March 07, 2018
By Terry Jones
There is some great Mississippi/Louisiana crappie fishing throughout both state's borders, but these two areas should definitely be considered in 2018.
Mississippi and Louisiana are blessed with fantastic crappie fisheries, and each year sportsmen hammer Grenada, Ross Barnett, D'Arbonne, and Poverty Point. Mississippi's Eagle Lake and Louisiana's Ouachita River do not get as much attention, but they are crappie factories in their own right, and conditions bode well for 2018.
Located about 25 miles northwest of Vicksburg, Eagle Lake is a 4,500-acre Mississippi River oxbox that was created when the river shifted to the west in 1866. Because it straddles the Louisiana-Mississippi border, it may be fished with a license from either state.
Located in the fertile Mississippi Valley, Eagle Lake's nutrient-rich water produces some healthy white crappie. There is also a variety of habitat, including shallow cypress trees, docks and piers, and deep, open water.
"It's a jewel," declared Brad Chappell of Brad Chappell Guide Service (601-317-6681). "There's some giant crappie in it and good numbers as well."
Mississippi and Louisiana biologists co-manage the lake, and Chappell gives them a lot of credit for the good fishing. For example, several years ago when drought severely impacted the crappie spawn for several years, biologists took crappie that were caught in a tournament at Chotard and released them into Eagle as a brood stock to jumpstart the population.
The creel limit was also changed in 2015 from 50 to 30, and fish under 11 inches must be released immediately. The size limit helps insure that more crappie survive to adulthood and are able to spawn.
Chappell's go to tactic is long-lining Bobby Garland Stroll'R jigs in Keystone Candy, Bluegill Fire and Monkey Milk colors.
"I use two 1/8-ounce bladed jigheads, like Road Runners, tied 3 or 4 feet apart, and work eight poles at a time. I have four poles on each side of the boat with the first one being 9 foot, then 14, 16 and 18."
Crappie Pro Brad Chappell on Lure Colors
This method allows Chappell to drag jigs through a swath of water about 40-feet wide. He normally trolls a little over 1 mph, but the speed can vary depending on how deep crappie are suspended. Chappell uses the long-lining method throughout the year, and moves from place to place as the seasons dictate.
"In April, I like to fish the shallow flats on the edge of the cypress trees in anywhere from 4 to 6 feet of water," said Chappell.
Dale Maxwell, owner of Maxwell's Landing, also recommends fishing for spawning crappie in the southwest corner of the lake at a place called Buck Chute.
"It's a 10- to 15-acre area with willow trees that get flooded when the water is up," Maxwell said. "Some people wade around them, but I think it's best to stay in the boat and be real quiet. They spook easy in the shallow water."
The numerous piers on the south bank are another popular place during spring. This is especially true when the prevailing southwest wind is roaring because the high bank provides some protection for anglers.
When the spawn is over, crappie move from the shallow water to the deepest part of the lake. They remain there throughout the summer, although fishing slacks off after Memorial Day because of the heat.
Water up to 30-feet deep can be found out from Crow's Pier, a private pier on the south bank about halfway between Messina Landing and Maxwell's launch.
"There's a lot of structure along Crow's Pier and that's where most people try to get," Chappell said. "It's sometimes hard to get to because of all the boats, but it's easier farther out in the lake. There, you can troll jigs or Bandit crankbaits for a mile and a half."
Winter is one of the best times to catch trophy-size fish because the crappie are gorging on shad in preparation for the spawn. Come December, Chappell will be long-lining jigs or trolling crankbaits in the deep water out from Crow's Pier.
"I concentrate on water that is about 22-feet deep and fish about 12- to 15-feet deep," Chappell said. "December is my favorite time to fish Eagle. One day I had 28 slabs weighing over 2 pounds each."
Mike Wood, retired chief for Fresh Water Fisheries at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and a freshwater fish consultant, is familiar with Eagle Lake because of the cooperation between Louisiana and Mississippi biologists. He points out that while Eagle produces big crappie, it also has some issues.
"The biggest problem is that Eagle Lake can no longer rise and fall with the Mississippi River, and fluctuating water is what makes a good crappie lake," claimed Wood. "When the water rises, it covers hard dry ground that makes really good spawning areas. Then when it falls, it exposes the ground and lets it dry out and compact down again."
The Corps of Engineers cut off the lake from the river with a levee and put a control structure on Steele's Bayou, which prevents the water from rising and falling naturally.
"Static water is not as good," Wood declared. "The bottom stays mucky and that's not good for spawning."
Chappell, however, remains optimistic about Eagle Lake's future, because biologists are working to build the lake up to its potential.
- GETTING THERE: North of Vicksburg, take Hwy 465 west from U.S. Hwy 61. A free public launch, known as Messina Landing, is on Shell Beach Road near its intersection with Eagle Lake Shore Road. Maxwell's Landing (601-279-4408) is a commercial launch near the western end of the latter road. Dale Maxwell charges $5 to launch and has a store that provides fishing supplies, drinks and helpful advice.
The Ouachita River begins in the mountains of Arkansas and runs through northeast Louisiana past Monroe, Columbia and Harrisonburg before joining the Tensas and Little rivers near Jonesville to form the Black River.
Locks near Columbia and Jonesville have essentially turned the lower river into a long lake during pool stage, although it maintains a current and can experience periods of very high water, as well as excellent fishing.
"I would give the Ouachita system five stars, but I can also tell you that if you don't have any knowledge of it you might not do too well," said Wood. "From the Arkansas line to Jonesville you have 337 river miles to fish. That's a lot of ground to cover."
One advantage of the area is that high spring water lets crappie spread out for spawning. It also has open water, a good plankton bloom and lots of shad.
Although the river system has both black and white crappie, Wood says that white crappie is slightly more dominant because "it's a little more of a muddy water fish."
Another of the Ouachita's strengths is that it has different crappie environments, such as treetops and brush in the river, stump lines and other structure in the tributaries and lakes, and open water in all three, and it seems to get past the hot summer doldrums of crappie fishing.
"In the summer you can consistently find fish in treetops, points and drop offs because the weather and currents are stable," said Clark Laborde. "You just have to be willing to battle the heat."
The numerous treetops in the river can also be hot spots but all tops are not equal. Many will give up few or no crappie, but once a productive one is found in 10 to 20 feet of water, it can be fantastic fishing.
Laborde usually relies on Crappie Magnet's 2-inch Fin Commander Curly Critter in the Tennessee Shad during the spring, and black and chartreuse or white and chartreuse in the summer.
For jig heads he prefers the spinner type, such as Road Runners and the Crappie Magnet Fin Spin, in 1/8 and 1/16 ounces. Laborde particularly likes the latter because its willow blade produces an extra bit of flash that attracts fish and the blades never fail to spin.
Like Chappell on Eagle Lake, Laborde likes to long-line in the river's open water because he can cover a large area.
"Offering multiple size jigheads for different depths and various colors at a little higher speed allow me to hone in on the most fish possible very quickly," Laborde said. "I'll also use it as a scouting tool, then slow down and spider rig once I've located them."
When the river gauge reaches 24 feet, there is too much current to fish the river itself, but that current forces bait fish to retreat into the river lakes and tributaries. During high water, try spider rigging, trolling crankbaits, and fishing with jigs or shiners in those areas.
Crappie fishing on the Ouachita has been good for the past several years, and Wood sees no reason why it should change because of a good spring spawn and no fish kills. One issue, however, that does worry him is the dramatic increase in the number of Asian and big head carp, aka flying carp. The carp eat plankton and can deplete nutrients that also help feed crappie.
"I think the carp impact is going to happen," Wood said. "I'm just waiting on the data."
But for the time being, things look good.
"As long as the locks stay in place and we get the normal water cycle, there should be no big change in the fish population in the near future," claimed Wood. "It looks great for the summer."
- GETTING THERE: There are numerous public landings on the Ouachita River. Some of the more popular are Alabama Landing near Haile, Sterlington bridge, D'Arbonne Bayou, Forsythe Park in Monroe, Lazarre Park in West Monroe, Prairion Bayou south of Bawcomville, Columbia and Harrisonburg. The D'Arbonne, Forsythe Park, and Lazarre Point launches are free, while the others have $5 drop boxes.
OUACHITA RIVER BASS
The Ouachita River is known for its outstanding bass fishing. In addition to largemouths, there is also a healthy population of feisty Kentucky bass.
When the river is at pool stage, fishing the mouths of bayou tributaries is a good tactic. Carl Gresham has fished the river for years and likes to target underwater shelves.
"There are usually a couple at the mouth of D'Arbonne Bayou and the other streams that empty into the river," said Gresham. "They drop off into the deep river channel, and the bass will stack up on the second shelf. You can position your boat out in the river and drag crankbaits and soft plastics along the shelf and do real well."
The river's lakes and bayous are also good for bass and can be especially productive during high water because the swift current pushes baitfish into these areas. Try fishing buzzbaits, frogs and spinnerbaits around the bank, stumps and treetops.
When the river is on a fall, water and baitfish are pulled out of the D'Arbonne Bayou backswamp, and bass gather at the mouths of sloughs. Fishing crankbaits at such places can quickly produce a limit.
When the river gauge at Monroe drops to about 22 feet, usually during the post-spawn period and summer, the current goes slack. At that time, head up D'Arbonne Bayou to probe stump lines, treetops and drop offs with jigs or shiners.