Mississippi is blessed with an abundance of top-notch fisheries. As such, finding a good place to go after the bass is easier than many think. In fact, the state is divided into six regions, with biologists from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks dedicated to managing the fisheries in each of the regions. Thankfully, according to those biologists, Magnolia State anglers should have a great year in 2016, particularly for bass.
The Central Region is always rich with excellent largemouth fishing, as the area is home of the Ross Barnett Reservoir and the small but hot Neshoba County Lake. However, two more lakes from the region are predicted to be hotspots this year.
For large numbers of bass, anglers should try the 71-acre Lake Claude Bennett, which is 20 miles east of Bay Springs. The lake was lacking habitat in shallow water and medium depths, according to Regional Biologist Ryan Jones.
"We really tried to focus on enhancing that habitat," said Jones. "Last December, we put out 77 brushtops in the coves, along the bank and some in medium depths."
The brushtops provide habitat for bass and fish attractors for anglers. Anglers can find GPS coordinates for brushtops at www.mdwfp.com, for this lake where Jones would like to see anglers keep some fish for management purposes. For trophy bass though, Jones recommends Simpson County Lake. "People don't realize the size of the bass in this lake," exclaimed Jones.
Located four miles north of Magee, this 76-acre state lake is loaded with big bass, after being drained, stocked and reopened in 1993.
To find spawning bass, anglers should fish the edges all the way around the lake. Bass will also be near structure in the shallow areas of the lake, north of the old roadbed and in the chute that runs west. Try fishing plastic worms slowly through the brush. The best tactics for big fish at Simpson Lake after the pressure is on are large, live shiners.
Fishing looks good for a few of the lakes in the area, but bass anglers should be aware that due to mild winters in the Coastal Region, bass are active much earlier than in the middle and northern portions of Mississippi. With very little warming, bass will be actively spawning in late February and early March.
According to Stephen Brown, MDWFP regional biologist, Lake Bogue Homa should be hot this year.
"Lake Bogue Homa is now five years past being renovated and should be producing 10-pound-plus bass soon," said Brown. "It's a shallow water lake with plenty of vegetation and structure (stumps and stickups) to provide habitat for bass."
Bogue Homa is made up of 882 acres about six miles east of Laurel in Jones County. It was renovated and stocked in 2008 and reopened for fishing in May 2010. Three handicapped access piers make fishing from the bank popular.
Lake Bogue Homa should produce large fish early this spring, with the best tactics being soft plastics fished weightless along lines of vegetation and other structures. Early morning topwater lures should produce good results near stumps and stickups. There's plenty of shallow water, along with patches of lily pads or stems in almost all the pockets. Fish a snagless frog across the top of the pads in the mornings and late evenings. Be sure to have heavy pound test line and use a steady retrieve.
Other good choices for Coastal Region bass are Marion County lakes — Lake Bill Waller (renovated in 2004 and known for trophy largemouth) and Lake Columbia (renovated in 1996).
"Excessive vegetation in these two lakes could give anglers trouble," said Brown. "We are in the process of controlling the bank fishing areas and trying to open up more boating lanes."
The main bass fishing in the Delta Region is found in the oxbow lakes, especially the ones that have a complete or temporary connection to the Mississippi River.
"Bass fishing in the Delta goes through cycles of good and bad years based on what the river does," Nathan Aycock, regional biologist. "We've had some bad years, but things have begun to look up and we're excited about the possibility of better fishing in 2016."
During 2015, the water was above normal, and anglers reported much better catches. Lots of fish in the 1- to 2-pound range were caught. The fish were fat and healthy, and the bass fishing is predicted to be much better for 2016 than the past few years.
Lake Ferguson, located just west of Greenville in Washington County inside the mainline Mississippi River levee, is recommended for Delta Region bass this year. Its size varies depending on water level, but normally the lake is around 12 miles long and 1,430 acres. There is an upper lake that connects to the main lake during high water levels, but disconnects at around 16 foot on the Greenville gauge. The lake maintains a continuous connection with the Mississippi River at its southern end.
Lake Ferguson contains a wide variety of habitat, so tactics at Ferguson are different every day. Knowing water levels, whether rising or falling, is important. Normally, slow falls are the best times to fish, while fast rises make it tough to find fish.
At high water, though, many smaller water bodies connect to the lake and can provide great fishing. At low water fishing points — riprap banks, fishing piers and stump fields are all good locations. Try crankbaits or spinnerbaits near rocky banks along the eastern shore or through the stump fields in the northern portion of the lake, but anglers need to be careful.
"Silver carp are present here," said Aycock. "They are dangerous jumping out of the water, so anglers need to be careful when driving their boats."
Hope is high for 2016 in the Northeast Region, as the lakes provide ample access and diverse opportunities to catch both large numbers of bass and big bass. Both Pickwick and Bay Springs are ranked high on the national scale for largemouth and smallmouth bass.
"According to MDWFP's past bass tournament report, Pickwick has finished at the top of the rankings along with Bay Springs Lake the last few years," said Tyler Stubbs, district biologist. "We expect this trend to continue into next season."
Another to consider is Lake Lamar Bruce, a recently renovated, 300-acre lake north of Saltillo. It providesa very diverse fishery, with many points, humps, flats, creek channels and standing timber, along with strategically placed fish attractors.
"It fishes like a large lake," said Stubbs. "Most of the fingers have many smaller fingers within them, so you can really get away from a crowd."
There's plenty of cover all over the lake, especially on the western shoreline, as most of the dirt for the new levee was pulled from the main basin, which left a lot of deep-water habitat in the form of trenches, log and rock pilesand mounds.
There's a 16- to 22-inch protected slot on bass, and many fish in 2015 were caught in the slot with several approaching the upper end. The daily creel limit for largemouth bass is 10 per angler, but only one over 22 inches.
Good tactics for Lamar Bruce are to target the shallow cover, treetops and bushes with topwater lures, and spinnerbaits around the fish attractors. Crankbaits and Texas-rig plastics around woody debris and vegetation along the bank will produce strikes as well.
The Northwest Region is the home of the four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control reservoirs — Sardis, Enid, Grenada, and Arkabutla. These four lakes account for more than 40 percent of the state's public lake acreage — at a total of 95,920 acres at summer pool.
Although crappie are king on the flood control reservoirs, the bass fishing is excellent, with the best being in the clearer lakes of Sardis and Enid. This year Arkabutla should provide some hot action, as a severe drought in 2012 caused the water to recede, exposing the lake's bottom and allowing vegetation to grow. Then flooding in 2013 covered the area, creating prime bass habitat. The results have been excellent spawns for the past two years.
"Arkabutla is not fished as heavily as the other of the Big Four Reservoirs — and the folks here are quietly doing very well," said Keith Meals, northwest regional biologist.
Arkabutla is the shallowest of the big lakes and is least affected by the spring rises. The many creeks channels, coves and backwaters off Coldwater River make top-notch bass cover. Good tactics are to fish shallow on the edges of creek and river channels with spinnerbaits. Anglers should also try Rat-L-Traps, jigs and lizards in the shallow, muddier water.
Eagle Lake, a 4,700-acre Mississippi oxbow just north of Vicksburg, should be good this year. Eagle Lake is cut off from the river by the levee system, so the water levels don't fluctuate as connecting oxbows do.
"We saw a strong year-class of bass from 2014 during our fall sampling at Eagle Lake and I expect that those fish will be in the 14- to 16-inch range by 2016," said Jerry Brown, regional biologist. "That should make Eagle Lake a good place to fish."
MDWFP managers have been stocking Florida largemouth for several years, and the lake has a 16-inch minimum length to protect smaller fish.
There are a lot of structures on the eastern side, such as docks and piers, making spinnerbaits and crankbaits a good choice. For early mornings, cast buzzbaits or poppers around vegetation in the western shallow. Also try the cypress trees around the island with plastic worms and jerkbaits.
Lake Jeff Davis and Calling Panther Lake are popular bass destinations in the southwest, but there's also good bass fishing at Lake Lincoln and Natchez State Park Lake.
"We plan to reopen Lake Tangipahoa at Percy Quin State Park during 2016 and that is always an exciting time to be on the water," said Brown. "Catch rates are normally very high during our lake openings."
Any of these fisheries mentioned will put anglers in the middle of good bass action. From the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee line, anglers won't have to go far — whether the goal is to take home a daily limit or catch the biggest bass ever.