From Tupelo to Biloxi and from the Mississippi River to Meridian, our state is loaded with great places in which to pursue black bass. Let's take a closer look at several of the best of these.
By Robert H. Cleveland
If we were going to rename our state, it would take only a couple of new letters to make it work.
It would fit, even though we would no longer be using the Native American word for Father of Waters. Instead we would be using a word that in "Southernspeak" means bass fishing is good here. Our new moniker would not be taken from a big river but from the name of our most popular game fish.
As we progress into the 21st century, Bassissippi fishermen can look ahead to what promises to be an even greater angling future. With a solid management system already in place, and with state and federal wildlife agencies vigorously active in producing better fishing through the renovation of existing honeyholes and the creation of new ones, the state's bass angling horizon does indeed look bright.
But those projects are for the future. What about right now? What about 2003?
Well, hold onto your fishing hat! We're fixing to race you around Bassissippi, looking at 10 hotspots you can count on for excellent results right away. Some you already know about, but some of the others on our list might surprise you.
None, if visited on a consistent basis, will disappoint you.
Photo by Tom Evans
LAKE LINCOLN STATE PARK This 500-acre lake off Interstate 55 between Wesson and Brookhaven is a must visit in 2003, especially for fishermen in the metro Jackson area. For them, the 45-minute trip will be worth the time and energy.
The lake is the latest in the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) renovation movement. It was drained, restructured and restocked between 2000 and 2002, and reopened to fishing Oct. 1, 2002. It is expected to produce the same kind of action that past lake renovation projects have presented to anglers.
In addition to being restocked with Florida bass, Lake Lincoln underwent extensive renovation to improve access and, more importantly, make it easier for the public to find fish on the lake. Hundreds of huge oak brush tops were scattered in coves, on points and along creek drops. Gravel beds were built and grassbed growth encouraged.
The bottom line is that Lincoln was transformed into a bass fishing paradise, not unlike a lot of the high-dollar pay-to-fish lakes that have popped up across the South . . . only this one is larger and open to the public.
In 2003, don't expect any trophy bass, but catches of 20 or 30 mean-tempered Florida bass between 2 and 4 pounds are possible. A 14- to 18-inch slot and a tight creel limit should protect the fish and ensure lunkers in the future. All bass between 14 and 18 inches must be released. Fishermen are allowed to keep five per day, but only one can exceed 18 inches.
Since the lake's fishing is new, no existing patterns are proven producers. However, the west side of the lake is lined with deep coves with defined channels and shallow and deep brush. The main creek channel runs just off the west bank, too. Start there, but don't forget to look at the pad and grass fields on the upper east side. Because of the varied depths in which the cover was placed, productive patterns should exist in all seasons.
For more information, visit the MDWFP's Web site, located at www.mdwfp.com, and follow the prompts to State Parks, Guide to State Parks, then District 5.
LAKE LAMAR BRUCE Targeting another smaller state lake, let's look north to the outskirts of Tupelo and Lake Lamar Bruce, a 330-acre fishing hole that is best known as a bluegill lake.
"That's true, but Lamar Bruce may be going through a change and becoming more of a bass lake," said District 1 fisheries biologist Larry Pugh. "People are really starting to catch a lot of bass here, and the increase in bass activity could very well be related to the lake's bream productivity."
When the MDWFP conducted a Sports Fishing Index study - a scoring of lakes based on results of creel surveys - Lamar Bruce was a surprise No. 1 for bass.
"While that may have surprised a lot of folks, it didn't surprise me," Pugh said. "The lake doesn't produce a lot of monster bass, but it has a healthy population of fish between 4 and 6 pounds, and they don't get a lot of pressure. There's a good topwater bite there in the spring around the bream bedding time, but it is a good place to use Carolina- or Texas-rigged worms and work the cover."
For information on the lake, which has good boat launch facilities, visit www.mdwfp.com and click Fishing, then State Lakes and then District 1.
LAKE PERRY Another small-water destination best known for its bream fishing, 100-acre Lake Perry, in southeast Mississippi near Beaumont, offers outstanding bass angling. This is where the record largemouth for the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (11 pounds, 8 ounces) was caught, where spring produces quantities of fish, and where summer and fall produce quality bass.
Like Lincoln and Lamar Bruce, Perry is part of the MDWFP state lakes system and it is managed to give the public access to water that is not difficult to fish.
Loaded with natural and manmade cover, this small lake offers plenty of options during the spring. Spinnerbaits worked around vegetation, such as grass, reeds and lily pads, can produce a lot of strikes. The topwater bite is good shallow from December through the peak of the bream bedding in April and May.
In the summer, the action concentrates around the deep cover in the main lake body. Big worms of 10 to 12 inches in length fished Texas-rigged produce the big bites.
"That's when and how the big fish will always be caught at Perry," Fisheries Chief Ron Garavelli said. "Year in and year out, Perry's big fish are caught when the summer drives the fish deep and stacks them on the deep brushpiles."
Carolina-rigging smaller worms around the brush produces more strikes, but the big fish want big worms fished right in the wood piles.
October is another good time to catch bass sha
llow on topwater lures.
ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR Right in the middle of the state and just northeast of Jackson is one of the state's most popular bass lakes: Ross Barnett Reservoir. The lake's 33,000 acres offer a variety of opportunities for anglers.
For trophy-sized bass, fish Pelahatchie Bay, where Florida-strain largemouths were stocked in the early and mid-1990s. The stockings began as an experiment, with tournament anglers providing the money for the MDWFP to raise Floridas to lengths of 6 to 10 inches to release in the bay. The success of the idea is evident in the dozens of bass over 12 pounds, plus a new reservoir record of more than 12 1/2 pounds, that have been caught in recent years.
Fishing the spawning beds in spring in the upper Pelahatchie Creek backwaters produces the 12-pounders, but fishing the lily pads in summer and fall in the open bay yields more trophy bass.
The upper Pearl River - one of the best Kentucky spotted bass fisheries in Bassissippi - provides anglers with another option. The fishing is also excellent for largemouths in this river setting. Spotted bass up to 6 pounds were reported last summer, and the upper river's first largemouth over 11 pounds was caught on a jig in the Cane Creek backwaters.
What really attracts fishermen to the river area, though, is the chance to catch fish on plastic frogs in the plentiful pad fields.
From late spring to early fall, attention turns to a third option on Barnett. The main lake and the deep ledges are where the action is then. Huge schools of bass stack up in these areas after the transition from the spring spawn and stay until the weather cools in October. The fish can be frequently spotted feeding on surfacing shad.
When the schools have formed and before they've been beaten to death by anglers, catches of 50 fish per person per day are not rare. Since the minimum length limit of 15 inches was instituted in the late 1990s, the schools are now producing bigger fish than ever.
Numerous public ramps are available at locations that provide access to the entire lake. For maps, contact the Barnett Reservoir office at (601) 856-6574.
PICKWICK LAKE Once you bring up the subject of major lakes and reservoirs, a trip to the northeast corner of the state and massive Pickwick Lake has to be included. It qualifies as a bass-fishing Eden for several reasons, among them a wonderful supply of spotted and largemouth bass, and one of the country's best smallmouth fisheries.
"When it comes to catching trophy smallmouth, you can't go anywhere in the country and find one that matches Pickwick," said Roger Stegall, a touring bass professional who has made a career of guiding fishermen on the 90-mile-long section of the Tennessee River that makes up Pickwick. "Being this far south, Pickwick's smallmouth have a longer growing season than at most lakes. While the lake doesn't threaten a world record for smallies, I don't think you can find a spot that produces more of the trophy smallmouth - fish between 5 and 8 pounds - than this one."
Stegall said March and April are the times of the year for catching trophy smallies. He once caught a five-bass tournament limit of smallmouth that busted 27 pounds in a March event. Those fish were on a pre-spawn pattern, staging on a ledge that fell off a spawning flat to a deeper holding area in the Bear Creek arm in Mississippi.
"There's a three-week period beginning each year in middle to late March and lasting through early April, when the big sows enter pre-spawn, when you can expect to get big bites every day," he said. "Slow-rolling spinnerbaits, working lizards or worms, and even running crankbaits down the ledges can work.
"During the summer and fall, you switch gears and concentrate on quantity over quality, and work on the bars and humps along the river to catch the 3- to 5-pound smallies."
Pickwick forms Mississippi's border with Tennessee and Alabama, but two major coves and two of the best fishing areas on the lake are in Mississippi. Those are the Bear and Yellow Creek arms.
Information on Pickwick is plentiful on the Internet. Just enter Pickwick Lake Fishing in your search engine and take your pick.
ARKABUTLA LAKE It was a safe bet that at least one of the four north Mississippi U.S. Army Corps of Engineers watershed reservoirs would be included on our list of bass hotspots, but most bettors would have lost money on which one. Arkabutla Lake, the northernmost and most underutilized, is currently better than the three more popular lakes - Sardis, Enid and Grenada.
Despite the lake's proximity to Memphis, Tennessee anglers drive right past Arkabutla to get to Sardis and Enid, and Arkabutla is too far out of the way for most midstate Mississippi anglers to reach.
"That's a mistake," argued Keith Meals, the District 2 biologist for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "If I had to choose one place to go, it would be Arkabutla, no doubt. The bass population is strong, and it rarely gets pressured."
Arkabutla Lake is an impoundment of the Coldwater River and lies just east of I-55 near Hernando. It is the shallowest of the big lakes and the least affected by spring rises and fall drawdowns. Its many creek channels and coves and the backwaters off the Coldwater offer excellent bass cover. Tossing spinnerbaits and jerkworms around shallow brush is a popular spring pattern for numbers of bass, and patiently working a jig-and-pig around stumps, standing timber and brushpiles produces bigger fish.
In the summer, when the water is at recreational pool, the fish move out to the main-lake points and hold. That's when deep crankbaits and Carolina rigs are the tickets. In late September and October, when the annual drawdown begins, the fish move tight to cover on the creek channels, and the fishing is as good as in the spring.
For maps, launch sites (there are 13), and other information, visit www.mvk.usace.army.mil/ and follow the prompts through Recreation to Mississippi Corps Lakes or phone the Arkabutla Lake Field Office at (662) 562-6261.
OXBOW LAKES No story on bass fishing opportunities, or any fishing for that matter, in Mississippi would be realistic without including Mississippi River oxbow lakes. As a matter of fact, there are four that merit mention to complete this list.
The first is Tunica Cutoff, in north Mississippi just west of Tunica. This old oxbow is still bass-productive, despite a battle with largemouth bass virus in 2000. At one point, over 75 percent of fish captured and tested were found positive for the virus, yet few died.
Tunica bass are a hardy bunch, indeed, and a battle with one of Tunica's plentiful su
pply of 6-pound largemouths can prove it. Don't plan your trip here until late summer or fall, when water levels are consistent; it will be worth the wait. Fishing the steep banks with worms and crankbaits is the No. 1 pattern, although at daylight or on overcast days the topwater bite against those steep banks can be dramatic.
Lake Ferguson, at Greenville, is probably the best known of the oxbows for bass fishing, and for good reason. It is the most consistent year 'round. In the spring, during high-water periods, the bass move up around the flooded timber and fields on the upper end of the lake, and spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and jig-and-pig combos are the best choices.
In the summer, when the water recedes, and through the fall, the fish move to the ample supply of deep cover, like logs, rock piles and sunken barges. Deep-cranking and Carolina-rigging work. In November of 1997, David Fritts won the FLW Championship at Ferguson with four days' limits (five fish) that averaged 5 pounds per fish.
The connected lakes of Chotard and Albermarle, north of Vicksburg, are two more good oxbows that turn on after the river falls in late spring or summer.
The odd situation of having two lakes connected by a channel gives Chotard and Albermarle fishermen another pattern for catching fish. Only Chotard is connected to the river, which means when the river is falling, water pulls out of Albermarle through a channel into Chotard. That channel forms a bottleneck for baitfish. When the shad stack either in the current above the channel or below it, bass congregate there as well. When the water level is constant, the steep banks are good targets, especially any banks where you can find a natural spring. That cool fresh water attracts fish right to the shore.
About 10 miles down the levee is Eagle Lake, an old oxbow no longer connected to the river. At this huge lake, the water level is constant and the fishing is good all year. In the spring, the shallow buck brush around the two islands and around Buck Chute provides sensational fishing on soft jerkbaits or spinnerbaits, and fishing the brush with topwater lures can be productive.
In the summer, fish the edges of the huge grass fields on the shallow Louisiana side of the lake early in the day and then move to the deeper Mississippi side to fish the cover around the piers. In the fall, be prepared to cover a lot of water. You can pick a number of patterns - shallow, deep, piers, grass. Practically all of them work on any given day.
Down close to the Louisiana border, Lake Mary is the southernmost of the oxbows, and it is also one of the most productive. It has a lot of shallow cypress trees, which attract and hold bass.
Access to most of the major river oxbows is provided through both private pay ramps and county-supported public launches. Even if you have to pay $3, it's worth the trip, as are any of these stops in Bassissippi.
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