February 22, 2012
With more than 50 years of fishing in Mississippi, I find it incredible that to still find a different, entertaining and productive style of angling with each new season.
I credit that to my ability to find happiness in catching anything that bites my hook and the abundant opportunities we have in the Magnolia State.
The number of fish we can keep often is mandated by law, but the limit of fish we can catch is controlled only by our imagination.
With that in mind let's fill in our calendar with a year of action.
Lake Bill Waller
Our year starts on Lake Bill Waller, 168 acres of bass producing water that could be home to Mississippi's next state record largemouth. For sure it's home to many fish exceeding 15 pounds already.
It's hard to doubt, with its history. Waller produced a run of 12- to 15-pound fish for a decade before having to be closed for renovation of the water control structure in 2003. It was fixed and restocked in 2004. By the time it reopened in 2007, biologist samplings were already turning up 10-pounders. Those fish are now seven years old and nearing their peak.
In January, Waller bass are deep unless there is a warming trend. Then they move up shallow and feed like crazy. Swim baits and suspending jerkbaits are deadly, but never overlook a jig-and-pig.
The harsher the winter weather the better the bite for suspended crappie on Mississippi River oxbows. Forget tracking river levels. Just use good electronics to locate schools of shad and fish around them with jigs or a jig-and-minnow combo.
The upper end of Okhissa Lake in Homochitto National Forest near Bude is another good bass destination in January. Find the creek channel and use a drop-shot worm rig to catch fish. You can also try deep roadbeds.
What was good enough for a No. 2 ranking in January moves to the top of the list in February — crappie on an oxbow lake. This month we can be more specific. The hot spot is Lake Chotard north of Vicksburg.
Once thought to be impossible to catch in winter, the improvements in fish-finding electronics have opened the door to slab crappie by the bunches.
"What we didn't know was that big schools of forage fish, like shad, were constantly suspending deep, and that those schools of shad would attract schools of game fish," said Paul Johnson, former president of the Magnolia Crappie Club and an avid winter oxbow fisherman. "Once we were able to see those huge bio masses, we started putting it together."
What is particularly pleasing is that the average size of fish is big.
February bass fishing at Lake Calling Panther is the No. 2 selection. Giant largemouths are usually caught on live bait in the late spring and summer, a lot of quality bass are caught on warm February days on spinnerbaits.
For numbers of February bass, it's also hard to beat Barnett Reservoir near Jackson. Light spinnerbaits or swimming lizards work here.
We may be letting the cat out of the bag here, but Okhissa makes the list again and this time for crappie. Okhissa not only has the popular species, but they are thriving.
"I know there's a lot of people who'd prefer I not answer that question, but, yes, Okhissa has become a great crappie lake," said Rick Dilliard, fisheries biologist for the National Forest Service in Jackson. "They'd prefer it remain a secret but you can't keep crappie a secret. Not when it's as good as I'm being told."
Reported catches of slab crappie started circulating late last summer but the peak of the action was in March, when the fish moved up to spawn at depths of 3 to 6 feet. Red and white jigs were popular choices, but there were as many variations as there were fishermen. The keys are locating areas where fish spawn, and finding banks close to any of the creek channels with good cover.
Also this month, Enid Lake is hot for white bass. These feisty game fish form big schools and migrate out of the lake up the river and stack on sand bars.
Or you can head to Neshoba County Lake near Philadelphia for largemouth bass. Take some soft plastic craw worms and fish the edges of vegetations in the man-made upper lake channels. Work the grass if it's warm, but let the bait go deep on cool days.
Ross Barnett Reservoir
The No. 1 crappie destination for the spring spawn has to be Barnett Reservoir. It offers the best combination of quantity with quality in the state.
In 2010, the hot spot was the riprap along the dam in the early part of April. Strong southerly winds made it the only fishable area for a good bit of the month. But, once that action subsided the upper lake was the place to be. The stumps in 5 feet of water around the many old lakebeds are always hot. Once the water is above the 296.5 foot level, the focus moves to standing sawgrass with flooded root masses in the shallows on the east side of the lake.
For more slab action this month head to Grenada Lake. A 3-pounder is a possibility.
April is a good time to go to Pontotoc and Trace State Park to fish for bedding redear sunfish. Crickets fished in the coves are hard to beat for these shellcrackers.
Please visit page two for the top spots for Mississippi fishing for May, June, July and August
The northeast corner of the state is home to Pickwick Lake and is one of the prettiest parts of Mississippi. That lake is also a catfish factory, and there's little challenge to it. All you have to find is a rocky bluff bank.
Channel catfish move up on those to spawn on the rock bottoms. The catfish spawn in the cracks.
Among the tactics that will work is roll-casting nightcrawlers on fly rods.
My second pick in May is to return to Lake Okhissa to fish for bluegills. When the lake was built it included over 600 man-made gravel bedding areas.
Lake Ferguson at Greenville is good for the start of the summer white bass run. Fish the sand bars with light tackle and look for surface feeding activity.
Used to be, you had to look hard to find an upside from the disaster known as Hurricane Katrina. Now, thanks to a multi-government and multi-conservation group effort, it's easy.
"All those fishing reefs they built with all that concrete and other materials recovered during the years of clean up from Katrina are a blessing," said Tom Wright of Biloxi. "They are good year round, but in June as most of the species are returning from the marshes to the sound, it's unreal what you can catch — speckled and white trout, drum, flounder, ground mullet. "The hardest thing to do is make a cast with shrimp and not get bit."
No doubt, however, the most sought of those fish are speckled trout.
The reefs are well and marked and maps are available online at www.dmr.state.ms.us.
Lake Calling Panther is alive with bluegill this month. Bream bed like nuts in June on the deep gravel beds and other natural cover.
White bass at Lake Ferguson continue to bite into June. In fact, this is the peak for 1- to 3-pound fish.
My latest discovery is the joy of summertime fishing for tripletail, also known as black fish. These wonderful tasting and very sporting fish are a hoot to catch.
Out in the shallows on Mississippi Sound, long lines of crab pots are located all along our Gulf coast. The depth ranges from 4 to 6 feet. Each one of those pots can be holding a tripletail, which hides next to the floating trap marker and ambushes any meal that swims by.
"The great thing is that you can do this while running wide open, which is very refreshing on a 100-degree day," said Dan Smith of Jackson, whose first tripletail trip produced a monster 24-pounder. "You run by, see them, go down a ways, turn around and idle back. Then you toss a shrimp under a cork past the fish and reel it slowly back to him. The bite is nearly automatic."
For something different try catching longnose gar on frayed rope at lower Sardis Lake. As odd as it sounds, it is a blast, with an average day producing between 25 and 30 fish up to 30 pounds.
Or, back on the Gulf Coast, Biloxi Bay is a good bet for black drum. Catch them on a falling tide, as they gang up off the bank to ambush crabs, shrimp and fish being pulled out with the current.
Jugging for channel catfish gets the nod for an August trip. It could easily be July or September, but August is a peak period. The river is usually back
to a low level with a slow current and that is prime for floating an array of jugs over inside bends of the river.
Drop baits under the floating devices no more than 4 or 5 feet and try to read the current to get the best drift possible that will keep the jugs in water 5 to 10 feet deep.
For a summertime fish fry featuring crappie try trolling with crankbaits for at Sardis Lake. Pulling Bandit 300s over the deep points can fill a box in a hurry.
Barnett Reservoir is good for catfish on the 10-foot flats this month. On the upper end of the main lake, you can jug. On the lower end, it's rod and reel only and both are good.
Discover the top spots for Mississippi fishing for September, October, November and December
Eagle Lake is making a comeback for crappie fishing. Stocking efforts by state wildlife officials are paying off in bringing back the numbers of spotted and white crappie in this old oxbow lake north of Vicksburg.
The surprise is the time of the year, more than the lake itself. Even in its heyday in the 1960s, Eagle was not known as a summer lake. But in the last two years, the fish have turned up on deep cover, such as man-made attractors or on the piers. Jig vertically on the cover in 12 to 20 feet of water.
Another option is to head to the Tenn-Tom Waterway and Lake Columbus for late summer bass. The points in the old river channel, and even in the cut channel, hold huge schools.
Back down on the Gulf Coast the bull redfish on the south side of the barrier islands are running. The big schools are chasing baitfish on the beaches.
Striped & Hybrid Bass
Ross Barnett Reservoir
Over the last two years, the best October action has been for striped and hybrid bass on Barnett Reservoir. By the time the month arrives, shad have started their migration from deep open water up the river or moving to the shallow flats and coves. It is the latter than leads to an outstanding run on stripes and their hybrid cousins.
The fish start surface feeding on the shad above shallow flats on the lower main lake's east side. Even if the surface activity isn't happening, you can troll crankbaits and still catch a bunch. Just cover a lot of water looking along edges of deep drops.
Migrating shad also are a factor for
Grenada Lake crappie action. First main-lake points and then river points host the ganged up slabs.
The best fall fishing for bream happens back at Calling Panther Lake. Those big bull bluegill move out on deep flats to feed.
Those redfish that were moving up on the barrier islands a couple of months earlier are again on the move. By November, they head into the bays and at the mouths of the coastal rivers.
Following the dry dog days of late summer, salinity levels rise in the bays. The redfish appear in great number and begin stacking on bars and other structure. There's a good topwater bite at sunrise each morning, but mostly it's hunting and pecking to get a Mississippi limit of three. It rarely takes long.
Those same dog days create great bass fishing in the oxbow lakes, both those along the Mississippi River and its delta. The cypress trees load up with largemouth.
Crappie are holding in the flooded timber along the river channel on Barnett Reservoir. In the upper half of the main lake the fish gather to pick off shad migrating up the river.
Lake Okhissa offers for some of the best deep-water bass fishing in Mississippi.
The largemouths, which moved up the lake with shad in the late summer migration, fall back into the creek channel on the upper end of the lake this month. There they hold on the timber along the edge of the creek. This angling requires finesse, but a drop-shot worm rig is as good as a stick of dynamite.
Barnett Reservoir's wintertime bass fishing is outstanding. Largemouth often school in the backwaters of the 33,000-acre impoundment in December. The bass are in the pad stems looking for the hiding shad.
Albermarle Lake, an oxbow that is connected by a channel to Chotard Lake is a crappie hotspot. Look for the fish to be suspended in deep water.