Mississippi is blessed with six national forests across the state touting over one million acres of open access to the public. That is a lot of forestland to hunt, hike and camp. On top of that resource, though, many residents may not realize those forests also contain numerous fishing opportunities.

The Big Picture

Within these six national forests there are over 2,000 acres of lakes and more than 600 miles of streams that are open to the public for fishing. Many of these little known or recognized lakes feature some of the very best fishing in the whole state. The available species include largemouth bass, bream, redear sunfish, crappie (white perch) and catfish.

Fisheries biologists working for the U.S. Forest Service are conducting on-going management of these waters with a targeted effort at increasing the quality of fishing opportunities in Mississippi.

These fishery management practices include fertilization to increase fish productivity, building fish habitats including brushpiles, Christmas tree structure and other modes to provide fish with cover. Spawning habitats in the way of gravel beds are also installed.

Recreational fishing access is also constantly being added or upgraded. The lake managers have built new boat ramps to accommodate the boating traffic. Public fishing piers have also been constructed on a number of the lakes to make it easier for anglers to have easy-access places to fish. Without a doubt, the lakes on the national forests are a wonderful resource available to the public.

Prime pick national-forest lakes

Rick Dillard is a program manager for the U.S. Forest Service out of the Jackson office, and has worked with the various lakes, ponds and streams on all the national forestlands in the state.

"Our national forests in Mississippi have a number of excellent fishing lakes. In fact, they are all pretty darn good, but naturally I might lean toward some being a little better than others for a variety of reasons," he said. "Some may just be a bit more popular because they are better known or get more public notice or whatever. A few of the lakes are more regionally localized meaning that the nearby residents tend to fish them, but other anglers across the state or out-of-state may not know about them."

At any rate, Dillard recommended the following three lakes as starters for a quality fishing experience:

• Davis Lake-Tombigbee NF - This 200-acre lake lies just west of the blackland prairie in Chickasaw County. It is located west of Okolona on Highway 32. It is only 17 miles south of Tupelo. The water resource in this lake is highly fertile, meaning it can produce big fish. The current bass record is over 13 pounds. Other species available include bluegill, redear, crappie and, believe it or not, walleye. The average lake depth is listed at 12 feet with maximum depths up to 27 feet. The lake has two fully accessible fishing piers, 17 land-access piers and a concrete ramp.

• Choctaw Lake-Tombigbee NF - Found in Winston County, Choctaw Lake is two miles south of Ackerman on Highway 15. Take the left turn on Choctaw Lake Road for one mile. This lake has been described as a "panfish angler's paradise." The lake is well known for catches of bluegill, redear and crappie. Both bass and catfish can also be caught. The lake sports 2.5 miles of improved shoreline and two concrete boat ramps. Two fully accessible fishing piers are available. Lake depth is 6.5 feet on average with depths running to 16 feet. Again this is an excellent lake for bream and crappie.

• Turkey Fork Lake-DeSoto National Forest - Turkey Fork is a lake of 250 acres 15 miles east of the town of Richton on State Highway 42 in Greene County. This lake was built in 1973, but for many reasons never reached its full potential as a great fishing lake. Then in 1994 the lake was drained and restocked with Florida largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish. After the official re-opening in 1997, the lake has gone from being worst to one of the best in the national forest system. Reports of 11-plus-pound bass and large stringers of panfish have been consistently noted. The lake has a concrete ramp, a fully accessible fishing pier and good shoreline access. Average depth runs just over 6 feet with maximum depths to 18 feet.

Other lakes within the national forest system in the state to check out include Okhissa Lake in Franklin County and 260-acre Chewalla Lake near Holly Springs. Creek anglers will also enjoy floating the Black Creek running through the DeSoto NF in Forrest County near Brooklyn.