Bass anglers in Mississippi are blessed with an abundance of outstanding opportunities to practice their craft. And with excellent fisheries scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, the most difficult task may be deciding which body of water to wet your line in. The following are some top picks for the best Mississippi bass fishing the Magnolia State has to offer.
ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR
Ross Barnett Reservoir, located just northeast of Jackson, is one of the Magnolia State's most popular bass lakes. This 33,000-acre giant boasts over 100 miles of shoreline and abundant cover. Formed from the damming of the Pearl River, Ross Barnett offers every type of bass structure and vegetation imaginable.
"According to the shocking surveys we conducted on Ross Barnett Reservoir in December, the bass population appears to be very healthy," said Larry Bull, Fisheries Biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "And with the diversity of habitat available combined with its massive size, bass opportunities should remain good even with the amount of tournament pressure that Ross Barnett Reservoir receives annually."
Although the Pelahatchie Bay area is the most popular for trophy-sized bass, a number of lunker largemouths are being caught on a regular basis on the upper Pearl River around the Cane Creek backwaters. According to Bull, the vegetation south of the State Route 43 bridge on the Rankin County side, and the abundant backwater areas north of SR 43 offer some of the better locations to target for largemouths in May.
Soft plastic frogs are the most popular lures in these areas, but anything weedless should be just as effective at enticing a bite from a hidden largemouth. Anglers should also focus on the river and creek channels during the post spawn. Following the spawn, fish move out to the channel ledges before they begin to form the big schools that Barnett Reservoir is so well known for. And keep in mind that all the big reservoirs in the Magnolia State have a later spawn than the smaller lakes because it takes them longer to warm up.
Located near Iuka in the far reaches of northeast Mississippi, this 50,000-acre impoundment is one of several lakes formed by the damming of the Tennessee River. Primarily known for its giant smallmouths, Pickwick Lake also offers excellent fishing opportunities for largemouth bass. With almost 500 miles of shoreline bordering Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, this lake is prime largemouth habitat.
The vastness of Pickwick Lake is the first obstacle a largemouth angler must overcome. For the shallow largemouths in 8 to 10 feet of water, focusing on the short pea-gravel points adjacent to deep bends in river or creek channels, or sharp bluff banks is your best bet.
The two most popular shallow water baits are medium- to deep-running rattling crankbaits, or suspending jerk baits. Lure speed and color can be a big deal with Pickwick largemouths. Keeping an open mind is critical when it comes to lure selection. A willingness to change the color, size, or style of lure to match what the fish want at the time helps you put more largemouths in the boat.
Deep-water largemouths call for an entirely different technique. The key is to locate humps along the main river channel that top out at around 25 feet. Active largemouths stage at the tops of these humps and wait for a meal to pass by. Carolina-rigged plastic worms, pig-and-jig combinations, or soft plastic swimbaits tend to entice the most strikes in these locations.
TRACE STATE PARK LAKE
Pontotoc County in northeast Mississippi is home to Trace State Park Lake. This 600-acre impoundment is a top-quality recreational lake that has gained a reputation as one of Mississippi's finest fishing hotspots. Located 10 miles east of Pontotoc and nine miles west of Tupelo off SR 6, Trace State Park Lake offers a quiet, natural retreat.
Trace State Park Lake holds a high ranking on the MDWFP listing of Mississippi's Best Bream Lakes. However, many anglers overlook the quality largemouth bass that call this lake home.
Trace State Park Lake is divided into two sections, with one side allowing both fishing and skiing, and the other open to fishing only. The portion of the lake that offers just fishing is covered with submerged timber in the form of standing stumps and fallen logs. However, the angler with a good depth finder can locate brush piles and submerged Christmas trees that are sure to hold an abundance of fish in the portion of the lake open to skiing. Although most of the water sport activity is just getting kicked off in May, bass anglers that hit the lake early can beat the skiing crowd and have the lake to themselves for most of the morning.
According to the local anglers that fish the post spawn on Trace State Park Lake, crankbaits work well for the big bass on the deeper points, while top-water lures, soft plastic worms, and pig-and-jig combinations are more effective along the shoreline and in the heavy structure.
CALLING PANTHER LAKE
One of the hottest new lakes managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, this 512-acre manmade impoundment is located in Copiah County, 5 miles west of Crystal Springs and only about thirty miles to the south of the metropolitan Jackson area. Basically a lake in the middle of the woods, Calling Panther offers only one boat ramp with a single long pier running alongside the boat launch.
While Calling Panther Lake is not a very large impoundment, it offers quite a wide variety of fishing options. For example, Calling Panther Lake's erratic shape produces a total length of shoreline more comparable to a lake two or even three times its size. It also harbors an abundance of standing and fallen timber and numerous deep creek channels, offering the angler a unique fishing experience. The thick standing timber in the lake provides an intimate feel while maneuvering your boat in and out of the many small openings. And if that doesn't satisfy your diverse structure fetish, there is deep water along the dam, a number of shallow flats, and brush piles in various depths up to 45 feet. Although grass can be found in some areas, most of the bottom is either clay or sand.
"A six-inch June bug worm is easily my lure of choice," suggested Brandon Clement, a regular on Calling Panther. "Poppers work really well in deeper water during the morning and afternoon hours. I saw my best results in 18-24 feet of water, but they work just about anywhere on the lake. The one thing that Calling Panther does not favor is crankbaits. Rattle Traps, balsa, jointed, deep and shallow crankbaits just do not produce like they should. Spinnerbaits are also disappointing on this lake. For best results, Texas-rigged plastics and jigs do the trick."
Although excellent fishing can be had anywhere on Calling Panther, Clement identified three hotspots that have been consistent producers for him. The first is on the southern point of a stand of flooded timber located about 100 yards out from the boat launch. According to Clement, the transition area where the flooded timber drops down into deep open water has been a good spot for both numbers and quality. The second hotspot is located just past the timber in open water. A sand bank on the west side of the channel serves as a staging area for largemouths. Clement's third hotspot is along the rock-lined levee in both shallow and deep water.
"The numbers will be very shallow and hit small worms best," said Clement. "The levee falls off to 40 feet of water quickly, and the rocks break to sand at about 12-14 feet deep. This area can produce both size and numbers."
On a good day, you may catch 20 to 25 bass less than 20-inches long at Calling Panther, three or four bass larger than 20 inches and a bass that weighs 10 to 12 pounds. And since the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks manages Calling Panther Lake as a trophy-bass lake, anglers are encouraged to remove a number of the smaller bass.
The lake record largemouth for Calling Panther is a 15.25 pound bucket mouth caught by James Allen of Crystal Springs on February 26, 2011. But with the numbers of monster bass regularly caught and released at Calling Panther, it is doubtful that Allen's record will stand for very long.
NATCHEZ STATE PARK LAKE
Natchez State Park is located 10 miles north of Natchez off Highway 61, and a mere stone's throw to the east of the historical Natchez Trace Parkway. This tiny 230-acre lake has become a hotspot for anglers hoping to break the long standing state record ever since Anthony Denny of nearby Washington pulled the largest bass in Mississippi history (an 18.15 pound monster) from its waters back in 1992. Following a few years where there was a problem with too much grass, then not enough, fisheries biologists with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks have finally gotten the vegetation balance they have been looking for. The structure in the lake is extensive, allowing the bass ample cover no matter what the water temperature or conditions.
When it comes to fishing Natchez State Park Lake, there are two basic patterns that work well in May. The first pattern involves fishing the shallows in the early morning and late afternoon with buzz baits and topwater plugs. And if you have an adventurous streak, try fishing these lures in the dark. That's right, Natchez State Park Lake is a 24-hour lake, allowing fishing all day and all night.
The second pattern consists of fishing the wide variety of deep-water structure available with a pig-and-jig combination or a Carolina rigged plastic worm. Fishing the submerged timber along the flooded creek channels, referred to as the "East Creek" and the "West Creek" by the locals, can be very productive. In addition, a long brush pile is located just out from the boat landing in 18- to 25- feet of water. It can easily be found by using your boat's sonar.
Okhissa Lake is hands-down the premier largemouth bass factory in the Magnolia State. Tucked deep inside the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County, just three miles south of Meadville, Mississippi, Okhissa Lake is a 1,200-acre clear spring-fed lake and recreation area. Sanctioned as the first Bill Dance Signature Lake, Okhissa was designed with everything a largemouth bass needs to grow big in mind. Many expect the new Mississippi State Record Largemouth to be pulled from its waters in the near future.
Okhissa Lake is literally a largemouth bass paradise, with over 39 miles of shoreline and harboring an abundance of structure. It has an average depth of 31 feet, stretches approximately two miles from north to south, and is over a mile wide at its widest point at the lagoon. Porter Creek runs down the center of this manmade reservoir. This sizeable channel along with numerous smaller feeder creeks and gullies offer some great deep-water bass fishing. This lake fishes and looks much like the smaller lake at nearby Natchez State Park. However, unlike Natchez State Park Lake, night fishing on Okhissa Lake is prohibited.
Successful anglers prefer to focus on fish holding on the many points available on Okhissa Lake with crankbaits and swim baits. Topwater lures and oversized soft plastics are also very effective when fished in the early morning and late afternoon. Excellent fishing opportunities abound on this premier fishing hole. And according to anglers that frequent its waters, coming home empty-handed after a day of fishing on Okhissa Lake is a formidable task.