Have you ever noticed there is always one girl who is the prettiest of the group, one dog that is bigger than the pack, one clown in every class?

Whether this is by design or just a coincidence, one member of a group usually demands all the attention.

With so many great crappie lakes in the northern section of Mississippi, it makes one wonder if there might be an exception to the "one in every crowd" theory. Sardis, Enid, Arkabutla and Grenada make up the pack, but is one any better than the others?

According to several anglers, at least three of whom didn't mind putting it as a matter of record, there is one of the group that commands the Mississippi crappie world. They say the light at the top of the hill is Grenada Lake, our state's claim to crappie fame.

How good is Grenada? Consider this: Paul Alpers, president of the Crappie Masters Team Tournament Trail, says that Grenada Lake is in the top three of all the lakes his organization visits when it comes to big slabs.

"When an angler can go out and catch 20 fish that average 1 3/4 to 2 pounds," said Alpers, "you're not going to get that very often anywhere else in the country. It's definitely known for its trophy crappie fishing."

Such high praise tends to make one wonder where the real truth lies. In the case of Grenada, this is the truth. Take a look at the Crappie Masters record book, and here is what you will see from Grenada Lake: heaviest 10-fish limit at just over 25 pounds, heaviest seven-fish limit at 20.58 pounds, world record for total two-day weight.

"Every record that we've ever had was broken at Grenada Lake," Alpers said. "If you want to go out and have a great time fishing, and maybe catch a 3-pound crappie, you won't regret visiting Grenada Lake."

While Crappie Masters visits Grenada only once a year, Rick Fountain Jr. and John Harrison visit it a lot more frequently than that. Harrison, a crappie tournament angler and member of the B'n'M Poles fishing team, lives in Calhoun City just a short drive from the lake, and Fountain, a crappie guide who operates www.mississippicrappie.com, drives up from Jackson every chance he gets.

Fountain believes Grenada is unique in that it doesn't play by the same rules of lots of other good crappie lakes across the country. The stringent regulations that allow only 20 fish with a 12-inch-minimum-length limit prove that unprecedented management efforts are in place to provide a healthy crappie population.

"You can catch a lot of crappie at Grenada," said Fountain, "but I don't think it's a place you go to if you want to catch just numbers of fish. In my mind, it's where you go if you want to catch three 3-pound fish. The quantity is there, but the quality far outweighs it."

The one drawback to the great crappie fishing at Grenada is that it gets so much attention that anglers literally line up to take turns fishing a stump. Take into consideration that the lake is often at its lowest when the fish are getting ready to spawn, and the old cliché of shooting fish in a barrel isn't too far off.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' web site says that the main objective of the lake is flood control based on the Mississippi River Basin Flood Control Project, which was the direct result of the Great Flood of 1927.

The lake is dropped to 193 feet above sea level during the winter months to provide storage area for spring rains. During the summer months from May to August, the level is scheduled to remain at 215 feet for the recreation season.

"It's tougher to catch a 3-pound crappie today than it was 15 or 20 years ago," said Harrison. "I think you can sort of lay that on the low water because everybody congregates in the same areas. If I catch a fish off a stump, and the boat behind me does the same thing, and the next one does it again - that's a lot of fish leaving the lake."

The problem that crappie anglers face when visiting Grenada during the spring is that it's almost impossible to predict how high or low the water will be. It could be at 198, or it could be at 200. A lot of rain could even put it up to around 215 or 218, like years past.

According to Harrison, it only takes about an inch of rain to make the lake rise 1 foot, so knowing how to approach the lake based on water levels and the progression of the spawn will help anglers be more successful. And if the lake is up around 215, where Harrison likes it best, crappie can find places to hide from the pressure.

"The males start coming in around the middle of March," Harrison said. "They'll go in and make the nest, and the big females will follow them in as the water warms up. As a general rule, the spawn starts around the first week of April."

Fountain agreed with Harrison, but he cautioned that anglers shouldn't get too caught up in trying to exactly time the crappie spawn. And it's entirely likely that anglers could find fish in any of the three phases of the spawn - pre, spawn, and post - during April.

"Cold fronts will bounce them around some," said Fountain. "It's my experience that the crappie in Mississippi tend to peak spawn at different times. The lakes below Jackson peak at the first of April, and the lakes above Jackson peak around the middle of April. The fish are usually on a spawn or post-spawn pattern at Grenada during April, and that makes them hungry. I can find them anywhere from 1 foot to 11 feet."

Most of the productive fishing during April is found up either the Skuna or Yalobusha arms. According to Harrison, one side of the lake is just as good as the other as long as anglers keep in mind that one side will warm earlier than the other.

"In years past, the water warmed up faster on the north side of the lake," he said, "so they start spawning a little earlier on the Skuna side than they do the Yalobusha. As far as productive places to try in April, fish Skuna-Turkey and Turkey Creek on the Skuna side. Near the dam, you can try Torrance. Wolf Creek is good, too. There are a lot of stake beds in Wolf that people have put out over the years."

No matter what part of Grenada anglers decide to fish, Fountain pointed out that if you aren't fishing around some kind of cover, you are basically wasting your time. The fish aren't in deep water this time of year, so look for drops where the water rises from about 8 to 12 feet to 3 to 5 feet. Find some good natural cover in that shallow water, and you should be able to find the fish.

The most likely kinds of cover anglers will find on the shallow spawning flats are brushpiles, stake beds, stumps, ironwoods, cypress trees and grass. Harrison says the fish will get around all this cover, but his personal favorite is the ironwoods.

"I like them because they have all those roots on them," Harrison said. "And they get a lot of grass around them. Plus they have those old black vines. Crappie like to get around anything that their eggs will stick to, and the ironwoods give them lots of options."

Even though Harrison loves the ironwoods, he believes anglers may have to concentrate more on grass this year than before. The low water this past winter allowed lots of grass and weeds to grow. And Harrison says much of this grass will be in that magic 1- to 3-foot zone during April.

One piece of cover that isn't very natural is a stake bed, and Harrison said there are a ton of them on the flats off the creek channel in Wolf Creek. Crappie will rise up out of the channel and move into the stake beds that are scattered on the flats. The proximity of the creek, shallow water and cover makes Wolf Creek productive no matter what the spawn stage.

"They will even stick around in those beds after the spawn," Harrison added. "As long as the water stays cool, they'll hang out in shallow water. Fish in Grenada don't necessarily always go back to deep water after the spawn."

Fishing tactics usually vary wildly on any particular lake, but one tactic reigns supreme on Grenada this month. It's a technique that Fountain and Harrison have both mastered. And for spawning crappie, the technique doesn't involve live bait.

"Catching these fish is almost like flipping for bass," said Fountain. "I use a lot of 1/32- and 1/16-ounce jigheads on a 10-foot jig pole. I only tie about 6 feet of line on the end of it, and I simply adjust my depth by raising or lowering the tip of the pole. So if I keep the pole 3 feet above the water, I know my jig is 3 feet under it."

Fountain prefers to fish with the glowing chartreuse jigs made by Mid South Tackle because of the dirty water, and he simply flips the jig near the cover and swims it through with his rod. He doesn't shy away from the thickest part of the cover, even though that means he has to sacrifice a few jigs along the way.

Harrison likes a little more reach with his pole, so he typically employs a 12-foot ultralight pole rigged with 6- to 8-pound-test line. He completes his set-up with orange/black, black/chartreuse or straight chartreuse Southern Pro or Mid South tube jigs.

"Anything with a little color is good up here because the water in Grenada stays stained 12 months out of the year," Harrison said. "All you've got to do is hold that jig in the cover and swim it around a little bit. If there is any secret to it, I would have to say that you've got to fish slowly to catch what this lake is capable of producing."

By fishing slowly, Harrison means that anglers should give a good piece of cover plenty of time to produce before abandoning it for the next spot. He has seen too many anglers rush through their best holes only to be scratching their heads by 10 or 11 a.m.

"I've had to count so high before I got a bite that you would swear there wasn't a fish anywhere around," Harrison added. "Don't think they're going to immediately jump on your jig. I've had to count up to 8 or 10 before I got a bite before. The slower you go, the better off you are in this lake."

Both anglers are also big fans of the Berkley Crappie Nibbles because of the added scent factor. Fountain shoves a few Nibbles into the hollow part of his tubes with a product called a Bait Pump. He loads the Nibbles into the pump and injects them into the body.

"This way I don't have to worry about losing a Nibble I have threaded on to my jig hook," said Fountain. "When a crappie hits a Nibble-loaded tube and misses it, he'll often come back for another try after all that scent comes washing out the back of the tube."

While the tightline jigging method is preferred throughout the spawn, Harrison said anglers could catch some fish trolling with spider rigs if the water wasn't up in the cover. Harrison looks for areas of open water and sets out three (the maximum number one angler can have at Grenada) 14-foot poles with jigs that have 1/2-ounce weights tied about 12 inches over them.

It's no wonder Grenada Lake has received so much attention from the crappie world the last several years. The fish are there, they are big and they are willing to bite. All it takes is a willingness to launch your boat.

Just don't wait too late. Harrison said that spawning crappie get more finicky later in the month because of the increased pressure.

With all the other great lakes to try in northern Mississippi, crappie enthusiasts and those just looking to tangle with a giant crappie or two need to go ahead and make plans to fish Grenada Lake this spring. You could try all those other lakes if you want to, but wouldn't you rather be with the prettiest girl in the group?

 

For more information or to book a guided crappie trip, contact John Harrison (662-983-5999) or Fountain (601-503-4566).