When it comes to bass fishing in the Magnolia State, good things often come in small packages. Mississippi anglers frequently find some of the best bass fishing in small waters.
In fact, the largest bass ever caught in Mississippi came from 230-acre Natchez State Park Lake about 10 miles north of Natchez. On New Year’s Eve 1992, Anthony Denny of Washington landed an 18.15-pound largemouth that engulfed a Rattling Rogue. Anglers can still find some lunker largemouths in Natchez State Park Lake, but other smaller waters now overshadow that record-breaking fishery.
“Natchez State Park Lake still produces some good bass, but it’s past its peak,” said Tom Holman, fisheries coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Lake Columbia was the best lake in Mississippi for big bass before Hurricane Katrina hit. The storm knocked down some trees in the area and scattered debris, but (Columbia) can still produce some big bass. In 2004, an angler caught a 16-pound bass in that lake. It has some big monsters.
“For lakes that haven’t been affected by Hurricane Katrina, Simpson County Lake and Lake Ross Barnett in Mize are the best for big bass,” he continued. “Lake Mike Connor is also a good bass lake.”
Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. It ruined fishing in the coastal areas for a time and caused a fish kill in some coastal rivers and at Lake Bogue Homa, a 1,200-acre lake about six miles east of Laurel. Built in 1939, Bogue Homa produced some excellent bass catches in the past, including a 13-pound, 10-ounce potbelly landed by Cliff Hensarling in 1995.
“From Jackson north, we saw very little damage to the fisheries from Katrina,” said Bubba Hubbard, assistant chief of fisheries for the MDWFP. “The hurricane greatly affected probably only the area around the Pascagoula River, the oxbow lakes off the river and a few coastal streams. We had some fish kills in the coastal rivers, because of oxygen depletion and saltwater intrusion from the storm surge.”
One of 24 fishing lakes operated by the MDWFP, Lake Columbia dates back to 1957. Renovated and restocked in 1996, this 90-acre lake, 12 miles southeast of Columbia in the Marion County Wildlife Management Area, reopened to public fishing in April 2000.
Anglers may keep up to five bass per day with a slot limit of 14 to 18 inches. Bass in that size range must be released. Anglers may keep only one bass per day exceeding 18 inches in length.
The lake has produced many double-digit bucketmouths in the past. To tempt really big bass in the spring, many anglers use live golden shiners or sight-cast soft plastics to bedding bass in the fairly shallow lake.
Simpson County Lake, a 94-acre pond four miles north of Magee, can also produce excellent catches of big bass. Restocked and reopened in 1993 after a complete draining, the lake has produced bass in the 13- to 14-pound range. Many people expect the lake to top that plateau soon. An abundant panfish population keeps the big bass fat and happy.
“Simpson County Lake has been producing 10-pound-plus bass for the past several years, especially in the fall,” Holman said. “It’s fairly shallow with lots of cover at the upper end. The best way to fish that lake for big bass is to fish early in the morning with live golden shiners. The area around the fishing pier is very good.
“Also, many anglers troll down the middle of the lake,” he added. “In 2004, one angler caught a 14-pounder. It’s not unusual for anglers to catch double-digit bass if they know what they are doing.”
Lake Ross Barnett, an 87-acre state lake two miles south of Mize in Smith County, reopened in 1997 after a renovation. The small reservoir now offers a tremendous bass and bluegill fishery. Anglers may keep 10 bass per day with a 16- to 22-inch slot, but only one bass may stretch longer than 22 inches. The lake has recently produced bass approaching 11 pounds.
Of course, Ross Barnett Reservoir, which covers 33,000 acres near Jackson, can also produce double-digit mossbacks. Situated along the Natchez Trace northeast of the state capital, this sprawling, shallow and often murky lake was formed from the damming of Pearl River and now offers bass 105 miles of shoreline habitat and abundant cover.
“Ross Barnett Reservoir has a lot of standing timber that was associated with the old oxbow lakes along the Pearl River channel,” said Larry Bull, a MDWFP biologist in Canton. “Some depths in the old river channel are between 40 and 45 feet deep. It has quite a bit of shallow flats with water less than five feet deep and some areas up to 15 feet deep. Some places outside the old river channel get down to 25 feet.”
Impounded in 1966, the lake swallowed several of the old oxbows formerly situated along the old Pearl River channel. Some of those oxbows now offer that 25-foot-deep water.
Pelahatchie Creek runs through an earthen dam into the main lake to form Pelahatchie Bay, a lunker haven. Many islands, strands of flooded timber, humps, stumpy flats, channels, weeds and woody cover offer bass hiding places in which to grow old and fat. Ross Barnett Reservoir always ranks as one of the best bass lakes in the South.
“Ross Barnett Reservoir has been producing some bass in the 12- to 13-pound range, especially in Pelahatchie Bay,” Holman agreed. “One of the best springtime patterns at Ross Barnett is to fish soft plastics in the pad stems before they start leafing out. Pull a lizard or large worm through those pad stems. Put it on the bottom, looking like a lizard swimming about bass beds. If that doesn’t work, fish the creek channels and shelves in deep water adjacent to pad stems.”
Drained, restocked and reopened in 1990, Lake Mike Conner produced a 13-pound, 2-ounce largemouth in 1995. The 83-acre state lake, three miles west of Collins in Covington County, can produce excellent catches of big bass. Anglers may keep 10 bass per day with a 14- to 18-inch slot limit, but only one bass may measure longer than 18 inches.
“Many of the small lakes in Mississippi have excellent fishing,” Holman said. “Small lakes are much easier to manage than big lakes. We put a lot more emphasis on managing our small state lakes. For numbers, I recommend Elvis Presley Lake. Shadow Lake at Roosevelt State Park is another good lake. We are going to open up Neshobia County Lake in the spring of 2006. It was down for a number of years. We restocked it in 2004.”
With 368 acres, about two miles north of Tupelo in Lee County, the lake named for Tupelo’s favorite son produces some bass in the 5- to 8-pound range, but most Elvis Presley Lake largemouths run on the small side. On a good day, however, anglers can catch a lot of feisty small ones.
“Elvis Presley Lake is a good little spinnerbait lake,” Holman noted. “It can produce excellent numbers with a lot of fish averaging about 1 1/2 pounds.
“Shadow Lake at Roosevelt State Park was stocked entirely with Florida bass in 2001,” the fisheries coordinator continued. “We opened it to fishing in 2004. It should start producing some bass in the 6- to 8-pound range. Several years ago, it had problems with the dam, so we had to drain it and make repairs. When we did that, we renovated the fish population.”
Stocked with Florida largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish and channel catfish, Neshoba County Lake is about six miles southeast of Philadelphia and contains about 225 acres. It averages eight feet deep.
“Neshoba County Lake should be an interesting place to fish,” Holman offered. “When we drew it down, it had a flat bottom, just like a bowl. We decided to do something with the bottom and dug out numerous artificial creek channels. We also made some humps, islands, points and gravel beds. It will have a lot of structure. In the back end, it has a lot of vegetation that hasn’t quite died out yet. A crankbait worked along the points of the islands, from shallow to deep, should be very effective.”
Larry Pugh, a MDWFP district biologist in Tupelo, also praised small lakes in northeast Mississippi, recommending Lamar Bruce, Columbus, Bay Springs and Trace State Park lakes.
Trace State Park Lake holds about 600 acres and produces many fish in the 5- to 8-pound range, with some in the 12- to 13-pound range.
“To catch a double-digit bass in northeast Mississippi, go to Trace State Park Lake,” Pugh stated. “It has a little bit of everything for cover, including aquatic vegetation, points, lily pads, creek channels and shoreline brush. The habitat is very diverse. That’s what makes it so good.
“Depth varies, but it has some places about 35 feet deep,” the biologist continued. “In the spring, fish crankbaits before the spawn. After the fish go to the beds in April, fish soft plastics. The lake doesn’t have many shad, so the prime forage is sunfish.”
With about 6,700 acres of deep, clear water, Bay Springs Lake doesn’t look like most other Mississippi lakes. As the first lake on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, it connects Pickwick Lake to the rest of the Tenn-Tom. Some holes in the reservoir drop to more than 75 feet deep. Bay Springs anglers typically catch the biggest bass in February or March, but the post-spawn can also produce exciting topwater action in the backs of major coves, or near flats and secondary points. Try Piney Grove on the west side or the Five Fingers on the east side of the lake.
Dropping lizard-tipped Carolina rigs along main-lake point bottom contours also works. In 2005, the lake produced at least one 12-pound and one 10-pound largemouth. Besides tangling with some monster largemouths, anglers could land a few impressive spotted bass.
“Bay Springs is probably the deepest and clearest lake in the entire state of Mississippi,” Pugh said. “A lot of people fish main-lake points, creek channels and submerged brush tops. It’s a highland reservoir with red-clay banks and about eight feet of visibility.
“It has a tremendous amount of forage with lots of shad,” he added. “Many people fish jerkbaits or Carolina rigs off the main-lake points or secondary points before bass spawn. One of those big fish in 2005 came off a jerkbait and the other hit a Carolina rig.”
Formerly known as Bolivar County Lake, Lake Charlie Capps can provide excellent bass fishing opportunities. About 15 miles west of Cleveland, this 512-acre, shallow lake was a swamp until the state built a levee system in 1963. Much of the lake still resembles a swamp, with many stumps and treetops sheltering large populations of bass and other fish. The largemouth record stands at 11 1/2 pounds, caught in 1993 by Pascoe Sinclear.
Since boaters can move at trolling speed only, many anglers choose to fish from the bank. Five fishing piers give lake access to landlocked anglers. Anglers may keep only two bass per day.
Lake Lamar Bruce, a 330-acre state lake 1 1/2 miles northeast of Saltillo in Lee County, opened in 1954. Once known as Lake Lee, Lamar Bruce holds a tremendous panfish population. These succulent morsels provide excellent forage for the abundant largemouth bass. Billy Putt landed an 11 3/4-pound largemouth at Lake Lamar Bruce in 1992. In recent years, the state renovated the lake, improved gravel beds and added fish attractors or artificial reefs. Three fishing piers provide access to bank anglers.
Of course, bigger reservoirs can produce excellent catches of bigmouth bass. Most of those large lakes of northern Mississippi escaped damage from the hurricanes of 2005.
Better known for giant smallmouth bass, Pickwick Lake along the Tennessee River stretches through 50,000 acres of northeast Mississippi, northern Alabama and southern Tennessee. This section of the river runs from the Wilson Dam at Florence, Ala., for 58 miles to the Pickwick Dam at Counce, Tenn.
“In 2005, Pickwick Lake had the best summer for numbers that I’ve ever seen,” Pugh said. “We had a tremendous amount of 2- to 5-pound largemouths come from Pickwick, from May through August 2005. People use a lot of deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina rigs.”
In the past, Pickwick Lake produced smallmouth bass exceeding 10 pounds and also produced the Mississippi state record: a 7-pound, 15-ounce brownie that Thomas Wilbanks landed on Jan. 24, 1987.
“I think Pickwick is probably the best smallmouth lake in the country,” said Roger Stegall, a professional bass angler and guide from Iuka. “It also has some largemouths in the 9- to 10-pound range, and some big spotted bass. It’s not uncommon to fish a point on Pickwick and catch a largemouth, a smallmouth and a spotted bass on three casts with the same lure. I’ve done that lots of times.”
Near Wilson Dam, the lake still resembles the old river channel before the water spreads out into Tennessee and Mississippi. The lake averages 10 to 12 feet deep, but the Tennessee Valley Authority maintains a channel for commercial traffic. Some holes drop to more than 70 feet deep. The lake offers fish plenty of habitat, with 496 miles of shoreline.
“People need to watch where they are going on Pickwick Lake,” Stegall warned. “Some places might look like a big wide, deep channel, but it’s a shallow rocky flat. People can get in a lot of trouble if they don’t know where they’re going. If they don’t know where they are going, they need to follow the buoy markers.”
Highly aggressive and tougher fight
ers than largemouths, smallies prefer more current, deeper water and more rocky bottoms. Largemouths generally prefer weeds and thick cover. However, they often feed upon the same forage and hit the same lures.
The majority of Pickwick Lake lies in Alabama. Therefore, anglers with an Alabama license can fish from the Wilson Dam downstream to the Pickwick Dam near Counce, Tenn. A Tennessee or a Mississippi license allows anglers to fish only certain portions of the lake.
For booking trips with Stegall, call (662) 423-3869. On the Internet, visit www.fishpickwick.com