply with recreational anglers’ take, which can be very good.

“I don’t think the bass see lures very often,” Meals said of the lake’s “intergrades” — largemouths that have both Florida- and northern strain genes. (Large numbers of Florida fish were stocked in the late 1980s and early ’90s.) Intergrades constitute about 80 percent of Grenada’s bass population.

The Skuna and Yalobusha rivers are Grenada’s primary tributaries.

Enid Lake

The Yacona River is the chief source of Enid Lake’s 15,000 acres of water. Located 140 miles north of Jackson, the lake stretches eastward from I-55. Largemouth bass virus was found in the lake in 1999, but a significant fish kill never emerged. No further evidence of LMBV has found in the lake, which, Meals said, tends to produce the biggest bass among tournament events surveyed by the MDWFP. Enid’s rather clear water can extend visibility down as much as 6 feet during summertime.

Sardis Lake

Meals reports that Sardis Lake’s popularity with anglers is double that of its sister lakes. The 32,500-acre reservoir is impounded on the Little Tallahatchie River, about 60 miles south of Memphis and just east of Interstate 55 near the town of the same name.

This lake receives the bulk of bass-tournament fishing pressure in Mississippi. Six- to 8-pound bass are commonly weighed in these events, Meals noted, with a few fish each year tipping the scales into double digits. Anglers also find spotted bass in the reservoir. Those fish are well uplake in the Tallahatchie River channel.

ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR

Built on the Pearl River as the main water resource for the Jackson area, Ross Barnett is highly stable in terms of its level, which rarely varies more than 3 feet from the average. As a result, the 33,000-acre impoundment differs considerably from the Big Four, as it offers generally-clear water conditions, plenty of vegetation and larger bass than its sister reservoirs boast. Among tournament anglers, the weights of both winning stringers and big bass regularly run high. In fact, Barnett was rated at No. 3 overall among all tournament lakes in the MDWFP’s 2003 bass tournament data.

“It’s been a complete turnaround in bass fishing at Barnett,” observed Bobby Cleveland, outdoors editor for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. “Where we used to catch a lot of 12-inch fish year ’round, the small bass on the lake now frequently weigh in at 2 to 3 pounds.

“Pre-spawn fish hug structure such as logs and stumps at the edge of flats near deep creek channels. Post-spawn fish really like the edges of matted vegetation. The main-lake pool is alive with schooling bass all summer long until the first significant cold front, when the fish migrate back to the edges of the grass on the flats and stumpfields.”

THE DELTA OXBOWS

The list of the oxbow lakes dotting the Delta — from DeSoto County’s Horn Lake in the north to Warren County’s Eagle Lake in the south — is long. The 13 primary oxbows are carved in gentle river-like curves through the nation’s most fertile soils.

The Mississippi River influences bass fishing here more than does any other single factor. Rising and falling, the big river creates an ebb-and-flow effect in the “active” oxbows — those with chutes or passes that allow the Mississippi to push water into and pull water out of the lake. Oxbows that have been closed to river access by either engineered structures or natural impediments are unresponsive to the level of the river.

While some Delta oxbows exceed 30 feet deep, shallow-water predominates. “I’m only 5 feet, 9 inches tall, and I usually fish water no deeper than me in what I think are the best oxbows in the Delta — lakes Whittington, Lee and Ferguson,” said fishing guide Andy Von Antz, who lives just across the river from Greenville in Lake Village, Ark. “When the river rises high, I get all the way into the backs of the lakes where the bass relate to structure — just about any structure, even where someone has thrown an old washing machine into the lake.”

It is the river gauge at Greenville that Von Antz watches for referencing water levels at lakes Whittington, Ferguson and Lee. “Key to successful bass fishing is to learn to adjust to what’s going on,” Von Antz pointed out. “Nothing’s going on more on these lakes than their water levels. For example, I like to fish Ferguson when the Greenville gauge hits 14 feet; I can get way back into the lake then. But you have to remember that the level of the Mississippi River can change 7 to 8 feet up or down in a week. When the river is right, you’ve got to be ready to fish.

“And remember that more fish are caught on falling water,” he added.

Andy Von Antz has been guiding in the Delta for 13 years and is certified by Delta Outfitters Association. For more information about fishing the Delta Oxbows, call Von Antz at Muddy Water Angler on (662) 332-9004.

STATE LAKES

The MDWFP operates 24 prime fishing lakes offering a total of 6,044 acres of picturesque, sheltered waters. Whether they’re looking for that trophy bass of a lifetime or fast and furious action with small and eager bass, the state lakes can fill the bill.

Shadow Lake

Roosevelt State Park

After being closed for three years, the 160-acre lake near Morton, in Scott County, reopened for fishing in September 2004 following dam repairs, restocking of primary game fish and forage species, and the felling into the water of large pines and oaks along the shoreline. Some trees were also dragged to deeper dropoffs, humps, and ridges out in the lake. The water was limed in 2002 and has been regularly fertilized to promote a healthy fish population.

As expected, bass fishing was fast and furious during the first few weeks, the action featuring Florida largemouths stocked in spring 2002. The MDWFP reported 921 fishing permits issued in the first four days that the lake was open last fall.

Local regulations include a five-fish creel limit and a 15-inch minimum size for bass. Anglers may keep only one bass longer than 20 inches. According to state fisheries biologist Larry Bull, the size and creel-limit regulations are intended to increase the numbers of bass in the lake that can feed on the bluegills and other small sunfish that are the primary forage for the largemouths.

Heavy fishing pressure should continue this spring and summer as the bigger bass remain in the lake. Ten- to 12-pound bass should show up regularly in the next three to four years.

Elvis Presley Lake

Put on your blue suede shoes and get ready to dance around your bass boat at one of the state’s newest lakes. Named after “the King,” who was born in nearby Tupelo, the 330-acre impoundment in Lee County was transferred in 2004 to the jurisdiction of the MDWFP, and with it, huge numbers of bass.

“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” reported MDWFP fisheries biologist Larry Pugh. “People love to come here to fish, but they’re not likely to catch any bass larger than 1 1/2-pounds. It’s a place where kids and people who haven’t fished before can really enjoy their fishing. Most bass range 1/3- to 1/2-pound, so everybody is on equal footing here. Everybody’s going to catch a limit.”

Lake Claude Bennett

While the water level has been drawn down 2 feet to accommodate repairs to the levee on this 71-acre lake in Jasper County, lake manager Jason Thigpen has supervised the beefing up of the lake’s fish attractors, more than 200 treetops and Christmas trees having been added to the five fish attractors on the lake. And Steve Touncy, who’s from nearby Enterprise, expects bass anglers to cash in on the additions.

“If you want to go catch bass — largemouths that range 2 3/4 to 6 pounds — it’s Claude Bennett,” said Touncy, who caught a 10-pound, 2-ounce largemouth in January 2000 along a break line of a creek channel. “This lake has more quality bass than any other state lake. Take your standard baits and scale them down a bit, and you’ll catch fish. The best fish are found on the main-lake points.”

THE TENN-TOM WATERWAY

Last — and certainly not least — are the navigation pools of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which represent both established and developing bass fisheries in east Mississippi. Since completion in the mid-1970s, the Tenn-Tom has provided area anglers with a bounty of bass fishing that stood relatively underused until the mid-1990s.

“After 20 years, these lakes are just beginning to stabilize,” the MDWFP’s Pugh explained, noting that three of the Tenn-Tom’s four impoundments rank among Mississippi’s top five bass waters in terms of highest average bass weights and lowest average number of hours needed to catch a bass.

Aliceville Pool straddles the Mississippi-Alabama border as the waterway’s southernmost impoundment. In between, Bay Springs Lake, the “alphabet lakes,” Aberdeen Lake and Columbus Lake stand behind adjacent lock-and-dam facilities.

“Ten- to 20-fish days are growing more common, and limits weigh from 12 to 15 pounds,” Pugh concluded.

Pickwick Lake

At the top of

the list of notable waters on the Tenn-Tom is 47,000-acre Pickwick Lake. Lying at the north end of the waterway (where Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee share state lines in Tishomingo County), the impoundment is celebrated for its historically solid smallmouth bass fishery.

“It’s a huge recreational venue for sportfishing,” observed professional bass angler and fishing guide Roger Stegall, of Iuka. “Fishing is real good all up and down it. Anytime you go fishing at Pickwick, your odds are pretty good that you’ll catch the next state-record — or world-record — smallmouth.

Roger Stegall can be contacted for guided bass fishing on Pickwick Lake by calling him at (662) 423-3869, or visit his Web site at www.fishpickwick.com.

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