Magnolia State Angling Options

From the Tennessee border to the Gulf of Mexico, our state is loaded with fabulous fishing destinations. Follow us as we take an up-close look at three dozen of these opportunities.


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By Bob Borgwat

Fishing in Mississippi: frantic, or relaxing; adventurous, or homespun; mysterious, or plain as an old shoe. The state's fishing resources are so varied that anglers can apply just about any adjective and find some facet of the sport that fits the bill.

Let's take a look at a year's fishing in the Magnolia State that may test your fishing line and your vocabulary.

Tidal Rivers
Striped Bass
Strong flows of fresh water into the lower reaches of the tidal rivers draw striped bass into the deep holes and bends of the Pascagoula, Pearl, Biloxi and Tchoutacabouffa rivers, as well as to Fort and Graveline bayous. Three- to 4-pounders make up most of the catch, but an occasional 20-pound-class brute snatches a lure or bait, especially in the vicinity of the Jack Watson Power Plant on the Back Bay at Biloxi.

The top lure pick among locals is a rattling, sinking crankbait retrieved at varied speeds or slow-trolled in deep water adjacent to sandbars.

Other options: Don't discount the action you can find for sheepshead around bridge pilings and bulkheads along the coast. The deep-bodied and black-barred fish have extremely strong jaws for munching the barnacles on the pilings, so drop a shrimp around this structure.

Sauger fishing in Bay Springs Pool of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway up in northeast Mississippi is good in midwinter, too.

State Lakes
When winter wanes and spring is awakening, the biggest largemouths of the year - the broodstock - begin to prowl south Mississippi's state-operated trophy-bass lakes. Ross Barnett State Lake, in Smith County, the impoundments at Natchez State Park, in Adams County, and Paul B. Johnson State Park, in Forrest County, are among the current top producers of heavyweight largemouths. Natchez State Park in particular became a hotspot for bass fishermen when the Mississippi state-record largemouth, 18.15 pounds, was caught in the lake in 1992.

You'll need to exercise tremendous patience if you're to entice a bite from the real trophies in these waters. Slow-moving baits are tops, including jig-and-pig combos and plastic worms in dark colors.

Other options: Spotted bass gang up in 20 to 30 feet of water on the ridges, channels and river bends of Bay Springs Pool.

Wintertime tactics for speckled trout in deep holes and boat basins continue to draw solid catches of legal-sized fish. Check out the oyster bottoms in the 30-foot holes of Graveline Bayou.

Pickwick Lake
Smallmouth Bass
It's trophy time for smallmouths at what's one of the nation's leading waters for the beautiful bronzebacks. Straddling the Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee borders, Pickwick Lake boasts pre-spawn action on fish that can run as large as 7 pounds.

Suspending jerkbaits and 3/4-ounce spinnerbaits with a single brass willow-leaf blade are the lures favored by local anglers. Fish either one in 8 to 10 feet of water on secondary ledges and humps near spawning areas of clay and pea-sized gravel. The ideal water temperature range is 48 to 56 degrees.

Other options: The upper Pearl River above Ross Barnett Reservoir from the state Highway 43 bridge to the low-head dam comes alive with spotted bass in early spring. Bright tailspinners and small rattling crankbaits can put more than 100 fish per day in the boat for a pair of anglers.

Large speckled trout first show up this month as the warming waters of the Mississippi Sound pull them out of the passes in which they wintered.

Eagle Lake
Hybrid Bass
As the dogwoods bloom, so does the fishing for hybrid bass in Eagle Lake. This Mississippi River oxbow has been cut off from the influence of Old Man River by floodgates, but in the spring, water from Steele Bayou keeps the current moving, which gets these strong game fish moving. Typical catches of hybrids include fish in the 6- to 9-pound range, but one fish caught in 2002 tipped the scale at 11 pounds, 15 ounces. Stockings have continued for four years.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Pull middepth crankbaits 10 to 16 feet deep off the pier ends on the east side of the lake to Muddy Bayou. Don't overlook making a few passes around Garfields Landing on the west side as well.

Other options: Red snapper season opens this month. A basic terminal rig of a 6-ounce sinker and a No. 5 or 6 circle hook tied to the main line will get you great catches of snappers in the Gulf of Mexico when you bait up with cut squid or cigar minnows.

Crappie fishing at Pickwick Lake can yield 50 to 60 fish per party this month. Toss 1/8-ounce curlytail, tube and hair jigs close to brushpiles in 8 to 10 feet of water.

State Lakes
It's the sheer action, the ease of fishing and the fine eating on the backside of a camping or fishing trip that keep just about any angler from arguing against bream fishing in May. From the first full moon in May through August, Lake Lamar Bruce and Perry County Lake top the Magnolia State's list of waters at which the action's hot and heavy.

A cane po

le is arguably the easiest tackle for icing down a limit of bluegills. Rig it with a No. 10 wire hook, a quill bobber and a small split shot. Thread the hook with a cricket, a red worm, a mealworm or a maggot and then drop it along shady shorelines, pier footings, laydowns, mossbeds, stumps or lily pads - and get ready for a fight!

Other options: Saltwater anglers know the bars on the outside of Horn Island yield up some of the season's hottest cobia fishing. Bait up with live sea cats and freeline them, or use a balloon to present them to loitering cobia.

Call them what you like - "ground mullet," "whiting," "southern kingfish" - these fish gather in big numbers on the oyster beds on the front beaches, where they gobble up cut bait fished on the bottom.

Rivers Statewide
Channel Catfish
From the Delta to the coastal rivers to the mighty Mississippi River, catfish reign as summer sets in across the Magnolia State.

Common baits include night crawlers, stink baits and cut shrimp presented "straight up" on a Carolina-rigged leader and slip sinker. In most cases, a No. 8 treble hook offers plenty of holding power when attached to a foot-long piece of 10- to 12-pound monofilament. A 1/2-ounce slip sinker placed on the main line ahead of a barrel swivel completes the rig and offers little resistance to a cat trying to steal off with the bait.

Other options: Anglers who look to the Pascagoula River of southeast Mississippi should find blue cats plentiful. Scale your tackle accordingly, because these cats can grow quite large; the state record weighed in at an even 93 pounds.

Head for the Yazoo River in southwest Mississippi to round out your catch of Magnolia State cats. Flatheads, which are plentiful, take live baitfish around snags, stumps and laydowns.

Offshore Oil And Gas Rigs
If you don't think these bad boys can bust up your favorite fishing gear, think again! The tackle needed is a clue to the strength of these bruisers. Use an 8-ounce egg sinker, 5- to 6-foot 100-pound mono leader and a No. 11 to 14 circle hook. You're going to need a quality rod-and-reel combo just to handle the rigging! The smaller fish - those in the 35-pound class - are found where the bottom around the rig falls away to a depth of 130 feet. Bigger fish - upward of 80 pounds - are usually found in 160 feet deep or deeper. The top bait is a live hardtail - the bigger the better. You can also "drop iron" - in other words, lower a diamond jig down to the depth at which the fish are feeding.

Blocks 175 and 265 - about 45 miles offshore and 30 miles beyond the barrier islands - are reliable areas in which to begin your search.

Other options: The waters surrounding the oil and gas rigs should be crowded with king mackerel all summer long. Troll nylon-skirted jigs with weighted heads tied to 5 to 6 feet of wire leader. Two hooks ganged together and baited with bonito strips 8 to 9 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide should do the trick.

And blue catfish as well: This month they'll keep the juglines bouncing at night on Pickwick Lake.

Mississippi Sound
If you can stand the heat, head south into the Mississippi Sound in search for large pods of bull redfish. When they congregate in schools numbering in the hundreds, the school appears from a distance much like a large, shiny penny afloat on the water. A good place to start your search is the Ship Island Ship Channel, where the dredging spoils have been dumped on the west side. Especially check out areas where current is evident. Feeding birds may give reds away, too, as the gulls clean up the wounded baitfish that are often at the center of these mass gatherings.

Troll with large chrome or brass spoons, or arm yourself with 1- to 1/12-ounce jigheads rigged with soft-plastic minnows. Idle the boat alongside the school, cast the jig and retrieve it at a steady rate.

Other options: Schooling largemouths should begin to gather in open water in the big reservoirs of the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Look particularly closely at flats adjacent to deep water.

Fishing an hour or so before sunrise is one proven way to hook up with big speckled trout this month, if you hit the beaches on days when the high tide reaches its peak (from about 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.).

Cat Island Passes
September offers two options for flounder fishing. Rod-and-reel anglers armed with a variety of jigs with soft-plastic trailers or live shrimp begin congregating at the passes, while wading anglers armed with gigs carry lanterns across the shallows. It's the beginning of the flounder migration through these passes into deep water.

Gigging is a great way to spend a September evening with family and friends - and the daytime casting for these tasty flatfish isn't bad, either. Jigheads of 1/4 ounce tipped with soft-plastic bodies in white, black, chartreuse or black with a white tail are top producers.

You need a boat to hit a few of the local hotspots, which include "the stumps" on the Cat Island beachfront and the gullies on the north end of Cat Island.

Other options: A day of jug-fishing for big blue and flathead cats on the Mississippi River is reminiscent of the days of Huck Finn. You'll do best when the river measures 21 feet or lower at the Vicksburg gauge.

Also: Schooling largemouths will be cutting up large balls of threadfin shad at Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Grenada Lake
According to the statistics collected by Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks fisheries technicians, the highest catch rate per effort for crappie at Grenada Lake takes place in the fall. Trolling - some call it "strolling" - is a popular method for locating and catching a large number of "specks" in the fall. Minnows on tight lines, tiny crankbaits, or small jigs are suspended behind a boat from an array of rods fanned across one side or the stern of the boat, which are trolled across the channels, humps and stumpfields of this popular recreational impoundment until a school of hungry crappie is located. Once the school is located, the fun really begins!

Other options: Big white bass - trophy fish of 4 pounds and more - gather in the deep holes and washouts on the downstream side of the wing dikes of the Mississippi River. Deep-diving, fast-falling lures such as tailspinners and rattling crankbaits draw vigorous strikes.

Inshore, speckled trout take jigs and live shrimp suspended under popping corks in the Biloxi Back Bay and its associated river mouths. Salinity levels are key to the action, which could suffer if rainfall is high.

Pickwick Lake
White Bass

e of the most consistent fishing for big white bass that Mississippi anglers can enjoy takes place as fall begins to cool the northern half of the state. Schooling white bass at Pickwick Lake take an assortment of crankbaits and topwater plugs. Any lure that resembles the lake's 1- to 3 1/2-inch young-of-the-year threadfin and gizzard shad should work.

Tackle requirements are nothing special. However, you might want to go a bit on the heavy side, for the next strike may be from a big hybrid or striped bass.

Other options: Until a hearty cold front blows across the coastline, redfish continue to cruise weedy shallows, where a gold spoon is irresistible.

Improved fishing action for striped bass is also noticeable in the bays and backwaters of the Mississippi coastline.

Delta Oxbows
Mississippi duck hunters whose blinds lie among the flooded backwaters of the Delta oxbows often discover that they share the waters with another hearty breed - the crappie angler. Timing is critical to taking wintertime crappie from the deepest oxbows in this region.

When the "white perch" stack up in midlake holes up to 30 feet deep, anglers prepared for the weather can catch plenty of crappie and enjoy a winter fish fry. Lakes Chotard and Albermarle, north of Vicksburg, are tops for wintertime crappie fishing using small minnows and jigs presented vertically on ultralight gear.

Other options: Speckled trout, recently driven from the flats to the deep of boat basins can be taken under lighted docks in the evening.

Black drum give December saltwater anglers a thrill, too. These fish move into pre-spawn mode and haunt bridge pilings and bulkheads along piers and wharfs. Fishing a live or dead shrimp around those bits of structure can provoke strikes.

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