To hear Chotard Landing Resort manager Mark Johnson explain it, the shoreline of the lake just outside his back door stretched from the Louisiana levee to the Mississippi levee just about a year ago.

Such a flood as the one the Mississippi River experienced during 2011 seems like it would have forever altered the landscape within the levees and coerced the Chotard crappie population to relocate when the water finally fell out.

"The only way you could tell there was a lake here was by the tops of the trees," Johnson recalled. "But the lake didn't change any.

"As far as I know, the flood didn't do any damage to the lake banks. The Mississippi River's been doing this for eons; it's just a part of the cycle."

As for the crappie, Johnson says there's a possibility that many may have left the lake but just as many might have come into the lake. In other words, all fish had the opportunity to go anywhere, but that means they could come in just as well as they could go out.

"But they can do that anyway here at Chotard any time the river is 12 feet or higher," Johnson said. "When the river is 12 feet at Vicksburg, there's about 2 inches of water in the ditch from Chotard to the river.

"When it gets above that, there's a steady flow of water from the river to the lake. They can go in and out any time they want to."

Unlike Eagle Lake to the south and Lake Washington to the north, both of which are dammed off, Chotard Lake is a live oxbow that is still at the mercy of the rising and falling of the Mississippi River because it is still connected to it.

Last year's epic flood put about 30 feet of extra water on top of Chotard's normal lake level and perhaps 10 to 12 feet of unwanted water above its shore.

Aside from the expected property damage, Chotard looks relatively unscathed today, and for anglers like Bernard Williams, who has been fishing the lake for the last 40 years, that means the crappie bite is just as good now as it has ever been.

"We've been catching some big crappie since back in November," Williams noted. "Albemarle ... man, you can catch a hundred back in there."

And that brings us to an important characteristic of Chotard Lake of which visiting anglers need to be aware: Chotard is a complex of lakes rather than one lake.

If somebody tells you they're fishing Chotard, they could be fishing any of three lakes in a complex of oxbows made up of Chotard Lake, Albemarle Lake and Tennessee Lake.

"They're all separate lakes, but they're all connected by ditches," Johnson explained. "Anglers can move back and forth between them as long as the water is high enough. So they could fish Tennessee in the morning, be in Albemarle at noon and fishing Chotard that afternoon. Tennessee can get cut off in low water below about 17 feet, but it would have to get mighty low for them to not get in Albemarle. That's a pretty big ditch."

To get an idea of what these lakes look like, Johnson suggested that they appear like a smaller version of the view north from the Mississippi River bridge at Vicksburg minus all the buildings.

"These three lakes are just old riverbeds lined with willow trees and some cypress mixed in on the inside bends," Johnson elaborated. "The outside bends are the deep sides with a few willows that jump into hardwoods farther up the bank where those trees can survive. And where you would see sandbars in the Mississippi when it gets low, here we see mud."

However, that doesn't mean that fishing any of these three lakes is anything like fishing a river. According to Williams, crappie anglers have been adding cover in the form of brushpiles, cane and stake beds to these waters for many years.

"It kind of reminds you of Grenada when the water gets down," Williams said. "You can see those stake beds, and when the water covers them up, those specks get up in all that cover and hold tight."

Based on what he hears at the landing, Johnson says anglers generally fish farther away from the main Chotard Lake ditch when the water is rising and closer to it when the water is falling. However, Williams says that, although he prefers a slow fall to a slight rise, he doesn't fish any differently whether it's rising or falling.

In his experience, crappie stick to the brushpiles no matter what the water is doing. The only difference is that he has to fish deeper when the water is higher. And by deeper, he means pulling out more line rather than moving to deeper water.

"I'm still fishing the same brush," he explained. "If the water gets high, all that means to me is that it takes more line for me to get down to the stake bed. But I have noticed that crappie will get over the stake beds - maybe 4 or 5 feet above them - when the water is high rather than being right in the middle of the beds when the water is low."

Granted, most anglers who fish Chotard simply purchase a bucket of minnows and fish them under a cork, but that's not how Williams fishes the lake. He acknowledges that there are a bunch of small crappie in all the shallow wood cover that will flat tear up minnows, but he prefers to fish for larger crappie out in the middle of the lake.

Even though he already has several good stake beds and brushpiles located on his boat's GPS, Williams is always on the lookout for more. He primarily searches along the first ledge that drops off into the main river channel out away from the visible shoreline.

To locate fish-holding cover, Williams uses a technique known in crappie tournament circles as long-lining. When it's all said and done, long-lining is not much more than trolling crappie jigs out of the back of a boat.

"What this does is eliminate a lot of the lake that I don't want to fish," Williams said. "We put out six to eight poles with maybe 100 to 125 feet of line out, and pull them by moving the boat about .7 to .9 miles an hours based on our GPS speed."

After locating a spot this way, Williams makes sure to back up his boat maybe 100 feet before saving the waypoint on his GPS so that his mark isn't off by the same distance. In the wake of finding several good spots, Williams then switches over to spider-rigging directly over whatever cover he finds.

"Mainly, the fish we're after right now are in 20 to 22 feet of water," Williams said. "And they're going to be close to the bottom.

"When we spider-rig, we let our jigs go down to the bottom and reel them up two turns. Then we just ease around the stake bed or brushpile."

Another technique that crappie anglers use at Chotard is fishing the giant shad balls that show up out in the middle of the lakes. These balls of bait can be as large as 40 to 50 feet in diameter and extend maybe 10 feet down below the surface.

As long as crappie are feeding in these giant shad balls, they'll hit just about anything you put down there to them.

Johnson and Williams also both pointed out that they look to the Vicksburg river gauge to determine whether Chotard is rising or falling and exactly how much water is in the lakes.

The best river level for crappie fishing seems to be anywhere from 16 on the low end up to around 30 on the high end, and interested anglers can go to http://www.mvk.usace.army.mil/riverstage/bullet.txt or simply search for "Mississippi River Level" on the internet and then find the Vicksburg reading.

With so many other excellent crappie fisheries in Mississippi, why does Chotard stand out in the minds of die-hard anglers who can and do fish all over the state? According to Williams, there's a simple answer.

"Because Chotard will have water," he quipped. "The Corps lakes are drained down to an unsafe level. That's why we always put our Magnolia Crappie Club tournament on Chotard the first of the year. If we want to fish, we've got to go where the water is, and Chotard has the water and the fish."

Indeed Chotard does have the fish. Some would argue that Chotard has some of the biggest crappie on average in all of Mississippi with many 2.3- to 2.4-pound crappie showing up at some of the tournament weigh-ins.

Also, because Chotard and Albemarle touch the Mississippi and Louisiana border, the limits are very liberal since the creel limit becomes that of whichever state has the greater limit. The Louisiana crappie limit is 50, so anglers can keep 50 fish from these two lakes.

Last year's 500-year flood may have devastated lots of property and land that is now back above the water, but it couldn't upset what was below the water then, and it hasn't affected what is below the water now.

In fact, it's connection to the Mississippi River might have made the Chotard crappie bite even that much better.