Your Magnolia State Angling Year
September 30, 2010
From Tunica down to Pascagoula and Corinth and over to Woodville, every corner of Mississippi offers great fishing. Here's a look at three dozen of those options for 2009! (Feb 2009)
Another year ahead; another 365 days for fishing. And in Mississippi, that's more than just a snappy line: It's a true statement, as we're blessed with a year-round fishing season.
OK -- 365 days of fishing seems impossible, what with weather problems, work and family-related issues. But the truth is that it's less impossible than it is improbable.
Consider this: With all the opportunities we have from the Gulf of Mexico, reservoirs, oxbow lakes, rivers and streams, state lakes, subdivision lakes and farm ponds, not a day passes that we can't find somewhere to wet a hook successfully and catch a fish.
But merely catching "a fish" is rarely the goal. So what we've done is created a calendar of fishing opportunities that gives fishermen three options to choose from to catch a first-quality experience, if not a bunch of fish.
So get out your trip planner, pick the kind of fishing you like best -- and let's go! This list has something for everybody.
The conventional wisdom about winter fishing on the oxbows has been tossed aside in recent years. Stubborn fishermen have put in enough hours of fishing to find that you can catch crappie whether the lake is high or low, rising or falling, stained or clear.
The keys: fishing deep, using electronics and finding actively-feeding suspended schools. Lake Chotard, about 20 miles north of Vicksburg near Eagle Lake, is the best. The schools are always in deep water, but can vary in depth of suspension from as little as 12 feet to as much as 30 feet.
Other Choices: Lake Bill Waller, near Columbia, has been renovated and restocked with largemouths. They begin moving up on beds earlier than at other lakes. The clear and deep waters give sight-fishermen the opportunity to locate the big fish.
Winter is a time of migration for speckled trout, which move up into the estuaries formed by the Pearl, Jordan, Biloxi and Pascagoula rivers. The Pascagoula is the No. 1 choice, but the others are also productive.
Upper Barnett Reservoir
Barnett continues to prove its winter productivity, which is based on two patterns that provide bass fishermen options regardless of the conditions.
On cold fronts and bluebird days, flipping jigs tight to logs or stumps on the edge of deep drops produces the best big bass of the year. During pre-spawn, the big females are at their heaviest and they hang on the edges of drops where they can move from shallow to deep with the least amount of effort. On the coldest of days, they are deep. On the warmest, they move up on the ledge.
But after three or four days of a warming trend, magic happens. While the biggest females stay put, an army of big males and smaller females move into the shallow pad-stem flats. A small, white, tandem-bladed spinnerbait or a swimming lizard can be deadly.
Other Choices: Okhissa Lake near Bude is a U.S. Forest Service project that opened in the fall of 2006, and quickly became the No. 1 destination for largemouth fishermen.
In February the fish move to the banks; the topwater bite can be crazy, and beds can be spotted.
At the other end of the state in north Mississippi, crappie fishermen trolling on Sardis Lake start picking up big fish moving to the deep edges of the creek channels.
So here comes the first of a few curveballs we're tossing at you.
The white bass runs at Sardis, Enid and Grenada lakes are not to be missed. There's no limit to the fun -- because there's no creel limit on white bass.
The action begins when the white bass start running up the rivers in the spring for their annual spawn. They stack up in areas that provide both shallow and deep habitat. Look for shallow water just below a deeper bend.
Take a variety of jigs and grubs, spinnerbaits and small crankbaits. On cold days, fish the holes. On warm days, fish the shallows.
Other Choices: Calling Panther Lake has produced several 11- and 12-pound largemouths in recent years in March, when the fish move up to the shallow banks -- but you'll likely find more small fish than you want. Biologists accordingly urge you to take home a limit.
A return trip to Barnett Reservoir is in order, and the quarry is pre-spawn crappie. The fish move to the edges of creeks, sloughs or old river lakes and can be slaughtered by trolling with jigs or minnows along the edges.
In April Barnett Reservoir moves up to the top spot as the state's best crappie lake during the spawn. History shows that the bedding hits its peak within a day or two either side of April 15, and the action is just right to ease the tension of tax preparation time.
Spawners on the main lake love the stumpfields in the old flooded lakebeds along the river. Finding the ridges in those fields that provide stumps in 5 and 6 feet of water is the ticket.
The key here: If the water is at the 296 level or higher, check the flooded Johnson grass and pad stems on the east side of the lake. They've been loaded with early spawning crappie the last few high-water years.
Other Choices: Panfish make their first appearance on the calendar this month, but the location may surprise you. Head north to Trace State Park near Pontotoc and move into the coves to find the redear beds.
The third choice is also a must-do trip. One of Mississippi's best-kept largemouth secrets is Davis Lake. Don't hit it with numbers in mind, but go there expecting to catch a trophy. April is the bedding month on this clear lake.
It's hard to not choose a bluegill lake for this month, so since we're picking crappie and Arkabutla, you can bet it's a must-do trip.
May, on the spawn, is perhaps the best time to hit "the Butt." You can choose your favorite tactic. Find a flat with flooded grass, and there's wade-fishing; find a deeper area, and you can troll shallow with a multiple array of poles and jigs, or you can move from structure to structure and vertical-jig from a boat.
Other Choices: Our second pick for May is channel catfish on the rock bluff banks at Pickwick Lake.
The third pick has to be
a bluegill-bedding hotspot, and the best we've found in May is Calling Panther Lake near Crystal Springs. Use the lake maps at the office to find the gravel beds, or use your nose. They beds are so thick you can smell them.
When the Forest Service designed this 1,500-acre lake near Bude, they included over 600 gravel beds, with the rocks dug from the lakebed. They set them out in places that bream would choose, like points, shallow flats, and coves. The gravel works -- and the fishing is fantastic.
Maps of the beds are available, but unnecessary. Just look at an area; if it looks as if bream would like it, it's a safe bet that there's a bed.
Other Choices: Speckled trout are moving out of the rivers and bays into the Gulf, and shell beds in the mouths of the rivers, especially Pascagoula and Biloxi, offer great topwater early and then jig-fishing.
June is also the first month that jugging for catfish, or tightlining for that matter, is good on the Mississippi River. The big boys start moving so take stout line, catch some skipjack shad for bait and have fun.
Ever wondered what it would be like to hook a 40-, 50- of 60-pound fish while you stood on a bank? You can find out on the edges of Biloxi Bay not far from the U.S. Highway 90 bridge at Point Cadet.
Read the tide charts and figure out the falling tide, which pulls baitfish and other forage off the banks. That's when big black drum move up from deeper water into the shallows within easy casting distance from the bank. Using fresh-cut mullet on the bottom is the ticket. The drum smell it out, eat it and move away. Give them line; then, set the hook -- and hold on!
Other Choices: Some of the best bluegill fishing in farm ponds is in the heat of the summer. Several 2-pounders are entered ever year in the fresh water division of the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo -- all caught in deep water on worms fished on the bottom of farm ponds.
Our third choice: redfish. July finds the keeper-sized reds in the ponds in the lower Pascagoula River system. Fish those ponds on high tide.
Little Tallahatchie River
Of all the offbeat fishing trips in Mississippi, this is the best. The river below the spillway at Sardis is home to hundreds of thousands of monster longnose gar. These toothy, prehistoric critters are everywhere, and their appetite is insatiable.
They give themselves away by rolling on the surface, gulping air and feeding. The tackle of choice is medium-heavy bass gear, braided line and homemade rope lures. Take a piece of nylon rope, run it through a big barrel swivel and tie it off; then, unravel strands until it's well frayed. No hook is needed. Cast the lures, work it like a spinnerbait and when a gar hits it, it'll get its needle teeth wrapped in it like Velcro. Then you just fight it until you win.
Other Choices: Back to Calling Panther Lake for the best night channel catfish action around. Use the bait of your choice and tightline the shallow flats between the boat ramp and the dam.
The other August pick is trolling through the schools of big bull redfish around Horn and Ship islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Mercy, can they pull!
Bay Springs Lake
Mississippi's No. 1 destination for Kentucky spotted bass is Bay Springs, the first pool on the Tenn-Tom Waterway south of Pickwick. Trophy spots of more than 5 pounds school up in September and feed on shad that start to migrate into the coves.
When the fish aren't on top, they can be found on the main-lake and secondary points on drop-shot worms, or by working spinnerbaits around fallen timber.
Other Choices: Trolling for crappie at Sardis Lake is best in September. Work the main-lake points with 200 and 300 Series Bandit lures, or troll with jigs on multi-rig poles.
Little-known Turkey Fork Lake, a Forest Service lake east of Richton in southeast Mississippi, is a hotspot for big largemouths in the late summer. They stack on the isolate deep timber along the creek channel.
The key to oxbow lake bass, whether the water is attached to the Mississippi River or not, is stable, clear water. The best month for that is October.
All oxbows have deep and shallow sides, and the deep one is the best in fall. The steep banks give bass a short transition from shallow to deep that they like. Fish topwater lures on the banks at daylight, and then move to deeper cover and use worms or crankbaits.
Top oxbows to consider are Ferguson at Greenville, Chotard and Albemarle near Vicksburg or Wolf and Bee lakes near Yazoo City.
Other Choices: White bass return to the list, and this time it's at Grenada Lake, where huge schools can be found on main-lake points busting on surfacing shad. The action can be seen for miles, so take binoculars.
Bass fishermen who crave topwater action for largemouths should head to Neshoba County Lake near Philadelphia. Take plastic frogs, buzzbaits and Pop-Rs to fish the pads and grasslines.
Speckled trout return to the rivers from the Gulf of Mexico in November, making it a magical time to hit the Pascagoula, Biloxi and Jordan rivers. Find deep holes, and on cold days you can find the trout.
Nothing beats live shrimp or minnows to insure strikes, but by fine-tuning lure choices you can eliminate the other species present in these locations. Soft-plastic grubs on jigheads catch the most trout.
Other Choices: As shad begin to migrate up the Pearl River from the main lake at Ross Barnett Reservoir, spotted bass stack on the river points to ambush them. This is purely fun fishing, because finding 15-inch keepers is difficult, but catching 50 or more in a day on light tackle is about as much fun as it gets.
Lake Calling Panther's unique bream fishery yields a rare late-fall/early-winter bluegill catch. Fish worms on the bottom, on the 8- to 12-foot flats between the ramp and the dam.
Largemouths migrate out of the lake up the creek channel in the fall, following the shad schools. They take up winter residence in the creek channel on the lake's upper end, and locating bends in the creek near a point will put you in a hotspot.
A drop-shot worm worked off the bottom in 20 to 25 feet of water, a stone's throw from a shallow bank, can produce upwards of 10 to 20 fish per spot.
During warm stretches, move to that nearby bank and flip the cover, or even try a topwater lure. That kind of day can produce a jerkbait bite on th
e dam, too.
Other Choices: Back to the oxbows and Albemarle Lake in particular to troll for suspended schools of crappie.
And we've got another surprise to end on. Jeff Davis Lake near Prentiss is loaded with big bluegills, and in the winter, they can be found on deep flats of 10 to 12 feet deep. Use worms for bait. You won't load the boat, but the fish you get can average close to a pound.