February 15, 2017
The awesome flow of the Mississippi River created abundant lakes, bayous and backwaters, creating some great Mississippi/Louisiana crappie fishing.
Many of these waters routinely produce incredible fishing for anglers from both states. Even better, both states contain other lake and river systems that are teeming with fish, especially crappie.
Poverty Point on Bayou Macon in Louisiana, sits on land once occupied by one of the oldest cultures in the state. Native people walked along Bayou Macon more than 3,600 years ago. More recently, the 2,700-acre reservoir just north of Delhi ignited a fishing frenzy by adding seven crappie to the state record books in the past seven years, including the state record black crappie.
In April 2010, Randy K. Causey set the Louisiana black crappie record with a 3.84-pounder. However, the tiny impoundment dominates the white crappie category. In February 2016, Twayne Hosea caught a 3.52-pound white, the second largest in the Louisiana record book. Less than a month later, Dwayne Hosea added the No. 3 fish, a 3.48-pounder. Also that month, Rodger McConnell caught a 3.46-pound white for fourth place.
On the other side of the state, Toledo Bend Reservoir covers more than 185,000 acres along 65 miles of the old Sabine River channel spanning the Louisiana-Texas line. Always a favorite, the sprawling system came in 38th on the 2016 Fishhound.com list of the top 50 crappie lakes in the nation, the only one listed in Louisiana.
Jodie E. Crouch, Jr. caught the biggest Toledo Bend black crappie registered in Louisiana, a fish weighing 3.55 pounds. It tied for second place in the state record book. However, an angler caught a 3.69-pounder, but weighed it in Texas. Another Texan caught a 3.44-pound white crappie, a fish that would have tied for fifth place in the Louisiana book.
Villis Dowden, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, suggests anglers visit Grand Bayou Reservoir and Sibley Lake. John K. Kelly Grand Bayou Reservoir, more simply known as Grand Bayou, covers about 2,700 acres near Coushatta in Red River Parish.
Sibley Lake spreads across 2,176 acres near Natchitoches. Shallow with stained water, Sibley Lake warms a bit quicker than other lakes in the region. On a warm afternoon in early spring, look for crappie along the banks next to grass in 2 to 3 feet of water.
"Grand Bayou Reservoir produces quality sized and good numbers of crappie," Dowden stated. "Sibley Lake is mainly known for producing numbers, but crappie sizes have improved over the last few years."
For big crappie in northwest Louisiana, anglers should head to Lake Bistineau. One of the oldest and most scenic lakes in Louisiana, Lake Bistineau covers about 15,500 acres near Ringgold. Much of the lake looks more like a flooded cypress swamp with deeper channels running through it.
"Lake Bistineau is improving for crappie," said Jeff Sibley, LDWF biologist in Minden. "Annual drawdowns of Lake Bistineau for vegetation and organic accretion control are providing better spawning habitat and forage conditions for crappie and other sportfish."
Sibley also recommended Ivan Lake, a 369-acre system on Bodcau Wildlife Management Area southeast of Plain Dealing. The shallow upper part of the lake contains numerous stumps and dead timbers. Anglers find deeper water near the dam.
"Ivan Lake was restored in 2012, so it has an expanding fish population," Sibley remarked. "Five fishing piers were constructed complete with feeders and associated structure. Bank anglers report good catches of crappie and bream from these piers."
The swamps, canals and bayous in southern Louisiana often produce excellent crappie numbers, but typically smaller fish than lakes farther north. However, Tim Ricca landed the state record white crappie, a 3.80-pounder, while fishing Lake Verret in May 2010. North of Morgan City, Lake Verret includes 14,000 acres surrounded by cypress trees and connects to other lakes through numerous canals and bayous.
Old River, sometimes called Lake Raccourci or Raccourci Old River, can also produce some good crappie. Once part of the Mississippi River channel, the 12-mile long oxbow lake in Pointe Coupee and West Feliciana parishes measures about 4,000 acres.
"Old River, or Raccourci, and the area around Lake Verret are both managed as maximum yield crappie fisheries; not for trophy size, but they can produce some big fish," explained Brian J. Heimann, LDWF biologist. "Most crappie range from 8 to 12 inches, but anglers do catch some in the 12- to 15-inch range. Old River Raccourci is on the upswing. There were a few poor spawn and recruitment years recently, but catches are increasing in both number and in distribution of size."
Across the big river, Mississippi offers outstanding crappie action, with seven fisheries making the 2016 Fishhound.com list of top crappie lakes. Topping the list, Grenada Lake consistently produces giant crappie.
"Grenada Lake is probably one of the better lakes in the country to catch a big crappie," said Keith Meals, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks biologist. "It produces many 2- to 2.5-pound fish with the biggest crappie in many tournaments coming in around 3 to 3.5 pounds."
One of four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control reservoirs in northern Mississippi, along with Sardis, Enid and Arkabutla lakes, Grenada Lake produced at least one crappie weighing 4 pounds, 13 ounces. In 2014, two pros landed 14 fish weighing 38.92 pounds for a 2.78-pound average.
Impounded on the Yalobusha River about three miles northeast of the town of Grenada, the lake dates to 1954. The Skuna River flows into the northern end of the lake, creating the second main arm of the reservoir. In all, the largest lake entirely within Mississippi spreads across about 35,000 acres at pool stage, but the COE draws down all four big flood control reservoirs each fall. By December, little more than the main river and creek channels remain under water until levels begin to rise again in the spring.
"Either side of the lake has some pretty good fishing," remarked Sonny Sipes, professional crappie angler. "I've probably caught more than 500 crappie over 3 pounds in Grenada Lake."
Although anglers can catch big crappie all year long at Grenada Lake, the best fishing naturally occurs in the spring. As water warms, anglers probe shallow cover with jigs or live minnows. Some crappie anglers use spider rigs, which can deploy as many as eight rods dangling from holders on the boat bow.
"If I could only fish Grenada Lake once a year, I'd fish the first three weeks of March," said Jarad Roper, professional angler. "In the spring, I fish the Yalobusha side and focus on little ditches, creek channels and backwater areas. The water in the Yalobusha side is a little more stained to muddy."
Sardis Lake came in at No. 5 on the list of top crappie lakes. At normal pool, Sardis Lake covers 32,500 acres, but like the other flood control reservoirs, it loses about 70 percent of its water in the winter. One of the deepest lakes in Mississippi, Sardis sits on the Little Tallahatchie River about nine miles southeast of the town of Sardis. Like Grenada, it holds many crappie in the 2- to 3-pound range, with excellent numbers of 1- to 1.5-pound fish.
"Sardis and Enid are better for numbers and Arkabutla and Grenada for size," said Meals. "Creel surveys on those lakes show that crappie average 1.2 to 1.5 pounds, but all four of the lakes are capable of producing crappie exceeding 3 pounds. Enid Lake holds the state and world record white crappie with a 5-pound, 3-ounce fish caught in 1957. Arkabutla holds the state record black crappie at 4.25 pounds, with a fish caught in 1991."
South of Batesville, Enid Lake covers about 17,000 acres. Dating to 1943, Arkabutla Lake spreads over 11,240 acres in Tate and DeSoto counties.
Located just outside Jackson, Ross Barnett Reservoir took sixth place on the top lake list. The riverine system covers about 33,000 acres on Pearl River. The reservoir encompasses several old oxbow lakes along the old river channel. Although it averages about 6-feet deep, some parts of the lake drop to more than 40-feet deep.
Pickwick Lake made the list at No. 11, spreading through 47,500 acres on the Tennessee River and touching Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. As it flows westward into Mississippi near Iuka, the riverine lake spreads out into a typical reservoir. Bay Springs Lake, a 6,700-acre system in Tishomingo and Prentiss counties, connects to Pickwick Lake.
"For size and crappie numbers in northeast Mississippi, I would say Pickwick and Bay Springs are the best," advised Tyler Stubbs, MDWFP biologist in Tupelo. "Both Pickwick and Bay Springs had a tough year in 2016, with water level fluctuations at the wrong times in the spring. Spawning usually occurs in March, but it can vary from February to April, or even early May depending on the year."
Lake Washington placed 17th in the top crappie lake list. One of the oldest Mississippi River oxbows, it dates back centuries and spreads over about 5,000 acres south of Greenville in Washington County. It runs about 10 miles along the old river channel.
"Lake Washington can produce good numbers of fish and some big fish," commented Chad Washington, state biologist in Greenville. "Anglers can expect to catch 1- to 2-pound crappie on just about any visit, but the lake has produced some bigger than 3 pounds."
Fishing should continue to improve in Lake Washington and other Mississippi River oxbows. Low river levels in the past few years led to poor spawns, but higher than normal levels during most of 2015 and into 2016 recharged many lakes.
Another good oxbow lake, Eagle Lake covers 4,700 acres just north of Vicksburg. Chotard Lake and Albemarle oxbow lakes still connect to the Mississippi River and fluctuate wildly throughout the year. Each of these lakes can produce many 1- to 2-pound crappie and some 3-pounders.
"When the river is right, Chotard and Albemarle can produce some good fish," advised Jerry Brown, MDWFP fisheries biologist. "Because of water level fluctuations, crappie populations declined in the oxbow lakes still connecting to the river, but they are improving now. We occasionally see some 3-pounders come out of Eagle Lake. In December 2015, an angler caught a 3.04-pound crappie at Eagle Lake. Another good lake, Calling Panther Lake, produced some fish in the 1- to 2-pound range in 2016."
This and many other waters on either side of the great river can produce excellent fishing all year long. Just pick a good spot and enjoy some rod-bending action.
Banking From Toledo Bend
Although ranked as the biggest freshwater reservoir in the South, Toledo Bend provides abundant opportunities for anglers to catch crappie from shore.
Several bridges cross over creeks connecting to the lake. The Pendleton Bridge follows La. 6 across the lake into Texas. At these bridges, anglers can usually find bank access.
On the Louisiana side, La. 191 crosses Lanan Creek, a major channel that feeds into the main reservoir just north of the Pendleton Bridge. Some people fish this area, particularly during the spring spawning season.
"There are numerous bridges found throughout Toledo Bend Reservoir that bank anglers can access," explained Villis Dowden, LDWF biologist. "Crappie do pass along and through these structures when spawning or moving to deeper water. Care must be given as to where the anglers park to not impede traffic. Lanan Creek Bridge and Pendleton Bridge can both be good at times. They are both located in the middle portion of the lake."
In addition, several public parks and private campgrounds, along the length of the reservoir, offer access for bank fishing. Both South Toledo Bend and North Toledo Bend state parks have fishing piers.