In the 2000 Oscar-nominated comedy film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, “Oh, Brother, Where Are Thou?,” three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure while being pursued by a relentless lawman. The movie is set in the early 1930s in rural Mississippi. At the end of the film, the stars are rescued by floodwaters from the construction of a lake at the site of George Clooney’s character’s childhood home. According to movie sources, the film is loosely based around the area that was flooded to create Arkabutla Lake.
Modern day treasure-seekers understand that to find the buried treasure within Arkabutla Lake they need only acquire a bucket of minnows and some crappie-fishing poles.
Anthony Reasons of Hernando is well-versed in seeking the treasures within Arkabutla Lake. Reasons is a full-time guide with John Wood’s Guide Service and claims that September is one of the best times of the year to pursue Arkabutla crappie.
Reasons agreed to guide the readers of Mississippi Sportsman by providing the locations of 10 of his favorite hotspots for finding crappie in this month.
1. Hernando Point
34 44.143 N/90 04.514 W
Hernando Point is the most-popular public access to Arkabutla Lake. To get to this location by road from Interstate 55, take the Hernando, Mississippi exit and turn west. Continue to Highway 51 and turn south. Turn west on Wheeler Road and follow signs into the day-use area and boat ramp.
Other amenities of this location include a year-round campground which offers 83 family sites and one group day-use shelter, all with electric hookups, flush toilets, showers and drinking water.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged this ramp last season and retained the sand for a deeper-water access route directly to the Coldwater River channel.
"Even when the water is at its lowest of the year, this is the best ramp to use," Reasons said.
Like all of the I-55 corridor lakes, Arkabutla was created for the purpose of flood control for the northern Mississippi Valley area. The lake has a maximum storage capacity of 33,400 acre-feet of water. The lake’s normal summer pool is 11,240 acres.
During the fall and winter months the lake is gradually drawn down to a winter or "conservation pool" of 5,100 acres. This allows for storage of spring rains from the 1,000 square mile drainage area above the dam.
Typically, the month of September will find Arkabutla at or near its summer pool and in the beginning stages being drawn down to winter pool.
2. Campground Point
34 43.771 N/90 04.020 W
Hotspot No. 2 is located southeast of the boat launch, past the Hernando Point campground.
Reasons explained that the Coldwater River channel is pretty well silted in once you get past Campground Cove, but the old river channel runs right along this hotspot.
The water depth of the channel drops from 7 feet down to 12 feet, and along its course the river channel is littered with old stumps from trees that were cleared when the lake was created. Additional fish attractors have also been constructed since the lake was built.
"Within this immediate area, there are probably at least 100 stake beds that have been put out by local anglers," Reasons said. "I can’t tell you the number of crappie-fishing tournaments that are won in this spot alone."
During the month of February, the Corps of Engineers sponsors a habitat day, allowing local anglers the opportunity to establish fish-attraction sites on the lake bottom while Arkabutla is drawn down to winter pool.
Unlike other impoundments where anglers must construct fish attractors in the water, when the water is at winter pool, anglers can use ATVs to drive to the river’s edge and build structure. The Corps even goes so far as to provide stakes, old Christmas trees and even a lunch for those participating in the habitat day.
3. Open Water Point
34 43.257 N/90 04.408 W
"You can easily run aground on this point if you’re not careful or if you don’t know where you’re going," said Reasons.
Reasons explained that, as the Corps starts dropping the water level in the fall, crappie move shallow to feed on the exposed flat. To catch them, the guide puts out his trolling poles and slowly maneuvers around the point while simultaneously keeping an eye on his electronics.
"On no other lake do crappie do like this," Reasons said. "When it gets hot and the water starts to drop, crappie move shallow to feed.
"That’s Arkabutla for you."
The waters surrounding hotspot No. 3 drops from 8 ½ feet out on the edge to 13 feet into the river channel.
Reasons said many times he will catch crappie on top of the hump in only 4 feet of water during some of the hottest times in September. It’s also fairly common to see buoy markers put out by commercial catfishermen out in front of this hotspot.
"Nine times out of 10, where you find jugs out in the water, you better fish right beside them," he said. "The commercial catfishermen understand that catfish like the edge of the channel, and many times those are the same locations where you will find crappie."
4. East Bend of Kelley’s Crossing
34 43.607 N/90 05.866 W
Hotspot No. 4 features a 150-yard line of stake beds where the river makes a big bend. Reasons pointed out that most of the structure is located on the inside of this bend and, subsequently, that’s where he intends to fish.
"This is a prime jig-fishing spot," Reasons said. "It’s mostly stakebeds that start in about 9 feet of water and go all the way to the drop-off where the water in the channel is around 15 feet."
Reasons said this spot might be a tought place to tight-line troll and anglers should be prepared to lose a jig or two in all the structure.
It’s for this reason that the guide will put away his trolling poles and opt for a single-pole approach with a 1/8-ounce jig. The guide will place his boat on the edge of the channels where he can reach up on the flat, and then works his way shallow — feeling his way along the stakebeds with his jig pole.
5. Kelly’s Crossing Ramp
34 43.903 N/90 06.240 W
While all the other hotspots in Reason’s arsenal are havens for tight-liners and jig fishermen, this is one location on Arkabutla Lake where crappie anglers often find more success by trolling crankbaits.
Depending on the prevailing water level, this spot is also an alternate location for launching his boat if Reasons wants to fish the west side of the lake.
"There are a few other ramps on Arkabutla, but this one and Hernando Point offer the best access to the areas where you want to be fishing this month," he said.
Crankbaiting for crappie is a systematic approach. Most anglers prefer to use three to five staggered-length rods arranged on each side of the boat.
Depth counter reels keep track of how far and how deep the crank is running. Staggering the lines helps keep the crankbaits from tangling during a turn.
The ideal speed is 1.4 to 1.5 mph using an electric trolling motor.
Another problem frequently encountered by fishing big baits for crappie is the big population of largemouth bass in the lake.
"There’s a ton of 12- to 14-inch bass in the lake," Reasons said. "It’s not unusual to catch 50 of them in a day."
6. Mouth of Kelley’s Crossing
34 43.998 N/90 06.630 W
This location features a flat that runs all the way across the mouth of Kelley’s Crossing Creek. The specific GPS mark is the western edge of the creek channel where it drops from 12 feet to 15 feet.
Reasons suggested anglers not just concentrate on the channel but fish from point to point, as Arkabutla crappie love to move shallow.
"Run your minnows no deeper than 8 feet any time during the month," he said. "I do this regardless of whether I’m in 10 feet or 18 feet of water."
Most of the time, Reasons’ poles will be equipped with double-hooked minnow rigs, although he will on occasion use a jig tipped with a minnow. However, he finds the dingy waters of Arkabutla make straight bait the best choice.
"The good thing about using a minnow is you don’t have to worry about what color to use," he said.
7. Gravel Point
34 44.621 N/90 07.142 W
This hotspot is up close to the bank in 7 feet of water, and it drops off the point into 16 feet.
"What you see on the bank is what you’re fishing," Reasons said. "Typically, that’s true on any lake but especially here at Atkabutla."
The brown rock and large boulders seen in the photo are typical of what’s underneath the water. Rather than being stacked up, the boulders were strewn about when they were hauled out during dam construction.
Reasons said you’ll also note a large number of rock and boulders strewn outside the gravel pit, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time at this location looking for fish.
"The fish are either here or they’re not here, so don’t spend too much time on this spot," he said. "This is mainly a trolling spot, so you should know if fish are present pretty quick."
8. The Gravel Pit
34 44.675 N/90 07.321 W
This hotspot features one of the deepest parts of the lake and drops off from 7 feet on the bank down to 40 feet at the bottom of the pit.
Reasons said that, when trolling in this area, it’s fairly common to see bait roaming on the surface out in front of his trolling poles. He said this exemplifies the amount of bait that Arkabutla crappie have to feed on.
"Arkabutla is not a big lake and the fishing pressure is building," he said, "but it still produces a lot of good-sized fish."
According to Reasons, anglers are better off trolling around the edges of the rim of the gravel pit than trying to fish deep inside the pit because the rim of the area is lined with stake beds and brush tops put out by local anglers.
9. Bayou Point Creek
34 44.871 N/90 07.497 W
This is a big flat where the creek channel splits and runs on either side of the flat. The depth of the water on the flat is 7 feet, and it makes a great trolling area.
"The drop is only about 1 foot on each side, but there are stake beds all over it," said Reasons.
The general area is oblong, and is approximately 140 feet long and 40 feet wide.
Anglers should stay on the move in order to find fish.
"Crappie on this lake move around a lot," Reasons said. "Just because you catch them in one location one day, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be there tomorrow. That’s Arkabutla."
10. Southwest Corner of Dam N 34 45.348 / W 90 07.505
The final hotspot on Reasons’ list is located between the swimming area and the water outtake on the Arkabutla dam The river curves in at this location and runs along in front of the dam from just outside the swimming area to the outtake.
And along the rip-rap rocks that make up the dam, Reasons said anglers will find tons of stake beds.
"The south side of the lake is where the fish are in this area," he said. "There’s not a whole lot going on over at the north side of the dam."
To find an additional hotspot within this hotspot, line up the gap in the guardrail on the top of the dam. Reasons explained that there is a whole row of stake beds that extends from the bank out to the main channel running in water depths from 9 feet to 18 feet.
Bonus: Bait Spot
34 48.994 N/89 59.650 W
This bonus hotspot is not located anywhere on the water at Arkabutla. The coordinates will put you north of the lake on Highway 51, and is actually the location of Tadpole’s Bait Shop in Hernando.
Reasons put in a plug for the bait shop because it carries a big supply of his favorite bait — live minnows.
"You’ll need to bring at least 10 dozen minnows for a day’s fishing on Arkabutla," Reasons said. "You’re allowed five poles per person, so every time you change baits on a double-hooked minnow-rig setup, you’ll be changing nearly a dozen minnows each time."
Reasons indicated that larger minnows typically appeal more to Arkabutla crappie because of the size of the crappie themselves.
It is for this reason that he suggests anglers visiting Tadpole’s Bait Shop ask for the large, 3-inch, minnows. These minnows are sold either by the pound or by the dozen.
To arrange a guided crappie fishing trip with Anthony Reasons, you can contact him directly at (901-283-4569) or you can book a trip through John Woods Guide Service at (731-334-9669).