September 30, 2010
From Woodville to Corinth and Pascagoula to Hernando, Mississippi is all but overloaded with superb fishing destinations. Let's take a look at three dozen that you don't want to miss this year. (February 2007)
Picking Mississippi's three best fishing opportunities each month of the calendar year may sound easy. Well, the assignment couldn't have been more difficult.
The problem lies in what is actually a plus for fishermen -- in the Magnolia State we are blessed with a climate that provides us a 12-month fishing season.
Rivers and lakes, streams and ponds, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, all provide possibilities that required a painful process of elimination to come up with an elite list. It was torture, but what follows is one man's opinion of 36 sure bets for 2007.
If you like crappie, and can't wait for the spring spawn to get your first fix of the year, fret not. Some of the best, and most consistent, action of the year is available at Lake Chotard, a Mississippi River oxbow about 20 miles north of Vicksburg.
Water temperature and levels are not critical on Chotard in January, just the barometer. The passage of a strong winter front shuts the fish down for days, but as the front approaches and when the weather settles after it passes, the action can be awesome.
The key is finding concentrations of shad with electronics. They could be as shallow as 12 feet or as deep as 25. Crappie may even get as deep as 30 feet at Chotard and still be biting.
Red hooks with glow tubes and tipped with a minnow produce in the deep, dark waters.
Other choices: If it's bigger fish you're after, there are a couple of options worth checking. Winter is a great time to find concentrations of redfish in the lower marsh area of the Pascagoula River. On cold days, find deep holes and bounce soft plastics. On warm days, fish shallow banks or bars near those same deep holes with plastics or spinnerbaits.
Bass fishermen should consider a trip to Lake Calling Panther at Crystal Springs. Use jerkbaits along the dam or flip the trees on points and in coves.
Hard to believe, but in the Pascagoula, Biloxi, Jordan and Pearl River systems on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it is possible, no probable, that a fisherman can catch flounder, redfish, speckled trout, striped bass and largemouth bass without moving a boat.
It just depends on which direction one is casting and what lure is tied at the end of the line. The coastal river marshes load up with all species each winter, and in February, as the water begins to warm, all of these fish will bite. Work the banks for redfish and largemouths, but the trout, stripers and flounder are out in deeper water.
A stiff-armed saltwater spinnerbait is an all-around good choice. Jigs and soft plastics work best on the deeper fish.
Other choices: The pre-spawn crappie bite at Ross Barnett Reservoir is one of the best times to fill a cooler with a limit of big, fat sows. The upper end of the main lake is the place to find them -- on the edge of the river channel, in the open water of the old lakebeds, or on the deep flat just southeast of the State Route 43 bridge. Trolling is the preferred method, fishing with minnows with a multiple set that covers depths from 8 to 15 feet.
Bass fishermen can pick any of the south Mississippi state lakes for some great pre-spawn bass action. Lake Columbia is the place for big fish, but lakes Perry, Bogue Homa, Mike Conner, Simpson Legion and Jeff Davis are all good choices, as is Natchez State Park.
Lake Calling Panther
This state lake opened in March 2006, and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks couldn't have picked a better month for the debut. Fishermen had a lot of fun and a lot of success on numerous patterns.
The most productive tactic for big fish was flipping jigs and soft plastics on standing timber or downed logs in the coves and on the main-lake points. The most productive tactic for numbers of fish was tossing worms and spinnerbaits on shallow cover in the coves.
For the best combination of quality and quantity, fishing suspending hard jerkbaits off the dam was tough to beat.
Other options: Old-timers say the inconsistent water levels on the Mississippi River oxbow lakes in March play right into the hands of trotliners, who can catch enough channel catfish this month to fill their freezers for the year ahead. On rising waters, place trotlines in shallow water where cats moving up with the water can find the bait. On falling waters, move the trotlines back closer to the outside edges of the tree line to get the fish as they pull back out.
Grenada Lake is the place to look for true trophy crappie, and March is the time to find the big females at their heaviest. The pre-spawn puts them on cover in the mouths of the creeks and coves.
Well, this pick was easy. The same lake that provided such a good pre-spawn bite in March is the one to stay with for the spawn in April. Grenada Lake has become one of the country's premier crappie destinations, and it is because of the numbers of 3-pound fish caught.
Once the spawn kicks off, move up the creeks and fish any kind of cover you can find. Where to look for spawners depends on the water level in this huge flood control lake. In low-water years like 2006, fishermen were limited to the major feeder creeks and a few coves. In high-water years, the fish are able to spread out, and the Redgrass Creek area is tough to beat.
Other options: Eagle Lake is the state's premier hybrid striped bass fishery, and April is the first month of peak activity for the strong fighters. Trolling with Bandit 200 and 300 series crankbaits that run between 6 and 11 feet in 10 to 14 feet of water is the ticket.
One of Mississippi's best panfish lakes hits a peak in April when the big redear sunfish bed in Trace State Park between Tupelo and Pontotoc. Look for the pot-marked beds on hard bottoms in the coves on the main fishing lake. Use worms and crickets for these shellcrackers.
There are simply too many good choices in south Mississippi for chasing bedding bluegills to limit it to one site this month. Any of the state lakes managed by the MDWFP in the state, and particularly those south of I-20, are good choices.
Check the calendar for the full and new moons in May and then fish three days either side of those events. You can count on catching enough for a big fish fry.
Lake Mike Conner at Collins has coppernose bluegills, but the regular bluegills at lakes Perry near Beaumont, Ross Barnett near Mize, and Jeff Davis near Prentiss are great too.
Other choices: Saltwater sportsmen love May because it brings in the heart of the migration of cobia from Florida waters. The fish stack on the shallow bars near our barrier islands, but Horn Island is by far the most popular. Chumming for the spawning cobia is how the biggest ones are caught each year.
At the other end of the state, at Pickwick Lake, channel catfish move up on the rock cliff banks to spawn. Nightcrawlers fished at the end of a fly line is one top method, but any way you can offer a worm to the channel cats works.
Looking for an exciting alternative to hook-and-line? This is the month to try some bowfishing for gar, buffalo and carp in the Mississippi River oxbow lakes like Chotard, Albermarle and Ferguson. These fish can be readily spotted in the shallows at night with bright lights.
Other choices: If you've got the nerve for it, June is also the peak month for taking catfish by hand, a method commonly known as noodling or grabbling. North of Yazoo City, Wolf Lake, with lots of giant blue and tabby (flathead) cats, is the best choice.
For more conventional fishermen, there's an outstanding crappie bite at Tunica Cutoff in the northwest corner of the state. The same lake that is home to riverboat gambling offers fishermen a sure bet when it comes to papermouth action in June.
Once the Big Muddy settles into its normal summer river levels, there is no better place in the world to chase blue catfish. And it doesn't get any easier than by using a spread of jugs to catch them.
Jugging -- drop lines hanging from quart plastic bottles or 2-liter pop bottles -- hits a peak in July. Most veteran juggers use 3 feet of line and a stainless steel 6/0 hook. They bait with cut skipjack shad caught in the river. The juggers try to set drift lines that carry their jug spreads across the shallow inside bends of the river with water depths of 5 to 10 feet.
Tightlining also works, especially when fishing a deep hole behind a dike wall.
Other choices: When the demand for electricity to power air conditioners increases in July, it forces the Tennessee Valley Authority to increase the turbine flow at Pickwick Dam. When that happens, it creates current in the lake that triggers the smallmouth bass to feed on the river humps and bars in the lake.
At the opposite end of the state, July is a peak month for giant sharks that are found in deeper holes like ship channels in the Mississippi Sound.
Bay St. Louis
In the heat of the summer, Mississippi's speckled trout fishing is hard to beat for the consistency of quality bites. Fish between 4 and 5 pounds are common on the shell beds around gas heads out of the mouth of the Jordan River near Bay St. Louis.
Since the run south of Bay St. Louis can put you in Louisiana waters just as easily as in Mississippi waters, it is safest to carry both licenses.
Other choices: Believe it or not, the hottest days of the summer are the hottest days of crappie fishing on Barnett Reservoir. The lake stratifies and concentrates all the crappie at one depth. Look for deep cover in the lower end of the main lake and then pick the spots where shad are plentiful.
Bream fishermen will want to drive north to Ripley to fish for the huge readears that live in Tippah County Lake. In the summer, the big shellcrackers drop deep in 10 to 12 feet of water and devour worms.
While most fishermen equate cobia fishing with the spring migration, there is an even better bite on the reverse migration that begins in September. The cooling of the Gulf waters brings the fish back out of the depths to the shallow oil rigs and channel buoys in 30 to 40 feet of water.
The Gulfport Ship Channel buoys offer fishermen the equivalent of a 15-hole golf course. It is big cobia you are playing for here. Look for them on the surface, or make a few casts with a deep jig to pull them up, and then move to the next buoy.
Other choices: There is a side benefit to this month's cobia pattern. You are just as likely to spot a tripletail on the buoys, but also look for these delicious blackfish swimming around any trash or wood floating in rip currents. Use small live baitfish or soft plastics without weights.
Sardis Lake is the state's No. 1 bass water in September, and it's because of the annual drawdown. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins lowering the lake in the fall, that action it concentrates the largemouths on main-lake points and creek channels.
Bay Springs Lake
Don't let the extreme depths and clear water of this Tenn-Tom Waterway pool intimidate you. Those are the two necessities for a good spotted bass fishery, and they pay off in outstanding action in October.
At sunrise and sunset, fish crankbaits and soft plastics on the secondary points in the coves, or any sunken roadbeds you can locate. During the heart of the day, move out to the main-lake points, slow down and cast plastic worms either Texas- or Carolina-rigged. Start hitting the points in 10 to 12 feet of water and keep going deeper until you find fish. Often, that can be at 30 feet or deeper.
Other choices: Let's go back to the coast to fish for the redfish, which begin moving back into the rivers in big numbers from the Gulf. Fish near deep holes, but usually you find the most active reds on nearby shallows.
At Grenada Lake, there are two times of the year to catch white bass -- during the spring run up the shallow rivers or the early fall when they are in huge schools on the main-lake points. This October bite is the best.
Lake Tom Bailey
Before this state lake was closed for renovation, it was known as the state-record lake for channel catfish. Now, the management plan is for it to one day become a trophy bream lake. The best way to create trophy panfish water is to have plenty of predators to keep the small bream under control. That means lots of hungry largemouths.
For the next couple of years until the bass become overpopulated by design, this lake near Toomsuba will be a great bass destination. Expect the November topwater bite to be awesome. Look for them on top early with buzzbaits and even frogs where there is a lot of vegetation. Later in the day, throw a suspending jerkbait around cover and the dam.
Other choices: White bass deserve another mention this month, and this time it is on the Mississippi River. Look for them on hard bottoms like boat ramps and sandbars. Also look behind dikes and jetty walls in the river.
On the coast, November is a good month to look for sea-run striped bass. The Biloxi, Pascagoula and Jordan River systems all offer striped bass action on riprap banks and shallow bars near deep drops.
Mississippi's best spotted bass fishery is the Pearl River, especially upstream on Barnett Reservoir. December is a peak month for spots to be active. The fish stack up on shallow bars with deep holes nearby.
Crankbaits, jigs with pearl grubs, and plastic worms all catch these bass. Look north of the SR 43 bridge at Barnett, but the best fishing is in the river itself from Jackson south to Columbia or up river to north of Carthage.
Other choices: Crappie fishermen can end their year on the shallowest of the north Mississippi Corps of Engineers impoundments, Enid Lake. When the lake is reduced to normal winter pool, fish are concentrated on two types of cover: shallow man-made brushpiles and deep creek channels.
Bass fishermen who have the desire for the bass of a lifetime should head to Lake Columbia this month. This is the state's premier public trophy-bass lake, and its fish usually feed heavily in December in advance of their brief winter inactive period.
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