Fishing In Mississippi: A Family Affair

Looking for vacation ideas for this summer? These destinations can provide family fishing fun and a whole lot more!

Photo by Tom Berg

Your Senko worm lands just inside the point in the mouth of a cove, under the shade of a tall pine -- a perfect cast that only slightly disturbs the surface of Davis Lake. It takes a few seconds for the fat soft-plastic bait to settle to the bottom, so you use that time to relax and look around the 500-acre lake and the surrounding Tombigbee National Forest. It's peaceful and scenic.

The smell of breakfast bacon frying, or maybe some sausage, rides the slight breeze out from the campground; there, among the RVs and tents you can barely see through the trees, life is beginning to stir.

Your line has settled; the worm's on the bottom: It's time to concentrate. You pick the bait up ever so slightly from the lake floor and, with a twitch, let it fall back.

Bam! All of a sudden, serenity gives way to activity. You set the hook violently, reacting to the bite. The bass then to your hookset, jumping 2 feet clear of the lake surface as she begins to fight against the line, the rod and your arm.

The commotion continues, amplified by the sound of drag gears inside the reel yielding line. Water is still splashing as the fish fights with every ounce of its scaled being until, finally, she gives up and slides into the net alongside your boat.

You grab her and hold her up to admire her beauty: It's a lunker. You need a picture to document the moment. But wait: You're alone. The back of the boat is empty.

The family is back in Tupelo, discovering Elvis Presley's roots. You may be the king of the moment in your bass boat, but the King will always be the King, and your wife will always be a loyal subject. A day with Elvis, or a day in the back seat of your bass boat -- you know which one she's likely to choose.

And that's the point here: picking three trips for the three primary summer months that will provide you with some of the best that Mississippi fishing has to offer while giving the rest of your family activities to pursue on their own: June, Tupelo; July, the Gulf Coast; August, Vicksburg.

JUNE IN TUPELO

Annually on the first weekend in June, the town that saw the birth of Elvis Aron Presley honors its most celebrated citizen. For the Elvis Presley Festival, downtown Tupelo transforms into a concert venue with three days of music on several stages. There's also the Elvis birthplace to visit, and the Elvis Presley Museum.

Of course, as a fisherman, you're more likely to want to visit one of the handful of outstanding fishing holes in the area, one of which, Davis Lake, is fast becoming one of Mississippi's most notable bassin' destinations.

Davis, 32 miles south of Tupelo off the Natchez Trace, is maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. The lake is maturing after being renovated and restocked at the turn of the century. Its Florida-strain bass are plentiful, and the lake's redesign -- points, channels and other features were redefined -- is user-friendly. Cover abounds off the banks, so finding places to fish isn't that difficult.

"The thing about Davis Lake is that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to find fish," said Larry Pugh, the District 1 fisheries biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "There are a lot of obvious fishing spots like coves and points, but there are also some great places that aren't so obvious that curious bass fishermen can find on their own with a little effort.

"June is a good month because the big sows are well off the spawning cycle and actively feeding again, and the chances of catching a trophy bass are good. You can get a good topwater bite right at daylight and then move to the points."

Davis yielded a lot of 5- and 6-pound bass in 2004, and reports of a few 7- and 8-pounders appeared. Fast as those fish are growing, the lake should be producing a few specimens exceeding 10 pounds this year.

"You know how lakes hit a peak a few years after they have been restocked?" said Rick Dillard, a biologist with the Forest Service in Jackson. "Well, that's the situation we're entering this year at Davis Lake. I think either 2005 or 2006 will be the peak year -- probably 2005 for numbers of quality fish and 2006 for super lunkers."

But Davis Lake shouldn't be your only fishing destination in the Tupelo area. While the family's rockin'-'n'-rollin', you can travel 10 miles west on state Route 6 to Trace State Park, whose 600-acre lake is another of the state's best fishing holes. Though loaded with bass, it's better known in June for bedding bream activity.

"That's what a lot of people come for in June -- big bluegills and chinquapins," said park manager Donald Campbell. "Both sides of the lake have a lot of obvious spots where bream bed, and if the timing is right, it can be as good a lake as any for bream."

The single lake consists of two parts that share the same dam: a section open to all aquatic recreation and a fishing-only portion. Pugh prefers the latter during the late-spring and early-summer months.

"I think there's more fishable water per acre over there," he said. "It's got grass to fish, lots of stumps, timber and creek channels, too. The bream like to bed in the coves and any small indentions in the bank; the bass like to be near where the bream bed. So it's not a difficult lake to fish."

The Tupelo area offers several other creditable fishing choices within a half-hour's drive: 300-acre Elvis Presley Lake, inside the city limits; Tombigbee State Park, just a mile or two out of town; and, about 10 miles north at Saltillo, Lake Lamar Bruce, a great bream lake that's growing in repute as a bass venue.

"The great thing about the Tupelo area is that you can come spend a week up here, and fish a different lake every day," said Pugh, "and none of them are bad choices. We have water to suit all tastes in fishing -- big waters, medium waters, small waters."

Since a lot of the fishing venues are associated with state parks, cabins are available at the site, as are hiking trails and camping facilities. Hotels are plentiful, and most will accommodate bass boats.

For more information on Tupelo and its festivals, visit

www.tupelo.net. For information on fishing lakes, visit

www.mdwfp.com and follow prompts th

rough both the State Parks and Fishing divisions.

JULY ON THE GULF COAST

Looking for a unique summer getaway offering something for the whole family? Head south to Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and discover its myriad fishing opportunities -- everything from bass fishing in four major river systems to marsh and offshore saltwater fishing.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family couldn't sample all of the non-fishing entertainment choices if you had the entire month. Shopping malls and outlet stores, casinos, resort hotels, endless golf courses, coast-related theme parks: The variety of options can't be exaggerated.

They might want to come with you on a day trip out on the Gulf on one of the 50 charter boats that berth in Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. Or they could take the shuttle boat to Ship Island for a day at the beach; join them for that and get to do some bonus some wade-fishing. And if your trip is in the first week of July, around the Independence Day weekend, you can get swept up in the carnival atmosphere of the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo in Gulfport or the Crab Festival at Bay St. Louis.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the travel party maps out its activities, you can choose the style of fishing best suiting your taste.

In the Gulf, July is a peak month for king mackerel and amberjack fishing at the offshore oil rigs. Cobia are around as well; too, the big sow red snappers and the smaller but even better-eating mangrove snappers are thick at the rigs.

From the west end, over at Bay St. Louis, you can charter a boat or launch your own and make a quick run to the edge of the Louisiana marsh for outstanding speckled trout and redfish action in the shallows.

If it's bass fishing you want, it's available, too. You have the Pearl, Jordan, Biloxi/Tchoutacabouffa and Pascagoula River systems to pick from. All are tidal rivers, and with their hundreds of miles of banks to work, the freshwater fishing is outstanding.

"Actually, there isn't a bad month to choose for a coast fishing trip, but I think July is prime for two reasons," said Buzz Olsen, director of economic development for Bay St. Louis. "The early summer is when the Gulf offers its best selection. The fish migrations through the Gulf seem to coincide in July off Mississippi.

"At the same time, early July is a great time to be on the coast, with all the festivals and the Deep Sea Rodeo at Gulfport. It's still ranked as one of the South's Top 20 tourist events, and for good reason: It costs nothing to fish, and it has both fresh- and saltwater divisions to enter; all the various fresh- and saltwater fish species are on display daily. And the rodeo has a carnival on the grounds, so it's kind of like a state fair with a fishing theme."

The Mississippi Deep Sea Rodeo is scheduled for July 1-4, 2005. It'll conclude with the annual fireworks show; many of the coast's casinos also sponsor fireworks shows on July 4. For fans of pyrotechnics, there's no better place in Mississippi for celebrating the holiday.

Seeking to draw in families, the casino industry has morphed, moving with golf, spas and family-theme attractions toward attaining resort status. "We go a lot in July," said Will McNamara of Jackson. "Of course, I go fishing just about every morning, but my wife and kids don't complain, because they're back at the Grand in Gulfport and that huge pool and water-park-type facility. They love it, and I don't have to worry about them being happy while I'm out doing what I like to do."

Such a level of family happiness makes it a lot easier for McNamara to justify owning the bay boat that allows him to launch at Bay St. Louis and head out to the marshes or shallow oil rigs.

"I also book a lot of charters to entertain clients," McNamara noted. "That's how I learned a lot about where to fish down here."

AUGUST IN VICKSBURG

As summer winds down, plan a trip to the west side of Mississippi -- and bring your boat. You're going to have fun, and if your family wants to go along with you, fine. If not, they can stay busy touring the state's most historically significant city.

As good as you may find the fishing on the Mississippi River, Eagle, Chotard and Albermarle lakes to be, you'll want to take time to join the rest of your crew for a tour of the town's biggest attraction, Vicksburg National Military Park. The park's battlegrounds, cemeteries and monuments evoke many different emotions in both first-timers and repeat visitors, so even if you've been there before, you may well want to return.

A full day is required to survey the park fully, so plan a long weekend or even a full week in Vicksburg; that way, your family can get a taste of the many other opportunities, and you can sample all the great fishing holes. While they plan trips to see the antebellum homes or the many museums -- such as: the Southern Cultural Complex, the Biedenharn Museum of Coca-Cola (the drink was first bottled there), Yesterday's Children Antique Doll and Toy Museum, the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum, the Jacqueline House African-American Museum, and the Great Animal Adventures Children's Museum -- you can plan your fishing trips.

At least a full day should be dedicated to the Mississippi River itself. August is a peak time for jugging or tightlining for catfish off one of the hundreds of sandbars along the banks.

"I know there's a lot for the family to do in town with all the museums, shopping, casinos and stuff," said Sid Montgomery, a river enthusiast from Jackson. "But you might suggest that they join you for at least one day on the river. It is a great way to introduce them to fishing.

"Take a picnic basket, some lawn chairs and whatever, load the boat, and go up to a sandbar; set up a spot and start fishing for catfish. And cook a shore lunch. Or just kick back and act like it's a beach."

A word of warning, however: Boating and swimming on the river, even during the low-water period of August, can be hazardous. It should be respected -- but not neglected.

"Too many people are afraid of the river and they should be wary of it, but not too scared to go on it," Montgomery remarked. "If you exercise caution, it's just like being on a reservoir or any other river."

High-quality catfishing is just the beginning: The river's loaded with striped and white bass. The key to finding them lies in locating jetties. Fish the downcurrent side of these in the breaks, where flow is strongest.

Another smart option is trolling at Eagle Lake for some of the big hybrid bass resident there. The deep old oxbow is just 20 miles north of Vicksburg off U.S. Highway 61.

"There's nothing difficult about that fishing," noted Montgomery, who has been in love with Eagle since hybrids were first introduced there in the late 1990s. "All you need is a box full of Bandit 200 and 300 crankbaits, a cou

ple of rods and reels and a boat.

"Get into 12 to 18 feet of water off the banks along the old river channel and start trolling at idle speed. Sooner or later you're going to run into a school of the hybrids, and you'll know it when one of them almost snatches the rod right out of your hand. You'll also catch a lot of yellow and white bass. And keep them: They're really good eating -- a lot better than the hybrids.

"You can launch at either the public ramp in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped lake, or follow the signs to Garfield's Landing, pay $5, have Garfield back you in and out and keep an eye on your vehicle," he added. "Both landings are right in the middle of two hot hybrid areas."

The other options for fishing in the Vicksburg area are the connected oxbow lakes of Chotard and Albermarle, just four miles as the crow flies from Eagle Lake.

"Take the highway past Eagle Lake and follow the signs to Laney's or Chotard Landing," said Montgomery. "August is a great time on the lakes. Bass fishing is outstanding on the steep banks. Bluegill fishing is outstanding around the miles of timber. And the crappie will have moved out deep, where you can troll and find them in big schools.

"If you want to know what to fish for, where and how, use Laney's Landing and ask Mr. Johnny Laney about it. He knows, and is happy to share."

For more on the Vicksburg area, visit

www.vicksburgcvb.org. For info on all fishing opportunities in Mississippi, visit

www.mdwfp.com.

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