If you plan to do some bass fishing in Mississippi this month, the options are many. But, here are some of the lakes that you don’t want to overlook. The bass are active and ready for a fight in these locations.
Pick your poison when it comes to bass fishing at Pickwick Lake. Whether it’s largemouths, smallmouths, or spotted bass that get your angling blood boiling, this man-made reservoir offers excellent opportunities for all three. Primarily known for its giant smallmouths, Pickwick Lake anglers are prone to catch just about any fish species found in temperate North America.
Located in the far reaches of northeast Mississippi near the sleepy town of Iuka in Tishomingo County, Pickwick Lake is the Magnolia State’s premier fishing destination. This massive 50,000-acre impoundment is one of several lakes formed by the damming of the Tennessee River. With almost 500 miles of shoreline bordering Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, this lake is prime black bass habitat.
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The vastness of Pickwick Lake is the first obstacle a bass angler must overcome. For the shallow water largemouths, focusing on the short pea-gravel points adjacent to deep bends in river and creek channels or sharp bluff banks is your best bet. The two most popular shallow water baits are medium- to deep-running rattling crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits. Lure speed and color can be a big deal with Pickwick largemouths. Keeping an open mind is critical when it comes to lure selection. A willingness to change the color, size, or style of lure to match what the fish want at the time helps you put more largemouths in the boat.
Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, prefer deeper water with more current and rockier bottoms. And when it comes to spotted bass, the preferred habitat is a combination of its two cousins. Spotted bass thrive in permanent-flowing deep waters, but prefer warmer and slightly more turbid conditions than those favored by smallmouths. Fortunately, Pickwick Lake contains prime habitat for all three of these black bass species. While fishing the same point, anglers frequently catch largemouths, smallmouths, and spotted bass with the same lure.
Since spotted bass and smallmouths consume large quantities of crawfish, lures that mimic these crustaceans may produce the best results. Some of the more popular lures for Pickwick Lake include: small crankbaits, gold bladed spinnerbaits with white or chartreuse skirts, smoke or chartreuse soft plastic grubs on lead-headed jigs, and suspending jerkbaits.
NESHOBA COUNTY LAKE
One of the Magnolia State’s best kept trophy bass fishing secrets can be found just a few miles to the southeast of Philadelphia in Neshoba County. While Neshoba County Lake may be among the smallest state operated fishing lakes, what this 138-acre impoundment lacks in size it more than makes up for in lunker largemouths. And since this lake is so small, anglers don’t have to spend the entire day trying to find the fish.
The lake was closed in 2004 and underwent an extensive transformation. The old channels were dug out and a few new ones were excavated. Excellent bass habitat was created by digging 8- to 10-foot deep channels within casting distance of the shoreline, pushing up islands, and establishing structure in the stump fields. The lake was restocked with Florida bass and reopened to public fishing in 2006.
Almost immediately this newly renovated bass factory started laying out lunker largemouths on its production line. Bass pushing the 9-pound mark were being caught the next year. Surprisingly, Ryan Porter’s 14-pound monster caught back in 2009 remains the current lake record bass. However, double-digit largemouths are extremely common in this small body of productive water, so Porter’s record may not last much longer.
A variety of techniques have proven effective on this lake due to the abundance and diversity of fishing structure. Working crankbaits in the deep channels; flipping soft plastics along the grassy shelves; and crawling frogs or buzz baits on the edges of vegetation are all excellent ways to entice a bite from a Neshoba County Lake largemouth.
ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR
Located just northeast of Jackson between Madison and Rankin Counties, Ross Barnett Reservoir is one of Mississippi’s most popular largemouth bass lakes. This enormous 33,000-acre reservoir boasts over 100 miles of shoreline and an incredible amount of bass cover. Created by the damming of the Pearl River way back in 1963, Ross Barnett Reservoir offers every type of bass structure and vegetation imaginable.
Shocking surveys conducted on Ross Barnett Reservoir by fisheries biologists with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks continue to indicate a very healthy largemouth bass population. And with the diversity of habitat available combined with its massive size, bass opportunities should remain good even with the incredible amount of tournament pressure that Ross Barnett Reservoir receives annually.
Although the Pelahatchie Bay area is the most popular location for trophy-sized bass, a number of lunker largemouths are being caught on a regular basis on the upper Pearl River around the Cane Creek backwaters. According to local anglers, the vegetation south of State Route 43 on the Rankin County side and the abundant backwater areas north of SR 43 offer some of the better locations to target largemouths in March. Soft plastic frogs and Texas rigged plastic worms are the most popular lures in these areas, but anything weedless should be just as effective at enticing a bite from a hidden largemouth.
Anglers should also focus on the stumps in shallow water adjacent to the river and creek channels during the spawn. If the bottom is sandy enough, some bass spawn beside the stumps. And as many Ross Barnett Reservoir bass anglers have discovered, spinnerbaits are deadly for March fishing around the stumps.
LAKE CALLING PANTHER
The southwest corner of the Magnolia State is home to three of the hottest trophy bass lakes to be found anywhere. And while all three are excellent choices, Lake Calling Panther in Copiah County tops the list of this trophy largemouth trio. MDWFP manages this 512-acre manmade lake, which is located five miles west of Crystal Springs and only a half an hour drive from the metropolitan Jackson area.
Deriving its name from the Choctaw Indian word, “Copiah,” Lake Calling Panther is best described as a small lake in the middle of the woods. With only one boat ramp and a single long pier running alongside the boat launch, some might consider it wanting in amenities. However, the one quality that Lake Calling Panther doesn’t lack is outstanding largemouth bass fishing.
Although not a very large impoundment, Lake Calling Panther offers quite a wide variety of fishing options. For example, Lake Calling Panther’s erratic shape produces a total length of shoreline comparable to a lake more than twice its size. It also harbors an abundance of standing and fallen timber and numerous deep creek channels, offering the angler a unique fishing experience. The thick standing timber in the lake provides a unique experience while maneuvering your boat in and out of the numerous small openings. But if you desire more diverse structure, there is a strip of deep water along the dam, a number of shallow flats, and brush piles in various depths up to 45 feet. Although grass can be found in some areas, most of the lake bottom is either clay or sand.
When Lake Calling Panther opened in March 2006, the lake was highly anticipated to be a first class fishery. The MDWFP biologists placed a seven-fish limit on bass, with a slot between 16- and 22-inches for fish that had to be released. But, it does allow one fish over 22 inches. In only a few years of this type of management, the small lake was producing bass in the double digits.
But as the number of smaller fish began building up, the limit was adjusted to 30 bass per day and allowed anglers to keep one fish over 20 inches. The biologists wanted to create a liberal limit on bass to encourage people to harvest the abundant fish found at Lake Calling Panther. The new limit allows fishermen to keep fish to eat, but also allows them to keep a trophy bass if they catch one. In other words, Lake Calling Panther bass fishermen get to have the best of both worlds.
According to Brandon Clement, a regular on Lake Calling Panther, a 6-inch June bug plastic worm is his lure of choice. Clement has also had excellent results with poppers in the deeper water in the early morning and late afternoon. Inexplicably, crankbaits and spinnerbaits simply don’t produce like they should on this lake. For best results, Clement suggests Texas-rigged plastics and jigs to entice a strike.
Although excellent bass fishing can be had anywhere on the lake, there are three hotspots that have been consistent producers for area anglers. The first is on the southern point of a stand of flooded timber located about 100 yards out from the boat launch.
The transition area where the flooded timber drops down into deep open water has been a good spot for both numbers and quality bass. The second hotspot is located just past the timber in open water. A sandy bank on the west side of the channel serves as a staging area for largemouths. And the third hotspot is along the rock-lined levee in both shallow and deep water.
At the time of this writing, the lake record largemouth for Calling Panther was a 15.25-pound monster caught by James Allen of Crystal Springs on February 26, 2011. But with the numbers of monster bass regularly caught and released at Lake Calling Panther, it is doubtful that Allen’s record will stand.
Filling the second slot of the trophy bass trio is Okhissa Lake. Opened to public fishing in November 2007, a little over a year and a half after Lake Calling Panther was opened, Okhissa Lake has since been dubbed the premier largemouth bass factory in the Magnolia State.
Okhissa Lake is a 1,200-acre clear spring-fed lake and recreation area surrounded by the Homochitto National Forest and located just three miles south of the small town of Meadville in Franklin County. Sanctioned as the first Bill Dance Signature Lake, Okhissa was designed with everything necessary for a largemouth bass to grow big.
Many anglers feel that Lake Okhissa is on track to yield the new Mississippi State Record Largemouth. After all, the current lake record largemouth (an 11.56-pound lunker) was caught on March 8, 2013, by Earl Watts of Denham Springs, Louisiana. After being weighed and measured, Watts’ largemouth was returned unharmed to the waters of Lake Okhissa for another lucky angler to catch.
With over 39 miles of shoreline and harboring an abundance of standing timber, Okhissa Lake is literally a largemouth bass paradise. It has an average depth of 31 feet, stretches approximately two miles from north to south, and is over a mile wide at its widest point at the lagoon.
Porter Creek runs the entire length of this manmade reservoir. This sizeable channel along with numerous smaller feeder creeks and gullies offer some great deep-water bass fishing.
Casting crankbaits and flipping soft plastic swimbaits to fish holding on the many points available on Okhissa Lake are the most productive techniques. However, topwater lures and oversized soft plastics are also very effective when fished in the early morning and late afternoon. Outstanding fishing opportunities abound on this premier fishing hole. And according to anglers that frequent its waters, coming home empty-handed after a day of fishing on Okhissa Lake is a daunting task.
NATCHEZ STATE PARK LAKE
Completing the third leg of the southwest Mississippi trophy bass triangle tour is Natchez State Park Lake. Located off U.S Highway 61 just 10 miles north of the historic city of Natchez, this tiny 230-acre lake has long been recognized as a trophy largemouth hotspot.
Ever since Anthony Denny of nearby Washington pulled the largest bass in Mississippi history (an 18.15-pound monster) from its waters back in 1992, anglers have frequented its waters in hopes of breaking the long-standing state record.
Following a few years where there was a problem with too much grass, then not enough, MDWFP fisheries biologists have finally gotten the vegetation balance they have been looking for. The structure in the lake is extensive, allowing the bass ample cover no matter what the water temperature or conditions.
Although it was built way back in 1985, the future couldn’t be any brighter for this nearly 30-year-old lake, thanks to the intense management program implemented by the MDWFP biologists.
There are two proven fishing patterns that work well in March on Natchez State Park Lake. The first pattern involves fishing the shallows in the early morning and late afternoon with buzz baits and topwater plugs.
And if you have an adventurous streak, try fishing this lake in the dark. Few anglers are aware that Natchez State Park Lake is a 24-hour lake, allowing fishing all day and all night.
The night fishing pattern consists of working the wide variety of structure available at the lake with a pig-and-jig combination or a Carolina rigged plastic worm. Fishing the submerged timber along the flooded creek channels, referred to as the “East Creek” and the “West Creek” by the locals, can be very productive. In addition, a long brush pile that can easily be found using your boat’s sonar is located just out from the boat landing in 18- to 25- feet of water.
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