The Mississippi State fishery team surveyed 53 abandoned channel lakes on the floodplains of the Arkansas, Ouachita and White rivers in Arkansas and of the Big Sunflower, Coldwater, Tallahatchie and Yazoo rivers in Mississippi. In addition to sampling the fish, Miranda and students measured myriad habitat, water quality and watershed parameters.
Statistical analyses were used to determine factors affecting the composition of the sunfish community. In other words, they determined where you are more likely to find the different members of the sunfish clan.
The lakes ranged in size from five acres to more than 1,300 acres, and averaged 180 acres. As all floodplain lakes are former river channels, the lakes are curved and longer than wide; lengths ranged from several hundred yards to almost 20 miles.
Spotted bass were more frequently encountered in lakes with deep, clear water and forested shorelines and watersheds.
Largemouth bass, bluegill and black crappie were more frequently found in lakes with relatively clear water, moderate depths and adjacent wetlands.
Redear sunfish were found in lakes with clear water and moderate depth.
White crappie tended to occupy shallower lakes with more turbidity than black crappie and were more likely to be present in lakes with agricultural watersheds. However, it is important to note that many of the white crappie in the shallow lakes were small fish.
Surprisingly, lake size did not affect the presence or absence of any of the sunfish.
Deeper lakes tended to have more black bass and larger crappie. Deeper lakes are more permanent and may not become as warm in the summer as shallow lakes. Deeper lakes also tend to provide more habitat diversity. Because all lakes were former river channels and probably of rather similar depth when separated from the main flows of the parent river, depth also might convey some information about the history of the lakes. The lakes get shallower as they fill with sediment, and lakes with thick layers of soft sediment provide poor spawning habitat and generally poor food resources for the fish. In contrast, deep lakes tend to be more like the river channel shortly after it was separated from the river, and are more likely to have areas of hard bottom similar to a flowing-water river channel.
The watershed significantly influenced the species present. Fish could care less whether the lake is surrounded by forest or soy bean fields, but the watershed influences water clarity and water quality - two environmental factors important to fish. Forested watersheds have better ground cover and, therefore, less soil eroding into the lake, than tilled agricultural watershed. Eroding soil increases turbidity, provides soft, undesirable bottom conditions and, in time, leads to shallower lakes. Also, There is less chemicals wash into the lake from forested watersheds than from farms.
These lakes are too beautiful to pass up. Anglers seeking a memorable day fishing should look for deeper, clearer lakes with forested watersheds and adjacent wetlands.
As you fish through the cypress trees, maybe you can conjure up a vision of a young farm boy named George Perry sculling his boat across Montgomery Lake, Ga., a floodplain lake of the Ocmulgee River, the day he caught the world-record largemouth bass.