While many Mississippi sportsmen enjoy a number of hunting and fishing pursuits, every outdoorsman has a favorite. It might be sitting in a stand waiting on that big buck to come strolling by; it might be sitting with your back to a tree, listening to a big gobbler come thundering up a draw; or it might be the sizzling scream of a reel when a trophy largemouth gets its first glimpse of the boat. For Grenada’s Joey Robertson, its standing toe-to-toe in waist-deep water, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a slab crappie.
Robertson is a crappie fishing guide with Grenada Lake Charters, and he’s as much at home wading in the water as he is fishing from a boat. Robertson is typically one of the first to get into the water when the first rays of spring come calling in late February and the last one to leave after the party is over in May.
"I start wading as early as February," Robertson said. "February, March, April, May, and a lot of people might call me crazy but then again in October and November when it is 40 or 50 degrees outside.
"That’s some of the best times of the year for wading. We do a good bit of wading in October and November."
Robertson submits that the best time to wade is anytime water temperatures fall between the upper 50s and the lower 70s. Regardless of what the calendar on the walls says, that 60-degree water will push crappie into the shallows to spawn or feed — or both.
The guide says when the crappie are in knee-deep water he’s going to be knee-deep in crappie.
"In the spring, it’s not just the water temperature," said Robertson. "It’s the rising water, the moon phase, daylight getting longer, a number of things — but the best indicator is when you start seeing that water temperature starting to hit the 60-degree mark. That seems to be the best signal to a lot of fish to start moving up real shallow.
"I can usually start wading and catch them in the 3- to 3 ½-foot range, and before the month is over we’ll catch a lot of fish in knee-deep water."
Spring is when wading for crappie at Robertson’s home lake of Grenada, and a number of other locations around the state, gets a lot of attention from both locals and visiting anglers. But the guide said it happens in reverse in the fall, as well. During the fall season, the die-hard waders typically have the lakes to themselves.
"Crappie will stay shallow up through May, (and) then they’ll pull back out for the summer," Robertson said. "When the water hits that same temperature range as it does in the spring, they’ll come back up shallow again, typically in October, but they’re not spawning then.
"They move up in the fall just to feed. They have to feed heavy before the cold weather gets here."
In order of preference, Robertson’s favorite lakes to wade-fish for crappie are Grenada, over in the Delta at Washington, Enid, Sardis and, finally, Arkabutla.
In fact, he claims that because of their locations, he can start wade-fishing early at Lake Washington and then move over to the big reservoirs to finish out a longer season.
"Washington produces some good fish earlier in the year, but my favorite is Grenada just for the size of fish," he said. "We have a lot more areas to wade in Grenada — a lot of small ditches and tributaries, creeks that run into the lake.
"Enid is a lot like Grenada. Both Enid and Sardis attracts people due to their sheer number of fish."
All but Washington have some common grounds that make them great options.
"The four Corps lakes — Grenada, Enid, Sardis and Arkabutla — are all designed the same," Robertson said. "They’re flood-control lakes that control floodwaters going into the Delta, and they have major river systems running through them.
"(O)ne reason the fishing stays so good on all of the Corps lakes is a steady flow of water coming through them that makes them more fertile than lakes that are not flood controlled."
Another wading aficionado is crappie guide John Harrison. Like Robertson, he loves to wade at any of the Corps lakes lined up along I-55.
But when it comes to specific strategies for finding the best locations to fish these lakes, Harrison’s advice was to do a little homework before heading to the water.
"Get a topo map of the lake and the area surrounding the lake," Harrison said. "Then just follow the ditches. Anywhere you see a ditch that breaks off a creek and peters out, or a low spot that runs into the lake, both of those will be good spots."
But there’s more to it than just checking out a map.
"You need to know what the water level is first," Harrison explained. "Won’t do you any good to try to fish a flat that’s still out of water or that rising water has already covered up with water too deep to wade. Just be real careful. There are a lot of stumps and different water levels here."
For getting back to these locations, Harrison said there are multiple ways to get to where you want to go.
"You got to look at the water’s edge from both sides," he said. "My favorite way is to launch my boat, just like I was going fishing, and motor in as far as I can get, then tie the boat up, get out and wade. Some people even tether the boat to their belt and pull the boat along as they wade, but if you’re in the thick stuff where you need to be, just tie the boat and go.
"The other way is look at a lake map that has roads marked on it. Drive as close as you can get, then walk down through the woods and wade in. If there’s enough shoreline available, a lot of people that fish these Corps lakes will unload a four-wheeler at the ramp or someplace close by and go around the edge of the banks on four-wheelers."
How to Get There
Accessing wading areas can be accomplished by boat, launching at one of the boating access ramps spread around the lakes and motoring to a shallow area. Then you can just beach the boat, get out and wade. Many local anglers use four-wheelers or ATVs to access the water’s edge. USACE properties and the respective lake basins are considered public property; be sure, however, to check local regulations in the area you intend to access to make sure motorized vehicles are allowed.
Grenada Lake is located just east of I-55 in the heart of northern Mississippi, and is the second in line of Mississippi’s I-55 corridor lakes. Take Exit 206 off of I-55 to reach the town of Grenada for which the lake is named.
Sardis Lake is the uppermost lake of the I-55 corridor, located approximately 20 miles north of Lake Enid and approximately 10 miles northwest of Oxford.
The northernmost of the I-55 corridor lakes, Arkabutla is located 12 miles south of Memphis, Tenn., and 13 miles west of Hernando, on Scenic Loop 304.
Lake Washington is located approximately 25 miles south of Greenville on Highway 1. There are several public and private pay ramps including the private pay ramp located at Bait-n-Thangs Bait Shop, 1940 Lake Washington Road in Chatham.
During the spring spawn, crappie will push to the edges of the water as it rises from spring rains. Many anglers claim they have seen crappie roll over on their sides to get across shallow ridges for the flooded water on the other side, so don’t rule out any water as too shallow.
Hip waders are acceptable if the area you intend to wade-fish is flat and shallow. Chest waders are preferred for broken terrain or if the water depths are unknown. Carry a small tackle box with only the essentials — jigheads in 1/16- and 1/8-ounce weights, and a small selection of jig skirts or hair jigs.
An 8- or 9-foot moderately stiff rod is a must for reaching back into the denser areas. Rods with good backbone help maneuver hefty fish out of heavy cover.
Some anglers boat into a shallow flat, then get out and wade, either staking the boat down or pulling it along on a tether. Other anglers access backwaters with an ATV to ride the banks of a reservoir until they reach the shallow flats at the end of a creek or cove. Still others may opt to use a kayak or canoe to access water too shallow to reach in a motor boat but too deep to wade across.
Joey Robertson, Grenada Lake Charters, 662417-6727, grenadalakecharters.com
John Harrison, JH Guide Service, 662-983-5999
Or visit the Guides/Outfitters section in the rear of this magazine.
Mississippi Tourism Association, 866-SEE MISS (733-6477), http://www.visitmississippi.org/
Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 www.delorme.com
Fishing Hot Spots, 1-800-ALL-MAPS, www.fishinghotspots.com
Navionics Electronic Charts, 800-848-5896 www.navionics.com