Mississippi Sportsman has talked with some of the state's fisheries biologists, and asked them to pick three of the best other crappie lakes in Mississippi.
Ross Barnett Reservoir
At well-known Ross Barnett, a 33,000-acre lake just outside Jackson, many anglers overlook the crappie-fishing potential in this body of water, according to Tom Holliman, coordinator with Mississippi's Department of Wildlife Fisheries & Parks (MDWFP).
"Ross Barnett Reservoir is one of the state's better lakes for crappie fishing," he said. "This lake has plenty of room for anglers to move around and find crappie, and also holds a good shad population. Ross Barnett doesn't receive the crappie-fishing pressure the flood-control reservoirs in the Delta do."
Ross Barnett contains a number of old creek channels, river channels and oxbows once a part of the Pearl River before the lake's impoundment in 1965. Also, plenty of structure remains along the edges of these creek channels and oxbows.
"A good reservoir map will show the old oxbows and some of the old lakes that were near or part of the Pearl River before Ross Barnett was raised," Holliman said. "You'll locate some really good structure holding crappie around these underwater creek and river channels and lakes."
Use a depth finder on Ross Barnett in places where not many crappie fishermen fish. Recently, the average crappie caught from Ross Barnett has weighed 1 to 1 1/2 pounds.
"One of the fishermen here in our office went out during a recent December, and caught a good limit of 1 1/2- to 2-pound crappie, so we're getting more, bigger crappie from Ross Barnett than we have in the past," Holliman said. "Sixteen to 18 artificial reefs were put out at Ross Barnett several years ago, and these reefs have been augmented with additional brush by local fishermen."
You can pinpoint many more brushpiles along the old creek and the river channels that local fishermen have sunk to create fish attractors for both crappie and bass. To consistently catch crappie from Ross Barnett, spend time on the water locating brushpiles and marking them with a GPS. Then you can return and fish them throughout the year.
"Most local crappie fishermen put a lot of brush into the
lake, but they won't tell you where you can find those brushpiles," Holliman said. "You'll just have to identify them yourself."
Fishermen who know how to read a depthfinder and a lake map and use a GPS consistently will find and take more crappie than anglers who fish visible structure at Ross Barnett.
"Until the crappie start moving up to the shallow water to spawn, possibly in late February or early March, depending on weather and water temperatures, most of the crappie will be holding 14 to 18 feet deep, suspended over structure on the edges of these creek and river channels," Holliman said.
He recommends anglers look for the crappie holding 2 to 6 feet above the structure in the fall and winter. Since crappie don't move around much during the winter, you can catch them most effectively with a hand pole and fishing very slowly vertically with either minnows or jigs.
You can catch 30 crappie per day, per person, and Ross Barnett has no length limit. You'll have an opportunity to catch a limit of crappie every day you fish, especially if you've fished Ross Barnett before and know where to find the creek channels, the river channels and the brush pilings.
For newcomers to the area, Holliman suggests fishing across the lake on Highway 43 during the cooler-weather months.
"As you pass over the bridge, look north and south, and wherever you see a concentration of fishermen, that's where the crappie will be holding," he said. "To find crappie south of Highway 43, watch the seagulls, which will dive on the bait as schools of crappie force the baitfish toward the surface. When you spot diving birds, move to within casting distance of the birds, running your trolling motor on low to keep from spooking the crappie, and cast to the schools. You'll find more working birds as you get closer to the dam.
"One of the best places to fish is below the Highway 43 bridge where there's a big eddy area, known locally as the Welfare Hole, where the crappie hold most of the time during (cool-weather months)."
As the water warms toward the end of February, Holliman recommends fishing the backwater lakes on the Rankin County side of Ross Barnett to find crappie moving up to spawn.
Aberdeen and Columbus lakes were both once part of the Tombigbee River in eastern Mississippi, which locals know has historically held good numbers of big crappie. However, upon the creation of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, which connects the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee River, the Great Ditch, as many call it, cut out many of the bends and the oxbow lakes found along the old Tombigbee River to create a more direct route from the Tennessee River down to Alabama's port of Mobile.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set up dams along the Tenn-Tom Waterway that flooded thousands of acres of rich, fertile bottomland habitat. Two of the most productive crappie-fishing lakes in Mississippi include the Aberdeen and the Columbus lakes on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
Jason Olive, project leader for District 1 of the MDWFP, monitors the fish populations on both Aberdeen and Columbus lakes.
"Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers backed up Aberdeen Pool, there wasn't much backwater in this section of the Tombigbee River," Olive said. "In the past, this area was a productive site to fish for not only crappie but for walleyes, catfish and bass as well. However, before the dam was created, the population of crappie and bass in this section of the river wasn't nearly as good as it is today."
The raising of the lake caused a tremendous amount of backwater created over the tops of extremely fertile soils, providing ideal crappie and bass habitat.
"At Aberdeen, you'll find a number of 1- to 2-pound crappie," Olive said. "The results from our recent electro-fishing survey indicate the lake holds a tremendous number of crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range. I don't consider Aberdeen or Columbus trophy crappie lakes, but the number of crappie you'll catch out of these Tenn-Tom lakes is tremendous."
Also, the Tenn-Tom above Aberdeen runs through extremely fertile regions that have a high productivity of baitfish and crappie. The abundance of woody habitat in shallow water and the vast amount of vegetation create ideal crappie-fishing opportunities at Aberdeen.
"The only time Aberdeen and Columbus receive very much fishing pressure is during the spring when the crappie start to spawn, but you can catch crappie here all year," Oliver said.
Underwater feeder creeks and ditches as well as old river channels provide quality deep-water habitat for the crappie before and after the spring spawn. Olive recommends fishing near the dam in the Blue Bluff area.
"You won't have to even crank your outboard to find good places to fish, if you launch from Blue Bluff," he said. "The old Tombigbee River channel, a deep-water area, runs close to the Blue Bluff boat ramp. If you're competent with your depth finder, look for crappie there this month."
Farther up the lake, Olive suggests fishing Trawler Bend Way and the boat ramp at Becker Bend Way. Also, search for crappie in Weaver Creek, located upstream from Becker Bend Way, and the mouth of the old Tombigbee River, where it runs into the main channel.
Aberdeen, only slightly larger than 4,000 acres, often becomes crowded with fishermen during the spring. However, this section holds plenty of fish for everyone to catch. Before and after the spring run, you won't have much competition.
"When we sampled the lake last fall, we were really surprised at the number of crappie we found in Aberdeen, and even though it's not known as one of Mississippi's premier crappie lakes, I guarantee the crappie are there," Olive said. "We were really surprised that the crappie were holding in shallow cover, making them easier to catch, and that no one was fishing there. So the best time to find and catch crappie at Aberdeen is in February before the spawn, immediately after the spawn and throughout the summer and the fall."
There really is no bad time.
In the fall, the crappie hold in 3 to 5 feet of water on wood cover, and if the area has warm weather in the winter, you still may catch the crappie at about that depth or even more shallow. But if you're fishing when the weather's really cold, bet on the underwater creek channels, the ditches and the old river channels.
Remember, there's a 9-inch length limit on the crappie you can keep at Aberdeen and Columbus. Olive believes he hasn't seen the boom-or-bust-type of crappie fishing that usually happens in some areas because of the 9-inch length limit.
"We seem to consistently have very good crappie fishing in Aberdeen and Columbus lakes because of this length limit," he said.
You'll find the upper end of Columbus Lake in the city of Aberdeen and the lower end in Columbus. Although the same ingredients that make Aberdeen a great crappie lake make Columbus a productive lake for crappie fishermen, Columbus Lake has twice the size of Aberdeen, a little over 9,000 acres. Yet acre-per-acre, the amount of fishing pressure on Columbus roughly equals the amount of pressure on Aberdeen. Columbus Lake has a larger population base than Aberdeen, since Columbus, Starkville and West Point feed anglers to the lake.
"Our survey data indicate there are large numbers of crappie on Columbus Lake, the same as you'll find on Aberdeen," Olive says. "The size and the abundance of the crappie in Columbus Lake are similar to the crappie population in Aberdeen. Creel surveys reveal that the catch rate for crappie is slightly higher on Columbus than on Aberdeen. Our creel data is calculated by the number of crappie caught per hour, taking into account the people who catch few or no crappie, and the anglers who consistently limit out every time they fish there. Our spring creel survey shows that on Columbus Lake anglers catch one-and-a-half to two crappie per hour, and on Aberdeen, the average is one crappie per hour."
The 9-inch size limit for crappie on Columbus Lake has had a positive effect on the crappie population because of the abundance of crappie on this impoundment, much like the amount of crappie concentrated in Aberdeen.
"Because the Tenn-Tom Waterway lakes are smaller than the lakes in the northwestern section of the state, they don't receive as much national publicity," Olive said. "From our anglers' survey data, we've learned that a much-larger percentage of the anglers who fish in the Delta area of Mississippi come from out of state, which may be one of the reasons more publicity is focused on these lakes than the lakes on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
"Columbus and Aberdeen are more local-fishing lakes, with the vast majority of anglers living near the lakes, and a few anglers coming from western Alabama. Acre-per-acre, the number of crappie you catch in Aberdeen and Columbus will be comparable to the number of crappie you'll catch in Arkabutla, Sardis and Grenada. However, Grenada and Sardis may have a few more large crappie than you'll find at Aberdeen and Columbus."