Located within the Golden Triangle of Northeast Mississippi, this month’s Mississippi crappie hotspot is none other than Columbus Lake. Referred to by the locals as Possum Town Lake, Columbus is impounded by the seventh of 10 locks along the Tenn-Tom Waterway. The Tenn-Tom Waterway forms a 234-mile-long, 300-feet-wide-by-9 feet-deep transportation artery connecting West-central Alabama and Northeastern Mississippi. Although created and maintained by the United State Army Corps of Engineers as part of a commercial shipping artery for the Southeast United States, Columbus for the most part has managed to slide under the radar as a nationally recognized top-notch crappie lake.
That status might change soon, as the area has been chosen as the site of the Crappie Masters National Classic tournament to be held here in early October.
Summer crappie tactics and success on Columbus Lake are largely dependent upon the flow of water. Still-water days will find crappie holding around bigger trees and stumps along the drop-offs of the main river runs.
When gates are opened either upstream or downstream of Columbus, the prevailing current will push fish into current breaks such as the first bend of one of the old river runs or farther into one of the closed-ended runs.
Tournament angler and Crappie101.com Webmaster Ray Looney, who lives in the town of Columbus, has spent countless hours on the lake learning much through trial and error, especially the best places to catch crappie.
While current will often dictate when to fish these areas, Looney provides assistance this month on where to start.
1. Last River Bend N 33 31.672/W 88 28.430
Hotspot No. 1 is located on the inside bend of the last river run just upstream of the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam. The site features a row of stumps on the point side of the inside bend.
Along the point, the bottom lies in 10 feet of water and drops off into 20 feet in the channel.
Looney hits this area with single jig pole in hand.
"In times of bright sun, it’s best to fish these stumps on the shady side," Looney said. "In flowing water, they’ll move around on the backside of the stumps, and you can catch them there if the current’s not too strong."
2. Corps of Engineers Bluff N 33 32.118/W 88 30.107
Next on Looney’s list is this rock bluff that drops off into nearly 27 feet of water. The constant wash of water against the bluff has deposited several whole trees along the bluff.
"Crappie will congregate in those trees that have slid off the bank," Looney said. "We fish a little deeper here than most other places; you can also troll along this bank and do well with your poles set from 12 to 15 feet deep."
Because of its origin as a commercial waterway, Columbus Lake anglers rely on many of the commercial structures and features of the lake to find fish.
These areas include commercial docks, water diversion structures, old bridges, and several abandoned and operational commercial properties that have created accesses to the water.
3. Kellog’s Slough N 33 32.599/W 88 30.385
Located just off Tibbee Creek, spot No. 3 is Kellog’s Slough, an old closed-off river run.
The entrance to the slough shallows up to 1 ½ feet deep, making passage to the area somewhat tricky, but that same shallow flat also protects the area from current and draws crappie retreating from the flow like a magnet.
"Once you get to the area where you see the standing trees, the water deepens to around 7 to 8 feet," Looney said. "Under the right circumstances, you can come in here, drop a jig around the bases of those trees and really wear the crappie out."
Looney favors this area in times of hot weather, as the standing timber provides ample shade that draws both crappie and baitfish.
Typically the best bite will be when the current is slack on the main lake and crappie will gravitate to the shade to find cooler water.
4. Clear Creek N 33 32.509/W 88 31.642
Located at the south end of the larger Tibbee Creek, this hotspot is located in a cove just past the power lines at Clear Creek.
The "spot" marks a centralized area along a 300-yard row of standing timber where the water depth in the creek channel is nearly 30 feet deep and runs right along the edge of the standing timber.
"The 30-foot channel runs to the left side of the timber, and the flat right on the other side is about 8 feet," Looney said. "Fish will hold on both sides of the timber, depending on the time of day.
"I’ve generally found more fish on the shallow side in the early morning, and then the fish will move over to the deeper side and suspend along that timber later in the day."
Looney was quick to point out that the sharp drop was a magnet for fish, but that it also funnels the current. He claims anytime there’s current moving through the waterway it will kill the bite in this location.
5. School Bus Bank N 33 33.460/W 88 29.774
Moving over to an area known as the Waverly Loop, an open-ended river run of the waterway, Looney directs us to an area on the left bank that will often hold crappie.
"Very little standing timber that’s deep enough to fish is left along this bank but there’s a 200- to 300-yard stretch of bank that has several fallen trees, and it’s a great place to catch white crappie," he said.
Looney gives the area its name for an old school bus that has washed into the water and lodged against the bank.
He urged anglers to target the deeper water that will be around 12 feet deep along this stretch of bank.
Like hotspot No. 4, current will play a factor in success because Waverly is an open-ended run.
A little bit of current is good, drawing crappie tight to the structure; a lot of current will cut the bite off completely.
6. Waverly Bridge N 33 33.906/W 88 19.522
While the Waverly Bridge indicated in the photograph of hotspot No. 6 makes a great visual reference to locate this spot, it’s the bank to the left side of the bridge that Looney directs us to in order to catch crappie.
"Start at the point across from the landing and fish that bank all the way around to the bridge," Looney said.
The attraction for crappie is the number of stumps and laydowns all along this bank that are on the edge of the channel before it drops off into deeper water.
Looney prefers to identify these stumps and deadfalls on his graph, and then use a 10-foot jig pole to vertically fish one of his Crappie101 jigs beside the structure.
7. Waverly Landing N 33 33.898/W 88 29.690
Since hotspots Nos. 6 and 7 are comprised of entirely different types of underwater structure, Looney views them as two different spots — although when he fishes one, he typically fishes his way over to the other without ever cranking the big motor.
Hotspot No. 7 is the point across from Waverly Landing referenced in the description of No. 6.
From the surface, you’ll notice a number of blow-downs typical of much of the area, but it’s what you can’t see — the myriad underwater structures — that puts this location on Looney’s list of hotspots for Columbus Lake.
"The old concrete rubble from the old bridge has been pushed off onto this point," Looney said. "All of that concrete makes an excellent current break for crappie out in open water."
Looney also cautions anglers not to bypass the blow-down trees coming off the bank.
The average water depth here is slightly deeper — 18 feet in areas — and will also hold its share of crappie just 10 to 15 yards from the bank.
8. Point Harbor Gravel Pit N 33 35.356/W 88 29.576
Just north of Highway 50 is Point Harbor, a residential area located on the banks of Columbus Lake. Adjacent to this residential area are a number of gravel pits totaling some 300 to 400 acres in size that were flooded when the lake was built.
As indicated, the whole complexion of Columbus Lake changes when the locks above or below the lake are opened to allow commercial traffic to pass.
Looney said it might take half an hour for the current to reach your particular location for the passage of one barge. In times when barge traffic is heavy, Looney will head to these gravel pits to find fish retreating from current.
"I fish these pits to get out of the current," he said. "The Point Harbor Cut is dead-ended so no water flows through it. The gravel pits are 17 to 18 feet deep and surrounded by flats that are 4 to 5 feet deep.
"That gives you a lot of depths changes, and a lot of structure on the edges of the drop to locate fish."
Looney cautioned that the entrance to the cut is only a couple of feet deep with a soft bottom, so it’s best to check for traffic first and then motor into the area on plane to prevent getting bogged down in the bottom.
The channel area is marked on either side with white marker poles.
9. DeWayne Hayes Campground N 33 35.845/W 88 28.539
Another location to retreat from the current when water is flowing through the Tenn-Tom is this dead-ended river run connecting the DeWayne Hayes Recreation Area to the waterway.
Looney likes the area because of the abundance of laydowns and stumps that line the banks.
"Fish whatever you can see in here," he said. "The current will force crappie in here, so the fishing may start out kind of slow and then when the current out in the waterway gets flowing good, an area that ordinarily might hold only a fish or two will have several around it — and every laydown or stump will be like that."
The average depth in the channel is 18 feet, lined on each side by an 8-foot shelf that runs parallel to the bank on each side.
"This old river run is about a mile long," Looney said. "It’s a great place to troll because crappie are being pushed in by the waterway and tend to scatter out once they get here."
Looney claims the deeper areas of the channel hold more white crappie, while the specks will be found hugging the drop-off.
10. Columbus Landing N 33 31.548/W 88 28.193
The last hotspot on Looney’s list is the public boat ramp on the east bank at the Columbus Recreation Area. Eight public accesses are maintained by the Corps of Engineers on Columbus Lake proper.
Looney prefers this location for its central location.
"This location is where most of the big tournaments on the lake are held," he said. "One word of caution, however, is to be aware of the buoys coming in and going out of the areas.
"Water levels are constantly changing, and the buoys mark some stumps and shoals that can be hazardous to navigation."