For Carrollton angler Andy Tackett, the list of things that can get him out of the deer woods during October is short. But what is on that list is the hot crappie action that’s found on his home lake of Ross Barnett Reservoir. Tackett is an avid crappie angler and member of the Magnolia Crappie Club, and loves to fish the lower reservoir when autumn arrives. “The Rez” has somewhat of a dual personality when it comes to crappie fishing. Many anglers are familiar with the upper-lake region and all of the great crappie fishing found there during most months of the year. In addition, much of the standing and submerged timber tends to keep the numbers of recreational boaters — meaning water skiers, jet skiers and general joy riders — to a minimum.
The lower section of the lake is more open water, slightly less hazardous, more favored by the water-toy set and requires a little different mind set when it comes to crappie fishing.
"About half of the places that will hold crappie on the lower lake, you’d never know about or even find if you aren’t pretty experienced at reading your electronics," Tackett said. "These are bottom features like points, humps and creek channels that all pretty much look alike from above. The other half of the places that I catch fish are visible structure, but they’re so common they tend to get overlooked by a lot of other anglers."
This month Tackett agreed to be our weekend guide and reveal where to look when crappie fishing on the lower section of Ross Barnett Reservoir.
1. Main Harbor Boat Docks
32 25.177 N/90 05.255 W
How many times have you muttered under your breath when a water or jet skier seemed intent on running back and forth across your best crappie trolling run? Tackett balances the scales in his first hotspot by fishing right under the noses of the rec set.
Admittedly by October, most of the pleasure boaters have vacated the water, and the docks and slips they now occupy provide great cover for fall crappie anglers.
"The Main Harbor area near Ridgeland has tons of docks and marina slips," Tackett said. "The water is still fairly warm but beginning to cool off at night, and that drives crappie under the docks during the daytime.
"You can spend an entire day shooting docks in this one location."
For dock shooting, Tackett likes a short whippy rod, like the Sharpshooter made by B’n’M Poles or any 5- to 5 ½-foot ultra-light-action rod that he can use to slingshot a 1/16-ounce crappie jig far beneath the docks.
Log onto MS-Sportsman.com and look in the freshwater forum for a video showing how this technique is performed.
"It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it and you’ll lose a few jigs in the process, but shooting docks is tons of fun and can load the livewell once you locate which docks hold fish," Tackett said.
2. Main Harbor Channel
32 24.920 N/90 05.325 W
Hotspot No. 2 on Tackett’s list is the old creek channel that drains the Main Harbor area.
No doubt, fall means transition time for crappie as the fish swap over from summer patterns to fall patterns. In the process, they’ll use this channel as a conduit when they’re on the move or chasing baitfish.
"The channel is in 16 feet of water, and the surrounding flats are 10 to 12 feet deep," Tackett said. "That’s prime spider-rigging structure there, and I’ll put out six rods each with double-hook rigs and bump right along the edge of the channel, which runs east to west."
He will tie a 1/8-ounce Roadrunner tinsel jig tipped with a live minnow on the bottom of the rig, and use a bare hook on a dropper on top with just a live minnow. To hold the rig vertical in the water, he threads a ½-ounce egg sinker between the two hooks.
Tackett explained that there are a few old stumps and some man-made brush piles along the way that will hold fish, but the key is to find where the main concentration of crappie are on their migration from the deep water back to the shallows.
3. Jackson Water Intake
32 24.237 N/90 04.416 W
The next stop on the list is a classic structure that is so common that many anglers never consider its crappie-holding potential. The combination of vertical concrete structure and current flow can be a magnet for autumn crappie.
The concrete grows algae and plankton, which in turn draws lots of baitfish; the current generated by the structure will ring the dinner bell, signaling crappie when to come in to eat.
Although the area can be trolled in spider-rig fashion, Tackett prefers to take a single-pole approach when fishing this area. That allows him to place his baits right up against the concrete structure where crappie hold.
"The same Roadrunner jigs that I use to troll with will also work great here," he said. "I may or may not tip it with a minnow; I think the flash does the trick when they’re so tight to the structure."
Tackett indicated the average water depth around the water intake is 16 feet to the bottom. He suggests starting out by fishing the 12-foot depths, and then let the fish and your electronics guide you from there.
4. Rose Bluff Point
N 32 25.695/W 90 04.129
The other great thing about fishing the lower reservoir is that crappie anglers are not limited to just one or two tactics Hotspot No. 4 on Tackett’s list is a great place to troll crankbaits for crappie.
The Pearl River channel runs right up next to the bank in this area, and several man-made brushpiles — which white crappie love to suspend over — help congregate fish. All anglers fishing this location need to do is decide whether the fish are hanging right over the deep part of the channel, suspended over the edge of the channel, or possibly off to one side or the other chasing baitfish on the flat.
"I start out with lines out at 40, 50 and 60 feet until I hit the fish," Tackett said. "I have more luck trolling in the 1.6 to 1.8 mph range while pulling Bandit 300s. For this lake, this time of year and this location, crappie seem to prefer chartreuse or Sardis Gold for the colors of crankbaits.
"Even when I’m changing up colors, I make sure I have at least one Sardis Gold out all of the time."
5. Outside Bend
32 26.291 N/90 04.185 W
The name "Outside Bend Next To A Road Bed" seemed to be too awkward a title for Tackett’s hotspot No. 5, but that’s exactly what it is.
At this location is a 200-yard stretch of old road bed that runs parallel to the Natchez Trace on the west bank. The road bed is the abandoned Natchez Trace road that was used prior to the lake’s impoundment in 1960. The mark indicates where the channel makes an outside bend adjacent to the old roadbed.
"This spot has got it all," Tackett said. "Of course, there’s a few planted brushpiles on top of and off to the side of the old road bed. That’s the kind of stuff I love to pull crankbaits over the top of.
"If the fish don’t seem to be responding as well or if I need to slow down, then I’ll break out my spider-rigging rods and slow-troll the edge of the channel, the edge of the roadbed, on top of the road bed or any other piece of structure that I mark on the graph."
Tackett indicated that the change in water depth was also a big bonus for this location: The river channel sits in around 25 feet of water, while the top of the old roadbed is typically in the 8-foot depth range.
6. Weather Station
32 26.336 N/90 01.956 W
It’s not so much what’s at hotspot No. 6 but what’s around it that makes this location so productive.
The weather station platform that essentially sits out in the middle of the lake may hold a fish or two that can be caught with a single-jig pole, but Tackett prefers to fish the PVC condos located on the back side of the structure.
The tower itself sits near the edge of an old Pearl River oxbow that was called Goose Lake back in the day. The subtle drop-off and stumps around the old oxbow hold crappie nearly year round. The newly added PVC structure changes the dynamics of how the area fishes.
"I love to pull crankbaits in this area," Tackett said. "Pull right over the top of the structure. But I need to warn you, if you’re going to do that, you need to know exactly how deep you’re fishing and how deep the crankbaits are running."
There is no one setup for pulling crankbaits that works for every boat. Some anglers pull with rod tips up, and some pull with rod tips down. You have to experiment, especially if you intend to fish over the top of some potential crankbait-stealing structure like that found near the weather station.
"I use my Side Imaging to know exactly how deep the stuff is, and I control the depth by the amount of line out," Tackett said. "The only way I know for someone to be good at it is to practice a lot and make sure you own plenty of crankbaits."
7. Sawdust Pile
32 27.342 N/90 00.687 W
Hotspot No. 7 is a community hole locally known as the Sawdust Pile.
The meat of the area is a ditch that runs off the main Pearl River channel all the way up into the cypress trees that are visible up close to the bank. The sides and bottom of this channel are littered with both natural and man-made structure in the form of old stumps, brushpiles and assorted wood litter from raising and lowering of water levels.
"Some people long-line troll in this area —those people who are sponsored by bait companies and get shipped boxes of jigs and jigheads," Tackett said. "You’ll lose a lot of stuff in here. That’s why I’d rather tight-line troll."
Tackett indicated he chose this spot because it is such a good transition area; crappie will be found somewhere along the route from the deepwater channel on up to the shallow-water cypress tree structure, and that’s a pattern that works nearly every month of the calendar.
8. Pelahatchie Bay Bridge
N 32 23.662/W 90 01.695
Fishing bridges is somewhat of a rarity across most of Mississippi, but two of the best are located on Ross Barnett.
The first one is the Highway 43 Bridge that crosses the upper lake, and the second holds down the spot at No. 8. It’s the Northshore Parkway Bridge that spans the mouth of Pelahatchie Bay, separating the bay from the remainder of the lake.
"The main channel runs right under the ‘No Wake Zone’ sign and sits in about 22 feet of water," Tackett said. "When the weather starts to cool off, it will really ball the fish up and, for whatever reason, they love to get around these bridge pilings."
Tackett will get out a jig pole and work each of the pilings, starting with the ones closest to the channel first and then work his way out.
A single 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig is usually the ticket.
As he indicated, pay attention to your electronics. Those anglers with Side Imaging can save a lot of time by riding each side of the bridge and making note of which piling the fish are holding on. Then it’s just a matter or circling back, putting the jig down and holding on.
9. Pelahatchie Creek
32 23.128 N/90 00.065 W
Hotspot No. 9 seems like it would be more at home in the upper lake than in the lower portion. It’s a winding creek channel that works its way from the back of Pelahatchie Bay to the bridge mentioned above.
Along it’s course, it dissects a stump field. Naturally anywhere you have numerous sharp bends in a channel that offers access to deeper water and a myriad of stumps for crappie to camp out at along the way, you’re going to have a perfect fall transition spot.
"There are channel markers along the way that help boaters navigate through the bay," Tackett said. "Where the markers go from single to double pilings is where you want to start trolling. I’ll spider-rig right along the edge of the channel, again keeping an eye on my electronics for pods of bait or fish, and work my way from the deeper water to the shallows."
Though long-lining has gained in popularity among the crappie circuit, especially in more-open expanses such as the lower section of Ross Barnett, Tackett still prefers to spider rig because he can maneuver the boat better and keep his baits around structure better than if he were long-lining.
10. Madison Landing
32 25.375 N/90 04.981 W
The last spot on Tackett’s list of locations for the lower end of Ross Barnett is where crappie anglers will both start and finish a day’s fishing on the Rez. It is the public boat launch on the Madison County side of the reservoir.
Madison County Landing offers ample parking and public amenities, and is located at 141 Madison Landing Circle in Ridgeland. To get to the landing take Rice road off of Natchez Trace east of Ridgeland at Interstate 55.