Nearly 150 years ago, the United States Navy steamed its fleet down the Coldwater and Tallahatchie rivers in Northwest Mississippi. They were attempting to flank Southern troops at Vicksburg by using the Yazoo River as a back door.

The only way for the Northern troops to attempt such a feat was to enter the Yazoo River system from north of Vicksburg, but there was a small problem. The Yazoo River headwaters don't connect with the Mississippi River anywhere north of Vicksburg, and they didn't back in 1863 - that is, until Rear Admiral David D. Porter's men blew the east levee eight miles south of Helena, Ark. By cutting the Mississippi River levee at the Yazoo Pass, the flotilla wound its way through the narrow passages until they entered Moon Lake.

A Chicago Times correspondent described the peace and serenity of Moon Lake in northern Coahoma County as he steamed across its quiet waters a few days after the levee had been breached. The correspondence, dated Feb. 22, 1863, described Moon Lake as "a very picturesque and beautiful sheet of water." The reporter told of high shores lined with thick forest and an occasional plantation. The lake was alive with ducks, geese, swans, pelicans and gulls. He described it as "a very paradise for sportsmen" and "the water being deep, cool, and comparatively clear," filled with "fish of all kinds."

What followed was one of the largest flanking operations of the War Between the States. It seemed like the perfect plan. Dynamite a small hole in the levee, let the raging waters of the Mississippi widen that hole into a gaping rift, send a flotilla of steamers and ironclad gunboats through the Yazoo Pass into Moon Lake and down the Yazoo Basin, and flank the Confederates at Vicksburg.

According to field notes by Lt. Col. J.H. Wilson, the Mississippi River was 8 1/2 feet higher on the west side of the levee than the Yazoo Pass was on the east side of the levee. Work was begun digging a trench in the levee on Feb. 2, and in a letter to Lt. Col. John Rawlins, Lt. Col. Wilson described the events that took place:

"COLONEL: The Pass is open, and a river 75 or 80 yards wide is running through it with the greatest velocity. I wrote you on the evening of the 2[n]d that by the next (yesterday) evening the water would be let through. About 7 o'clock, after discharging a mine in the mouth of the cut, the water rushed. The channel was only about 5 feet at first, though the embankment was cut through in two places, with an interval of about 20 feet between them, the cut through which the water was first started being considerably the larger.

"By 11 p.m. the opening was 40 yards wide, and the water pouring through like nothing else I ever saw except Niagara Falls. Logs, trees, and great masses of earth were torn away with the greatest ease. The work is a perfect success. The pilots and the captain of the gunboat Forest Rose think it will not be safe to undertake to run through the Pass for four or five days, on account of the great rapidity and fall of the water. It will take several days to fill up the country so much as to slacken the current."

The perfect plan failed on April 8, when Union forces were repelled by Fort Pemberton's troops at Greenwood. The entire countryside had been flooded by the raging waters of the Mississippi, and the peace and tranquility of Moon Lake had been broken by the guns of war.

Today, no guns of war can be heard on Moon Lake, which occupies 2,200 acres in northern Coahoma County. No steamers or ironclad gunboats ply the waters of the lake.

Instead, one can expect to hear an occasional waterfowler's gun or watch as a flotilla of fishing boats makes its way up and down the lake in search of a Delta delicacy - white perch.

It is no secret that Moon Lake is a North Delta hotspot for white crappie. It is still, as the reporter stated in 1863, "a very paradise for sportsmen," particularly the crappie angler. One look at the dozens of cars parked along the shoreline, the variety of county and state tags at the boat ramps and the presence of wader-clad fishermen making their way through the cypress trees during springtime will tell you that Moon Lake is a crappie hotspot.

Moon Lake lies between the Mississippi River and Highway 49, about 15 miles north of Clarksdale. The Mississippi River left behind this oxbow lake at Montezuma Bend in 1817. The levee was constructed in 1856 and held back the floodwaters until that fateful day in 1863. The levee was rebuilt after the war, and Moon Lake now lies completely cut off from the waters of the Mississippi.

All that remains of the Yazoo Pass Expedition is a lingering, deep scar between Highway 1 and the levee and a historical marker standing guard on side of the road. Moon Lake is still connected to the Coldwater River through the Yazoo Pass. The pass drains water from the lake at times, and also feeds water into the lake when the Coldwater swells. Phillips Bayou to the north also feeds the lake with runoff from as far north as Tunica.

There are three public-access ramps on Moon Lake. BMW Pit Stop (662-337-2732) on the eastern bank has the closest ramp to Highway 49, and is situated at the intersection of Moon Road and Moon Lake Road. On the west side of the lake, access can be gained from Highway 1, via Paradise Point Road, to a ramp at Paradise Point and another just west of there at the state park. BMW Pit Stop has the only fuel, bait and food on the lake.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has regulated the harvest of the younger crappie age-class for several years on Moon Lake. There is a five-fish limit on crappie under 10 inches in length. This means you can only keep five fish 10 inches or shorter. All other fish under the length limit must be returned to the water immediately after capture. The other 25 fish must be longer than 10 inches. Length is measured by squeezing the tail together and measuring from the tip of the tail to the tip of the mouth. It would be wise to carry a ruler or an E-Z Checker with you at all times, because the length limits are strictly enforced on Moon Lake.

Also, according to MDWFP regulations, all freshwater game fish must be intact, including the head, scales, skin and tail, while fishing lakes or waters having an established MDWFP length/slot limit in Mississippi. Wait to clean your crappie until after you leave Moon Lake.

The depth of the lake is relatively shallow. The majority of the lake is between 4 and 12 feet deep. The outside bend of the old river channel is the deepest portion of the lake, ranging from 16 to 28 feet in depth. The deepest holes are along the eastern bank near the Yazoo Pass.

Cypress trees line the entire length of the lake on both banks and along the shoreline of Alcorn Island. The root systems of some of these beautiful trees have been washed out, and provide excellent hiding places for crappie. There are also many old pilings and newer piers scattered around the lake. Many of the newer piers and docks are north of Alcorn Island, between Paradise Point and the State Park Ramp. Dozens more are on the south side of the lake along Moon Lake Road.

Hundreds of old pilings guard the eastern bank, from the Yazoo Pass down past the BMW store, in a stretch better than a mile in length. Some of these have structure in 8 to 10 feet of water between the end of the pilings and the bank.

Don't pass up the culverts and the rip-rap along Moon Lake Road on the eastern bank. When the water is high enough, access can be gained to Chute Lake, north of Paradise Point.

The most popular wading areas during the spawn are along Moon Lake Road on the south end of the lake, around Alcorn Island, just off of Highway 1 on the lower end, and south of Phillips Bayou on the upper end of the lake. The areas adjacent to Highway 1 and opposite Phillips Bayou are the shallowest areas with wide flats of cypress, privet and button bush between the open lake and the bank.

The wooded areas along Moon Lake Road and surrounding Alcorn Island are relatively narrow, but they are excellent for wading. Just remember that according to Mississippi law, you cannot trespass across private land to get to the water in a public lake. The safest bet is to launch your boat, tie it off to a tree and hop out and wade. Walking across dry land to get to the water is trespassing.

According to Bubba Smith from Clarksdale, April fishing on Moon depends on the weather and the water.

"The north end of the lake warms up first," he said. "If the water in that area is still cool, fish outside the trees in 3 to 4 feet of water. If the water is high and warm, get in the trees with your waders. If you wade-fish thigh- to knee-deep water, you can pattern crappie. One day you might catch them on willows; the next day you'll catch them in the ironwood bushes.

"Fish floating trash especially that close to trees. The wet trash collects heat and warms that micro-area of water."

Smith suggests that the many root wads are productive areas. He recommends working around the trunk base, around the push up, around the edge of the hole and then down in the hole.

"Fish all leaning trees the same way since they may be pushed up underwater where you can't see," he recommended.

Smith also advised to fish some of the more difficult-to-reach spots if you want to catch fish.

"On the north bank close to Highway 1, between the MDWFP landing and Turtle Island, you can fish out of the boat," he said. "Nose your boat into the trees, and fish the cypress knees and roots close to the bank. You can also find fish on the cypress knees between the MDWFP landing and Paradise Point landing if there is enough water to get close to the bank. A lot of people skip this area. You have to deal with going in and around the piers."

Paul Hite, another Clarksdale angler, recommends fishing anywhere along the bank.

"Everyone knows that the northwest or west banks of any lake warm first due to direct sun or the east side of the island on Moon Lake," said Hite.

He also recommends the shallows from 8 inches down to 4 or 5 feet.

"I have caught fish that had to be lying on their side; I only had out 6 inches of line," he said. "The deeper fish (4 to 5 feet of water) all seem to be just off bottom."

Due to the extended period of drought, the water in the lake was low last year.

"Spring of '07 level was 4 to 6 feet lower than years past due to some diversion of Phillips Bayou from the north end and Long Lake from the southeast," Hite said. "People were wading on the northwest end where usually there would be 6 to 8 feet of water. Most places you only needed knee boots. This makes for clearer water, but everything could be fished by boat. The fish really took a beating last spring."

The water levels as of February 2008 appear to be back to normal, according to Whit Read, conservation officer with the MDWFP.

"The water looks really good right now," said Read. "I think the spawn is going to be better this year than it has been in a long time."

As far as what bait to use, some folks use minnows, but Smith and Hite recommend jigs.

"I only fish jigs, but I know a lot of crappie are caught with minnows," Smith said. "I fish three to four regular colors. In tube jigs, I like lime/chartreuse and orange/chartreuse. In Shad Assassins, I use a chartreuse/pepper shad and a black shad. I almost always use a lime/chartreuse or yellow/chartreuse head. When they get finicky, I go to a more-natural color head. I always have at least one bright/fluorescent color in the head/body jig combination."

Hite also recommends jigs.

"My bait preference is a 1/16-ounce ball head with a No. 2 hook with a blue, black or green tube body and chartreuse tail if the water is stained to muddy," he said. "In clearer water, I use a chartreuse ball head with a solid white body or red head/white body."

As far as patterning the fish, well, that's something that takes time.

"Moon Lake is a tough lake to fish," Smith said. "You'll kill them one day, and they'll whip your butt the next. The only way to stay on them is to stay with it several days in a row and keep following the fish, sometimes fishing hard. Sometimes the fish will slam a jig, sometimes it takes a while. Slow jig fishing and swimming your jig around structure is usually a lot better than a fast-jigging action."

When you do find the crappie, the fishing can be phenomenal.

"I fished every day I could during the spawn, and never failed to limit," said Hite, when asked about the fishing action in 2007. "The size of fish will range from just big enough to take the hook to 2-plus-pound monsters. My biggest fish last spring was a 2-13."