The Great Flood of 2011 is over - thank goodness. We won't know the full cost to homeowners, farmers and businessmen for months to come. But we already know that the levees survived (doesn't that make you feel relieved?), and we survived. Much post-flood restoration work to homes, hunting and fishing camps, businesses and some lakes is on-going.

It was announced last month that 28 lakes, streams and rivers had been opened to the public with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality assuring us that tests in these re-opened waterways were found to be free of
sewage, poisons and other toxins. Hallelujah - that's
great news.

Speaking of recently re-opened lakes, let me tell you about one of my favorites and an absolutely great summer fishing trip. It started when a buddy of mine from the Barnett Reservoir area called to ask for a suggestion on where he could go catch some crappie pulling crankbaits.

Like me, Cal Lucas of Brandon has been severely bitten by the crankbait bug. Got a bad case of it, too. Cal is so intrigued with learning to perfect his still new crankbaiting technique that he was desperate to try anything that would yield a crappie.

As you will recall, we had a month of strong southerly winds, every day, during the late spring/early summer this year. A little wind is okay with crankers, but no one can deal with 15-plus-mph winds every day. So Cal was looking for a place out of the wind.

Last summer, on my suggestion, Cal and a buddy, Joe Prescott, spent many days on Wolf Lake catching crappie on crankbaits. That was their first real experience with cranking, and they brought that knowledge from the skinny and winding confines of Wolf Lake to the great big expanse of water known as the Rez. Point being, at Wolf, you can always get out of the wind, but at Barnett a strong south wind makes it impossible to fish the open water.

So wanting to help a buddy out and needing a fishing report myself, I suggested that Cal and Joe go to Chotard and try it.

"Cal, you can get out of the wind somewhere over there on those three lakes, Chotard, Albermarle or Tennessee," I said. "With the water as high as it is (just shy of 40 feet on the Vicksburg gauge) you can fish almost anywhere.

"I guarantee you'll catch something. Might be a bunch of gar, but you'll get your string stretched. And they have just opened it back up to boats, so those river crappie haven't seen a bait in months."

Now, I must admit, I felt a little bad about sending Cal and Joe on what could have turned out to be a wild-goose chase. I had absolutely no knowledge at the time of any fishing activity, good or bad, on the Chotard lakes. Well, I felt bad about it for a few minutes, anyway.

Later the next day, I got a phone call from Cal. He and Joe were headed back from their Chotard expedition, and they were giggling like a couple of little girls. I could hear the smile in Cal's voice, and some reinforcement laughing and prodding from Joe in the background.

"You know, Paul, this is the first time I've ever fished Chotard in the summer, and, man, this is great!" he said. "Joe and I caught 37 of the biggest crappie we've ever seen, and we didn't find them until almost 11 o'clock. Why didn't you tell us about this fantastic summertime fishing place before? We're stoked, brother. I mean, we're already planning our next trip back over here. You missed out big time, friend. You should have come, too!"

Here's what happened the best I could tell. Cal and Joe fished most of the morning in Chotard and caught nothing but gar. That's exactly the reason I didn't go. Then, out of desperation, they moved up to Albermarle and chose to pick the "deep side" (that's the east bank) to try their luck. It was getting very hot, and there was still some shade over water as deep as 25 feet (remember, these waters were near flood stage), so just to catch a break from the pounding sun, they trolled as close to the overhanging willows and cottonwoods as they could in the shade.

Whammo, slammo, fish on! As soon as they hit the shade, their trolling poles went crazy. Didn't matter if the crank was a medium diver or a deep diver. They all got action quickly.

Now, Cal tells me that Joe was strictly a jig fisherman before this trip, but I know for a fact that Cal and he returned only three days later to try to repeat that first trip over there. Cal called upon leaving the lake the second time with another story only slightly less successful than their first trip. But the fish were in the same shade-tree holding pattern, and they got on them right away their second trip.

Of course, I went over, too. In fact, I packed an overnight bag while speaking with Cal that first report, and I was on Albermarle the next morning just before sunup and spent a couple of days pulling cranks.

What a blast!

I, too, caught some of the biggest white perch I've ever caught on that old river-connected oxbow, and the gar were not too bad. I think I probably caught five or six gar in two days. Also caught a 6-pound largemouth bass out in the middle in 40 feet of water while dragging six deep-running cranks behind me.

I checked with a couple of my jig fishing buds, too, who were over there "fishing the bushes" as they call it. They were having banner days as well on mostly black crappie - big as they grow, too.

I'm telling you, friend, there is a silver lining to all the devastation the flood brought to Chotard Landing and other impacted areas. It improved the fishing over there, if that was possible. I encourage you to give it a try right now.

Chotard Landing Resort and Laney's Landing are open. Carry everything you need with you because the Chotard Landing store is demolished. I heard Mark Johnson, Chotard Landing's manager, encouraging fishermen who were there to "come on back as soon as you can."

Mark, I'll be right over catching some more river crappie as big as they grow.

Man, what a trip!