Autumn is a golden season for people who love fishing. Summer’s crowds have vanished. Cooler weather is the norm, colorful scenery is a certainty, and summer-fattened fish are in prime condition, offering exciting possibilities for action-hungry anglers. Everyone wants to know, where are the fish biting?
Here are some hotspots where that’s sure to be happening.
White Bass: Mississippi River
When it comes to fall white bass fishing, few places serve up as much action as the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. You have to remember that fishing action for these hard-hitting panfish is up and down. Going out and getting skunked is as easy as going out and catching so many that your arms hurt. When fishing is good, however, anglers will be glad they tried, as white bass in the Mississippi average more than 2 pounds each.
Look for autumn whites in backwater areas and tributaries along the Father of Waters and in the main flow itself. Wing dikes often play a pivotal role in catching these scrappers, which orient themselves to these structures. Use small topwater baits near the dikes to see if there is any activity. Then, if there’s nothing doing on top, use jigs, jig/minnow combos and small crankbaits to draw strikes at mid-depths or along the bottom.
White bass fishing in larger oxbows along the river can be red-hot this season. One great spot is Tunica Cutoff just west of Tunica, Mississippi. Like many of the other oxbows along the Mississippi River, this one has multiple points, many of which have sandy bottoms. Look for the white bass to pull up along the points all through this lake as the weather and water cool. A savvy technique here involves trolling over the face of the points using small jigs bounced off the bottom. It’s likely you’ll lose several jigs to snags, but the rewarding fishing you’re apt to find makes it worthwhile.
Three other oxbows that stick out in this quadrant of the Mississippi are Whittington, DeSoto and Ferguson lakes. Though not very large in size, each has the essential ingredients for good white-bass fishing—a strong forage base and plenty of areas with shallow, sandy bottoms. Be on the water near dawn, and you’ll often find whites running shad on the surface where small topwater plugs are good enticements. The rest of the day, cast jigs, spinners or small diving plugs around sandbars and points for action.
Crappie: Sardis Lake, Mississippi
Thanks to its proximity to Memphis and a healthy population of slabs up to 2 pounds and more, 32,100-acre Sardis Lake is one of the most popular crappie lakes in the South. The crappie population is cyclic, with up and down years, just like crappie populations in all lakes. But a visit to Sardis in fall may have you believing there couldn’t be a better crappie lake anywhere, any time.
Crappie anglers here, like crappie anglers everywhere, fish primarily with jigs, minnows or a combination of the two. This time of year, they’re usually trolling these baits around points and bottom channels, trying to pinpoint schools of often-scattered slabs. When the fish are found, fish-a-minute action often ensues, and it’s possible to catch a limit of nice crappie in just a short period of time. Popular fishing spots include locales around major creek coves (Hurricane, Toby Tubby and Clear) on the south side and around Moccasin, Hayes Crossing and Teckville on the north side.
Sardis Dam is in north Mississippi, about 50 miles south of Memphis Tennessee, and east of Interstate 55. The lake can be reached using the Como (Exit 258), Sardis (Exit 252), Batesville (Exit 246) or Oxford (Exit 243A) exits off I-55.
Mixed Creel: Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas
On its 285-mile journey across the Natural State, Interstate 40 passes within a few miles of some of Arkansas’ finest fall fishing waters. One honeyhole for a variety of fishes—everything from bluegills and crappie to trophy largemouth bass and catfish—is Lake Dardanelle, a 34,300-acre Arkansas River impoundment. I-40 parallels the entire 50-mile length of the north shore, with secondary roads leading to a variety of city, state and federal parks where the interstate traveler can stop and enjoy fishing in a beautiful setting.
A favorite of many anglers is Lake Dardanelle State Park. To get there, take Exit 81 (Ark. Hwy. 7) off I-40 at Russellville. Turn south, then immediately turn west on Ark. 326 and go five miles. The park has a unique 1,861-square-foot fishing tournament weigh-in pavilion, the first of its kind in the nation. Near the pavilion is a covered, barrier-free fishing pier, an ideal spot to enjoy bank fishing with a scenic view of the lake and nearby Mount Nebo. Casting jigs or minnows to fish attractors around the pier often will elicit strikes from big calico crappie. Throw a big crankbait or spinner, and chances are good you’ll catch a largemouth or spotted bass. Near dawn and dusk, a topwater plug is great for enticing one of the lake’s hefty stripers, or try a fat night crawler or goldfish at night to nab a flathead or channel cat for the dinner table. Any bait or lure you use is almost certain to get smacked by one of the many types of sportfish swimming in Dardanelle.
Trout: Caney Fork River, Tennessee
This 27-mile tailwater, which begins at the base of Center Hill Dam and ends at the Cumberland River, ranks high among the Volunteer State’s best fisheries for big brown trout. The river gets stocked from March through December with more than 100,000 browns and rainbows. Some brown trout inevitably escape harvest and grow large. The lower portion of the tailwater supports the lowest number of trout and receives the least targeted trout fishing pressure, but that section also grows some of the biggest browns.
Under normal conditions, the Caney Fork yields good catch rates overall, with big-fish potential always present. On low water, the river can be waded from numerous points. It’s also a good stream for floating in a canoe. Bait fishing, spin fishing and fly fishing are all popular in this stretch of river.
The huge pool beneath the dam, which locals often call “The Pond,” is the most distinctive thing about the Center Hill tailwater. Boats can be launched here (small boats on low water, bass boats when the turbines are turning), and anglers can fish all day in this area. Additionally, wading anglers find plenty of room to fish within a mile or so of the dam.
The Buffalo Valley and Long Branch access areas provide access to the upper Caney Fork tailwater on the north and south banks, respectively. Other popular access points are Happy Hollow and Betty’s Island.