March 03, 2015
Anywhere in Mississippi, anglers can usually find a good place to fish. The state offers anglers 119 public lakes and 123,000 miles of rivers and streams totaling more than 225,000 acres where the approximate 700,000 Magnolia State anglers can fish.
Most state waters provide good to excellent bass action, but a few lakes stand out for spring fishing. As water temperatures warm, bass thoughts turn to spawning. Across Mississippi, spawn generally takes place in March and April, depending upon weather. Warm weather could kick it off early, while a spring cold front could delay it.
Some of the best bass fishing in Mississippi occurs at Pickwick Lake near Iuka. The Tennessee River impoundment ranks No. 24 on the "Bassmaster Magazine" list of the top 100 bass waters in the United States. It regularly produces largemouths exceeding 14.5 pounds and double-digit smallmouth bass.
Pickwick Lake spreads through 47,500 acres across parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, from Wilson Dam in Florence, Ala., to Pickwick Dam at Counce, Tenn. In parts of the lake, anglers can basically fish in three states at once. Near Wilson Dam, the lake still resembles the old river channel, but spreads out more as it enters Mississippi.
"Pickwick is both a river and a lake," explained Jimmy Mason (256-762-0014), a bass pro who guides on Pickwick Lake. "From the Natchez Trace Bridge to Wilson Dam, it's a river. The lower lake looks more like a typical reservoir with phenomenal amount of ledges, grassy flats and structure."
Although anglers catch smallmouth and largemouth bass throughout the entire system, frequently in the same spots, smallies tend to stay from the Wilson Dam to the Natchez Trace Bridge. From the bridge westward into Mississippi, the lake produces more largemouth bass. In recent years, the lower lake sprouted with abundant hydrilla and milfoil patches, creating excellent largemouth habitat.
"Pickwick Lake offers anglers any type of fishing they could want from shallow grass and flats to deep structure to current," Mason said. "It's not uncommon to catch smallmouth and largemouth in the same place with the same lure. When I'm targeting largemouth, I head to the grass. In the spring, we catch a lot of largemouth on topwaters and soft plastics. When the shad spawn in the spring, fish a spinnerbait parallel to the grass."
Ross Barnett Reservoir also made the Hot 100 bass lakes roster at No. 97, the only other Mississippi location listed. "The Rez" covers about 33,000 acres along the historic Natchez Trace, northeast of Jackson. Abundant stumps, timber, weeds and bottom structure creates excellent bass habitat. Much of the lake averages less than 5 feet deep, but the reservoir inundated several old oxbows along the old Pearl River channel when it filled in 1966. Some holes in these oxbows drop to about 25 feet deep. Parts of the old river channel dip to 45 feet deep.
"Ross Barnett has a lot of pads, some coontail and water hyacinths," said Paul Elias, professional bass angler from Laurel. "It has many shallow stumps. I like to throw a black buzzbait or a chartreuse and white spinnerbait and bounce it off the logs and stumps."
Most Ross Barnett bass average about 2 pounds, but many fall in the 4- to 6-pound range. Although more known as a numbers lake, Ross Barnett can produce bass in the 8- to 10-pound class with an occasional larger fish brought to a boat. Pelahatchie Creek produces some of the best bass action. It runs through a dam into the main lake, forming Pelahatchie Bay.
In northwestern Mississippi, the "Big Four" flood control lakes — Arkabutla, Enid, Grenada and Sardis — can all produce good bass catches. The best of the four and third largest lake in Mississippi, Sardis covers about 32,500 acres on the Little Tallahatchie River near the town of Sardis. One of the deepest reservoirs in Mississippi, it drops to 76 feet deep in places.
"The best bass waters in northwestern Mississippi are Sardis and Enid reservoirs," remarked Keith Meals, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks biologist in Oxford. "Sardis Reservoir has some big fish, but it's more of a numbers lake for bass. It often takes about 20 to 22 pounds to win a bass tournament with five fish. A typical big bass in a tournament would weigh in the 5- to 7-pound range. The biggest bass I heard about in the past few years weighed more than 9 pounds."
Near Batesville, Enid Lake spreads across 16,130 acres. More known for producing the world record white crappie, it does hold some bass in the 8- to 9-pound range. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drops the water level in Enid to about 20 feet and Sardis to about 24 feet each winter. During high water years, bass reproduce and survive better. After several high water years, the lakes build up excellent bass populations. However, after several low water years, the bass population suffers.
"The spring of 2015 should be pretty decent for bass in Sardis Reservoir," Meals predicted. "Enid does not get as much pressure because it's much smaller than Sardis. The water is clearer. Bass average a little larger. The big bass in an Enid tournament is usually in the 7-pound range."
Also hot for bass, Arkabutla Lake spreads over 11,240 acres of Tate and DeSoto counties. In 2012, a severe drought dropped the water levels considerably, but when the water returned, it flooded vegetation that grew on the exposed lake bottom. This provided new habitat for bass, including excellent spawning cover.
"Arkabutla Reservoir is a sleeper," Meals said. "In the summer of 2012, water levels dropped lower than normal winter pool. Some vegetation on the lake bottom grew up taller than a pickup truck. When that vegetation flooded in 2013, it produced a tremendous spawn and rapid growth of the fish. It's like a new lake. By the spring of 2015, tremendous numbers of fish spawned in 2013 should be in the 2-pound range. By late 2015, the lake should be producing a lot of 2- to 3-pound bass."
In the Delta Region, Lake Washington in Washington County looks promising for largemouth bass. One of the oldest oxbows in Mississippi, Lake Washington covers about 5,000 acres and dates back 700 years. Thick cypress brakes dominate the northeastern and southern parts of the lake. Anglers can also fish numerous docks along the eastern shoreline. In the spring, many bass spawn under these trees and docks. The old river channel produces many bass in the 2- to 3-pound range, but did deliver at least two 10-pounders in recent years. Since 1998, the state stocked more than a million bass into the lake.
"Lake Washington doesn't get as much pressure from bass anglers as crappie and catfish fishermen, but bass are abundant and grow quickly in the very fertile system," explained Nathan Aycock, a MDWFP fisheries biologist. "It's better known for producing big fish than big numbers. Historically, the lake struggled with poor spawns due to poor water quality, but work on farmland in the watershed to reduce sedimentation and runoff improved water quality in recent years, so we are seeing more successful spawns."
In Neshoba County, a small lake produces big fish. Neshoba County Lake covers just 138 acres near Philadelphia, but holds some bucketmouth bass. The state drained and restocked the lake with Florida bass in 2004-05. The lake reopened to fishing in 2006. During the past decade, those fish grew to impressive sizes with many 9- to 10-pounders hitting the livewells each year. The lake record topped 14 pounds.
"Neshoba County Lake is the best bass lake in the Central Region," advised Ryan Jones, MDWFP fisheries biologist. "Highly vegetated shallow areas provide quality habitat for forage production, resulting in the growth of big largemouth. Other fish species, such as golden shiners and lake chubsuckers, provide supplemental forage from the feeder creek. In March 2013, an angler caught a 13-pounder. In September 2014, someone caught an 11-pounder."
Neshoba County Lake averages only about 4 feet deep, with the maximum depth about 10 feet. With the water level down, the state dug some channels in the largely featureless bottom. Now, anglers work those drop-off edges with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Anglers can also fish thick grass beds and lily pads with frogs or other weedless baits.
Another small state lake producing big bass, Calling Panther Lake covers 512 acres west of Crystal Springs. The state heavily stocked the lake with Florida largemouths and built several spawning flats. The state also stocked threadfin shad into the system to provide additional bass forage. Now, the small impoundment produces many bass in the 10- to 13-pound range. In February 2011, James Allen caught the lake record, a 15.4-pounder.
"Calling Panther Lake gives anglers an excellent opportunity to catch a trophy bass," said Jerry Brown, MDWFP fisheries biologist. "The lake is very unique with deep, lightly stained water, a large amount of flooded trees and a profound creek channel. Aquatic vegetation in the shallow areas can offer habitat during certain times."
Most of Calling Panther Lake runs 10 to 25 feet deep, but near the dam, it drops to about 50 feet. Standing timber covers much of the upper half. Lily pads grow in some coves. Many anglers tempt the biggest bass with live shiners, but Texas-rigged worms, jigs and lipless crankbaits can also produce good action along the channel edges.
"In the spring, I recommend fishing the flats along the east and west side of the lake," Brown advised. "During March, fish tend to stay in 5 to 8 feet of water, but move into 3 to 6 feet of water as temperatures increase in April. The northern end of the lake is also a good area. Local anglers call it 'between the creeks.'"
Another small lake on the hot list, Lake Jeff Davis, spreads across 100 acres in Jefferson Davis County south of Prentiss. The state drained and renovated Lake Jeff Davis in 2010, and restocked it with Florida bass in 2011. Those fingerlings grew into respectable sizes. Anglers now catch many fish in the 4- to 6-pound range, with a few in the 7- to 9-pound range, plus an occasional larger fish.
"At Lake Jeff Davis, anglers have an opportunity to catch good numbers of quality bass, along with the potential to catch a trophy size bass," Brown said. "Dense stands of willow trees in some areas, especially in shallow coves, along with fishing pier pilings, riprap along the dam, and lay downs can hold fish. In March and April, target the outside edges of willow trees, pier pilings and riprap as bass begin to transition from deep water to shallow areas for spawning. Willow trees that grew up during the renovation should provide good habitat for several years to come. I expect to hear about more big bass coming out of this lake for the next several years as those fish continue to grow."
In the southern part of the state, anglers might want to fish the Pearl or Pascagoula rivers. These streams typically don't hold monster bucketmouths, but can provide plenty of action from abundant 1- to 4-pound fish with an occasional 5- to 8-pounder.
Any of these waters and many more throughout the Magnolia State should provide anglers with abundant opportunities to land lunkers this spring. Anglers can find out more information on these and other waters or see more fishing information here.