As winter rolls into spring, Mississippi bass fishing starts to get exciting as anglers anticipate another year on lakes and rivers, preparing gear and planning trips with high expectations. Of course, expectations don't mean that it will be a good year for bass, but most lakes in the Magnolia State are pretty steady. However, every lake can ebb and flow in regard to fish populations, for a variety of reasons.
Lake Tangipahoa is open and will be a bass hotspot in the southwest region this spring. The lake had been closed since 2012, after damage from Hurricane Isaac, reopening in September 2016. Bass anglers can look to the lake for numbers and quality of fish.
"It's a renovated and restocked fishery, but there were already fish in the Tangipahoa River so anglers may catch larger, older fish too," said MDWFP Project Manager and Southwest Region Biologist Jerry Brown. "We stocked Florida-strain largemouth bass, but there will also be northern largemouth bass."
The 490-acre impoundment of the Tangipahoa River is located in Percy Quinn State Park near McComb. The lake offers a defined river channel with ledges, along with a riprap levee, plenty of structure with the addition of brush piles and areas containing vegetation. It has good access for bank fishing with several piers. The lake has a slot limit of 16 to 22 inches and anglers can keep one fish over 22 inches.
Good baits are shad imitating lures due to the presence of shad as the main bass forage. Texas-rigged soft plastics also work well around structures and brush piles — try colors like green pumpkin and watermelon due to the water visibility. Frogs fished near vegetation also produce strikes. Topwater lures and crankbaits may land a lunker along the riprap dam.
Anglers should head to Lake Mary Crawford for numbers, it's a bass crowded lake and the creel limit has been raised to 30 to encourage harvest. For size, look to Lake Jeff Davis, Lake Lincoln, Natchez State Park and Calling Panther. These lakes have been reporting double-digit bass each year.
The Central Region is always a top choice for bass anglers, since it's the home of Ross Barnett Reservoir. Over the last four years though, negative trends have been observed in largemouth bass catch rates and electrofishing catch rates at Ross Barnett. The minimum length limit on black bass has been increased from 12 to 14 inches, while the daily creel limit remains at seven.
"Although these trends could be natural fluctuations in the population, a conservative approach is necessary to protect the resource from exploitation," said Ryan Jones, central region biologist.
Another top choice for bass is Neshoba County State Lake. This lake has been growing big fish for quite a while and produces numerous trophy largemouth every spring. The 138-acre state fishing lake is located southeast of Philadelphia. The lake is dominated by shallow flats with tremendous amounts of vegetation, but deep water habitat can be found along the levee. The lake watershed continues to provide nutrients for the dense stands of vegetation, making it a haven for insects, crayfish and frogs, as well as excellent bass habitat.
The Neshoba County Lake is fed by a creek that provides other forage species, such as chubsuckers and gold shiners. The lake was stocked with 8- to 12-inch grass carp in efforts to reduce the submerged vegetation, but this may only be providing additional forage for the bass.
Tactics for spring bass include working soft-plastic frogs in the vegetation. Try swimbaits along the edges of the vegetation, but when there is pressure, shiners are the go-to bait.
Lake Claude Bennett is another good numbers lake, with a creel limit that has been increased to 30 bass per day. The lake contains a crowded fishery requiring higher harvest rates to achieve a healthy, balanced population.
In the Delta Region, most bass anglers think of oxbow lakes. Fishing has been poor in oxbows in recent years, but above average water levels have led to good spawns and high growth rates, and made 2016 a great year for most anglers.
"Many bass anglers were frustrated in 2013 to 2015 due to poor bass fishing in the Delta, which was likely caused by the severe drought in 2012," said Nathan Aycock, regional biologist. "Our sampling has shown that fishing improved in 2016 and we expect it to continue to improve in 2017."
Lake Ferguson, one of the premier bass lakes in Mississippi, has long been a good spot for catching big bass. This past year, though, lots of smaller bass have been seen, so Ferguson should be good for both quality and numbers this spring. The lake is greatly affected by Mississippi River levels due to having a constant connection to the river. The best fishing occurs when water levels are falling. Try the rocky shoreline on the south end with crankbaits. If the water is low, look to find shallow chutes and go after them with spinnerbaits.
Monitor the Mississippi River level at the Greenville gauge. Ferguson can be tough to fish because of the influence of the river, especially when water levels are rising.
Pickwick Lake is a top choice in the northeast region for largemouth bass. The nationally renowned lake stands out in the Magnolia State and has proven to be one of the best lakes for tournaments, finishing in the top three for the last few years.
There's been a boom in the bass populations due to an increase in the amount of aquatic vegetation over the past few years in Pickwick. This has been met with both excitement and displeasure by anglers.
"It definitely makes anglers change up their tactics a little," said Tyler Stubbs, regional biologist. "Many anglers hold to the motto, grass equals bass, and have attributed higher catch rates to the grass presence."
However ,vegetation is not the only contributing factor for the boom, as the lake boasts high forage populations of gizzard and threadfin shad.
Pickwick tends to produce some good fish early each spring, but the lake has both numbers and quality fish. Good tactics for the spring spawn are to target shallow backwater areas using topwater lures and spinnerbaits. Texas rigs and crankbaits near shorelines also produce strikes.
Bay Springs Lake is also a top tournament lake, but for a smaller impoundment, try the 300-acre Lamar Bruce. It is predicted to start producing some big fish this spring. There is currently a 16-to-22-inch slot on bass, and the slot is proving to be effective. Since renovations and reopening in 2015, no bass over the slot has been reported, but MDWFP personnel have seen a couple fish surpass the slot during routine sampling.
The Northwest Region is home of the big four flood control reservoirs — Enid, Sardis, Arkabutla and Grenada lakes — plus the popular Tunica Cutoff Lake. All the flood control reservoirs had a big 2013 bass year-class and fairly good spawns since. Expect good numbers of bass less than 4 pounds, with fewer larger fish. Bass populations at Grenada will be the lowest due to turbid waters, but numbers are also low at Tunica Cutoff due to a 2011 flood, drought in 2012, and abundances of gar and Asian carp, but numbers of smaller fish are improving. Enid has the biggest bass, but recent high water years have increased size in Arkabutla Lake making it the go to spot for the northwest region.
Arkabutla saw the best results from the drought of 2012 and flooding in 2013. Strong spawns have occurred each year thereafter, resulting in some great bass action.
Tactics for Arkabutla include spinnerbaits and rattlebaits in shallow water, though some use topwater lures as search baits. When bass are located, soft plastics or jigs with trailers may result in more strikes.
The water in Arkabutla is mostly muddy and stained, so look for clearer water off main lake points or edges of creek channels. And don't be discouraged if the parking lots are full, as this is usually crappie guys.
"I don't see any issues negatively affecting bass anglers in my region," said Stephen Brown, biologist. "Unless we have extended flooding as last spring on the Pascagoula River system."
Lake Bogue Homa remains at the top of the list. Almost seven years after reopening from renovations, the bass fishery is thriving and large fish are now common. MDWFP electro-fishing surveys have shown high reproduction and high abundance. The shallow water lake has numerous cypress trees and stumps. Try fishing frog imitations around lotus and white lilies, weedless flukes and soft plastics yield good results, too.
Bass anglers should also consider Lake Perry, Bill Waller Lake and Lake Columbia. In the south, anglers may want to consider the Pascagoula marsh and river oxbows this year. These areas should be productive, assuming there is no extended flooding.
Besides the Pascagoula River, there are a lot of other rivers and streams in the state that sport bass action. The Pearl River stretches through the central, southwest and coastal regions and boasts an excellent population. Water fluctuates depending on how much water is being released from Ross Barnet Reservoir. The Buttahatchie River and Bear Creek in the northeast have good bass fishing and are very scenic. And anglers should overlook the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
Wherever Magnolia anglers decide to go this spring some hot bass action awaits. There are many Mississippi waters that are sure to give anglers daily creel limits and maybe even a lunker for the wall.
MDWFP Bass Movement Study
MDWFP biologists, led by Ryan Jones, are conducting a black bass dispersal study at Ross Barnett Reservoir. A total of 525 black bass were tagged and released during two fishing tournaments held at the reservoir. This is to evaluate the movement of tournament-released fish. Each bass was tagged in the back near the dorsal fin with two yellow tags that look like small pieces of spaghetti. A telephone number and an identification number are printed on each tag. Anglers catching tagged fish are asked to call the number and provide the tag number, recapture location, date and whether the bass was harvested or released. All the tournament fish were released at the Goshen Springs landing on Highway 43. At the time of this writing, 50 recaptures have been reported as follows: 26 percent were caught near the release site, 12 percent were recaptured in the main lake, 28 percent were caught along the rocks of the highway 43 bridge leading to the main lake, and 34 percent were caught in the Pearl River. So far, the bass are dispersing in all directions.