April 03, 2019
Throughout Mississippi, numerous places to catch bass peak this spring. Starting in the northeastern part of the Magnolia State, Pickwick Lake produces many 4- to 8-pound largemouths and occasional double-digit fish. Pickwick also produced the Mississippi state record smallmouth, a 7-pound, 15-ounce bruiser. Many smallies here land in the 4- to 6-pound range.
Smallmouth bass spawn when water temperatures reach about 59 to 63 degrees (compared to largemouths that spawn in water temperatures ranging from 65 to 70 degrees). In addition, smallies here generally spawn a little deeper, sometimes on a shelf in the main Tennessee River channel. Largemouths prefer to spawn in shallow coves near weed beds, stumps, fallen trees or some other cover.
Some of the best spring fishing on Pickwick Lake occurs in Yellow Creek, birthplace of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway near where the Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi state lines converge. The waterway connects to Bay Springs Lake, which covers about 6,700 acres in Tishomingo and Prentiss counties. Deep and clear, Big Springs Lake produces good Kentucky spotted bass numbers. Many spots exceed 5 pounds and a few top 7 pounds, particularly in late winter and early spring. The lake also produces some double-digit largemouth, with an occasional fish breaking 11 pounds.
“Bay Springs has a healthy spotted bass population and really shines at this time of year,” advised Trevor Knight, a Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks biologist. “From February through mid-April, Bay Springs can actually out-produce Pickwick. In tournaments, we see anglers catching bags of spotted bass weighing 20 pounds or more at this time of year. It has brush piles, roadbeds, standing timber, gravel points, some hydrilla and pondweed.”
Bay Springs can produce trophy smallmouth bass. In March, the best action usually takes place in the backs of major coves or near flats and secondary points. Piney Grove on the west side or the Five Fingers area on the east side of the lake traditionally offer excellent fishing in the spring. Anglers also catch smallies in the canal section below the lake.
Although only 330 acres, Lake Lamar Bruce holds some giant bass. The state fishing lake northeast of Saltillo in Lee County has delivered some bass approaching 12 pounds. The lake hosts a tremendous panfish population, which feed fat largemouth.
“Bay Springs Lake and Lake Lamar Bruce are the top lakes in northeast Mississippi,” Knight said. “Lamar Bruce is good at this time of year because it has been stocked with only Florida-strain largemouth bass. The water clarity is typically 3 to 5 feet. When the water temperature hits the 50s to low 60s, small clear impoundments typically fish very well. In March and April 2018, anglers at Lamar Bruce caught at least three bass over 10 pounds. One 11.82-pounder became the new lake record.”
Lamar Bruce contains many stumps, brush piles and riprap shorelines that attract bass. However, the state did some work to further enhance bass habitat by establishing more native vegetation such as water willows. This should improve fishing.
“During March, bass at both Bay Springs and Lamar Bruce will be in the prespawn and spawn phases,” Knight explained. “The spawn typically peaks in mid-April on these lakes. Look for bass at the mouths of creeks, on roadbeds, and around old grass beds on Bay Springs. If the water comes up quickly, look for bass in flooded bushes. At Lamar Bruce, look for bass on the beds in coves and other places with hard bottoms.”
In northwestern Mississippi, most people rightfully consider the “Big Four” flood control lakes — Arkabutla, Enid, Grenada and Sardis — among the best crappie reservoirs in the nation, but these waters also produce lunker largemouth. For bass, Sardis and Enid probably rank a little higher than the other two. Each one holds many 5- to 7-pound bass. Sardis produced some bass close to 10 pounds.
“The best bass waters in northwestern Mississippi are Sardis and Enid reservoirs,” remarked Keith Meals, a MDWFP biologist. “Both lakes remain clear for the majority of the growing season, allowing good bass recruitment, especially during high water years. Enid Lake is more of a numbers lake, but it does produce more 6- and 7-pound bass than the other three big reservoirs. The lake also produced some 8-pounders.”
Sardis drops to more than 70 feet deep in places. Enid Lake spreads across 16,130 acres on the Yocona River. In the fall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drops the water level of all four lakes. The lakes ordinarily reach winter pool by early December and begin refilling in January. They reach summer pool by early May — so anglers can expect to see rising water in March.
“Typically, bass are in prespawn during most of March unless the weather is unusually warm,” Meals predicted. “Fish follow tributary channels to the spawning coves and pockets in major creek arms. If there is vegetation, bass will be in the vegetation on the edges of creeks. If not, they will use woody cover, including planted brush and/or stake shelters. Spawning takes place on firm bottoms such as hard clay, sand or gravel. Bass also spawn on flooded roadbeds. Spawning usually takes place in the second week of April and lasts about a month, but can vary a week or two either way depending on weather.”
Arkabutla Lake spreads over 11,240 acres of Tate and DeSoto counties. Grenada Lake covers 35,000 acres at pool stage near the town of Grenada. With little aquatic vegetation in these Corps lakes, many people fish the creek channels, humps, docks, old timber and shorelines. During low-water periods, vegetation that grew on the exposed lake bottom can provide excellent spawning habitat when inundated.
“Because of 60 to 70 years of seasonal water fluctuation, those lakes have almost no aquatic vegetation,” Meals lamented. “However, record low water in 2012 resulted in massive colonization of terrestrial vegetation on lake bottoms. That vegetation was flooded in 2013, which resulted in a very strong bass year class. Those bass contributed to tournament catches in 2018 of five-fish sacks weighing more than 20 pounds. We also expect to see a strong class of bass in 2019 because of the high water levels in 2018.”
In the spring, the Mississippi River frequently floods. Water can overflow into numerous oxbow lakes and backwaters. When a flood happens, muddy water generally messes up fishing for a while, but those waters also recharge and refresh the backwater systems.
“In the March/April timeframe, everything depends upon water levels, which are usually pretty high,” observed Nathan Aycock a state fisheries biologist. “Spawning peaks later in oxbows connected to the river than in disconnected oxbows due to the colder water of the Mississippi River. Spawning is also tied to the flood pulse of high water coming in that allows fish to migrate into newly flooded areas, which are good spawning grounds.”
During the spring, Aycock recommended fishing Lake Ferguson inside the Mississippi River levee at Greenville in Washington County. The oxbow still connects to the main river, so the water level fluctuates throughout the year.
“If water is high enough, several small floodplain lakes that connect to the main lake can offer really good fishing,” Aycock said. “One is the ‘upper lake’ that connects on the north end of Ferguson. There is also ‘Archer Lake’ that connects down towards the southern end. If the water is right, fishing can be great.”
The fertile oxbow produces good bass numbers and some lunkers. Lake Ferguson contains profuse habitat from large pilings, piers, riprap, sandbars, stump fields to flooded vegetation during high-water periods. Some sunken barges also hold fish.
“Extreme low water levels in 2012 hurt the fishery tremendously, but over the past few years we’ve had more periods of higher water. That led to better spawns, which ultimately improved the fisheries,” Aycock remarked. “Pay attention to the river gauge. If the river is coming up quickly, fishing can be very difficult. The best fishing usually occurs when the river is on a slow fall.”
In central Mississippi, few lakes can compete with Ross Barnett Reservoir for bass numbers. The “Rez” covers about 33,000 acres full of incredible habitat from numerous stump fields, weeds and channel drops near Jackson. Some holes in the old Pearl River channel drop to more than 40 feet deep.
“Ross Barnett Reservoir contains riverine and lake environments, which provide a variety of habitat types to target black bass,” explained Ryan Jones, a MDWFP biologist. “A variety of vegetation types provide cover throughout the reservoir. Upriver, many laydowns are along the bank. The main lake is littered with stumps and deep structure along the old river channel. People can also fish river channels and backwater habitats upriver as well as shallow vegetation flats, ledges and old flooded lakes downriver. In developed areas, bass tend to hold near seawalls, boathouses and piers.”
Most Ross Barnett bass average about 2 pounds. However, many largemouth ranging from 4 to 6 pounds grow fat by feasting on plentiful panfish. The lake can produce bass in the 8- to 10-pound range. The spawn traditionally peaks in mid-April.
“Ross Barnett Reservoir contains a healthy black bass population with good numbers of quality fish in the 3- to 4-pound range,” Jones said. “The average big fish for a tournament would be 6 pounds, while 8-pound bass are caught regularly in the spring. I know about at least one 11-pounder caught recently in a bass tournament.”
Fishing should improve in coming years at Ross Barnett. In conjunction with the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state began stocking Florida-strain bass in the system. In the spring, bass fingerlings are released in backwater areas with abundant vegetation to increase their survival rates.
“The goal of the stocking is to promote trophy fish growth by maintaining the Florida gene in the population,” Jones advised. “In addition, concrete piers were removed at Madison Landing to make way for new floating piers and breakwaters. The old concrete piers will be used to anchor fish attractors on the edge of the river channel in the main lake.”
Anglers might also want to hit Neshoba County Lake. The small public fishing lake only covers about 138 acres near Philadelphia, but can produce some 9- to 10-pound Florida bass. At least one bass caught in March 2013 weighed more than 13 pounds.
Another small state lake, Calling Panther Lake can also produce double-digit largemouths. The 512-acre impoundment holds many bass in the 10- to 13-pound range and produced at least one fish exceeding 15 pounds. Most of the lake averages 10 to 25 feet deep, but it drops to about 50 feet deep near the dam. Many anglers run baits along channel edges or fish the flats at the east and west sides of the lake.
Anglers catching female bass laden with precious roe should release them as soon as possible to avoid overstressing the large fish. One female might spawn thousands of potential giants. One could grow up to be the fish of a lifetime for some angler, perhaps you!