Mississippi bass fishing offers excellent opportunities available to all, but these four lakes are some of the best to consider.
For many, spring and summer means bass fishing. As such, it is good that the Magnolia State has so many places where anglers can pursue the most popular fish species in the country. In fact, regardless of where an angler lives, there is some great bass fishing nearby.
Of course, some anglers are willing to drive a fair distance in search of big bass, as some areas are just plain better than others.
CALLING PANTHER LAKE
Southwest Mississippi is home to some of the hottest trophy bass lakes anywhere in the state. And while all are outstanding, Calling Panther Lake tops the list for producing trophy largemouth. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks manages this 404-acre, manmade lake, which is located off I-55 only a half an hour drive from the Jackson area.
Deriving its name from the Choctaw Indian word, "Copiah," Calling Panther Lake is best described as a small lake in the middle of the woods. With only one boat ramp and a pair of piers running alongside each side, some might consider it wanting in amenities. However, Calling Panther Lake has outstanding largemouth bass fishing.
Although a rather small impoundment, Calling Panther Lake offers a wide variety of fishing options. Its erratic shape produces a total length of shoreline comparable to a lake more than twice its size, and it harbors an abundance of standing and fallen timber and numerous deep creek channels.
For more diverse structure, there is a strip of deep water along the dam, a number of shallow flats and a variety of brush piles in depths up to 45 feet. Although grass and lily pads can be found in some of the more shallow areas, most of the lake bottom is either clay or sand.
The lake is fed by Hurricane Creek on the northeast side and Finley Branch on the northwest side. These two streams merge in the upper end of the lake, forming A deep channel that meanders through the heart of the impoundment.
Boat lanes have been cut for easier access to the timbered areas of the lake, but idle speed is required. All channels are marked with red/green markers for the main channel and gold markers for the side channels.
When Calling Panther Lake first opened in March 2006, the lake was anticipated to be a first-class fishery. MDWFP biologists placed a seven-fish limit on bass and a slot-limit requiring all 16- to 22-inch fish be released, with one fish over 22 inches allowed.
In only a few years, the small lake was producing bass in the double digits. But as the number of smaller fish began building up, the limit was adjusted to 10 bass per day, with anglers allowed to keep one fish over 20 inches.
"Since the majority of our anglers here at Calling Panther are after trophy bass and diligently practice catch and release, the creel limits have never been an issue," said Ricky Blakeney, Calling Panther Lake manager.
MDWFP actively monitors the lake and makes adjustments to insure it remains viable. In 2014 and 2015, over 60,000 bluegill fingerlings were added to the lake to address a decline in bluegill production.
With angler catch rates for bass lower than desired, the fisheries biologists added an additional 12,500 northern strain largemouth bass fingerlings in the spring of 2016. Earlier stockings of shad have yielded an abundant baitfish supply that provides plenty of fodder to help produce even more monster largemouths.
According to regulars on Calling Panther Lake, a Texas-rigged, 6-inch June bug plastic worm is the lure of choice. Anglers also have excellent results with poppers in deeper water early and late. Inexplicably, crankbaits and spinnerbaits simply don't produce like they should on this lake.
Although excellent bass fishing can be had anywhere on the lake, there are three pots that have been consistent producers for anglers. The first is on the southern point of a stand of flooded timber located about 100 yards out from the boat launch.
The transition area where the flooded timber drops down into deep open water has been a good spot for both numbers and quality bass. The second is located just past the timber in open water. A sandy bank on the west side of the channel serves as a staging area for largemouths. And the third spot is along the rock-lined levee in both shallow and deep water.
NESHOBA COUNTY LAKE
One of the Magnolia State's best kept trophy bass fishing secrets can be found just a few miles to the southeast of Philadelphia in Neshoba County.
While Neshoba County Lake may be among the smallest state-operated fishing lakes, what this 138-acre impoundment lacks in size it more than makes up for in lunker largemouths. And since this lake is so small, anglers don't have to spend the entire day trying to find the fish.
The lake was closed in 2004, and underwent an extensive transformation. The old channels were dug out and new ones were excavated. Excellent bass habitat was created by digging 8- to 10-foot deep channels within casting distance of the shoreline, pushing up islands and establishing structure in the stump fields.
The lake was restocked with Florida bass and reopened to public fishing in 2006. The large watershed feeding this lake provides a rich, fertile environment for bass.
Almost immediately this renovated bass factory started laying out big largemouths. Bass pushing the 9-pound mark were being caught the next year. Surprisingly, Ryan Porter's 14-pound monster caught on March 27, 2010, remains the current lake record. However, double digit largemouths are extremely common in this small body of water.
A variety of techniques have proven effective on this lake due to the abundance and diversity of fishing structure.
Ryan Jones, MDWFP fisheries biologist, recommends live shiners in open water for big bass in the early spring. However, working crankbaits in the deep channels, flipping soft plastics along the grassy shelves and crawling frogs or buzzbaits on the edges of vegetation are all excellent ways to entice a bite year' round.
There is a 10 fish per day creel limit on bass at Neshoba County Lake. Although largemouth bass between 16 and 20 inches must be immediately released, anglers are allowed to keep one fish over 22 inches. Also, Neshoba County Lake offers 24-hour fishing along with 22 modern camping sites with complete hookups for anglers wanting to stay overnight.
Anglers have choices in what to pursue at Pickwick, with largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in the lake that spans three states. Primarily known for giant smallmouths, Pickwick Lake anglers are prone to catch a variety of fish species.
Located in the far reaches of northeast Mississippi, Pickwick Lake is one of the Magnolia State's premier fishing destinations. This massive 43,100-acre impoundment is one of several lakes formed by the damming of the Tennessee River, with almost 500 miles of shoreline bordering Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, this lake is prime bass habitat.
The vastness of Pickwick Lake is an obstacle. For the shallow-water largemouths, focusing on the short pea-gravel points adjacent to deep bends in river and creek channels or sharp bluff banks is best. The two most popular shallow-water baits are medium- to deep-running rattling crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits.
Lure speed and color can be a big deal with largemouths. Keeping an open mind is critical when it comes to lure selection, along with a willingness to change color, size or style of lure to match what the fish want at the time.
According to Trevor Knight, MDWFP fisheries biologist, largemouth anglers should target the main lake, creek ledges and humps with Carolina- and Texas-rigged plastics, along with crankbaits and jigs. In the spring, he suggests fishing the flats and coves in the main lake with spinnerbaits and swimbaits.
Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, prefer deeper water with more current and rockier bottoms. Spots prefer habitat that is a combination of its cousins. Spotted bass thrive in permanent-flowing deep water, but prefer warmer and slightly more turbid conditions than those favored by smallmouths.
Fortunately, Pickwick Lake contains prime habitat for all three black bass species. While fishing the same point, anglers frequently catch largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass with the same lure.
Since spotted bass and smallmouths consume large quantities of crawfish, lures that mimic these crustaceans may produce the best results. Some of the more popular lures for Pickwick Lake include small crankbaits, gold-bladed spinnerbaits with white or chartreuse skirts, smoke or chartreuse soft-plastic grubs on lead-headed jigs and suspending jerkbaits.
The regulations for all black bass (largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth) on Pickwick Lake include a 15-inch minimum length limit and a creel limit of 10 bass per angler per day.
NATCHEZ STATE PARK LAKE
Located off Highway 61 just 10 miles north of the historic city of Natchez, this tiny 230-acre lake has long been recognized as a trophy largemouth hotspot. 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, anglers have frequented its waters in hopes of breaking the long-standing record.
Following a few years where there was a problem with too much grass, then not enough, MDWFP biologists have finally gotten a vegetation balance. The structure in the lake is extensive, allowing bass ample cover no matter water temperature or conditions.
Although it was built way back in 1985, the future couldn't be any brighter for this 33-year-old lake, thanks to the intense management program implemented by biologists.
Dustin Rogers, MDWFP fisheries biologist, suggests targeting brush piles and ledges with June bug or watermelon red colored soft plastics for largemouths. Topwater baits and crankbaits can also be good around main lake points and drains. He adds that jigging spoons are popular with wintertime anglers.
A night-fishing pattern consists of working the wide variety of structure at the lake with a pig-and-jig combination or a Carolina-rigged worm. Fishing the submerged timber along the flooded creek channels, referred to as the "East Creek" and the "West Creek" by the locals, can also be very productive. In addition, a long brush pile that can easily be found using sonar is located just out from the boat landing in 18 to 25 feet of water.
There is a seven fish per day creel limit on bass and largemouth bass between 16 and 20 inches must be immediately released, but anglers are allowed to keep one fish over 22 inches.