"A lot of anglers struggle here," said Bay Springs crappie guide and local fishing guru Wayne Inman. "They expect it to fish like the other big crappie lakes in the state, and that's just not the case here."

What Inman means is not that Bay Springs is a poor crappie lake; in fact, exactly the opposite is true. But to successfully catch crappie in the 6,700-acre impoundment, anglers will need to understand a few dynamics about the lake.

First is that depth changes are relatively extreme from one end of the impoundment to the other.

And the second factor involves dealing with the absence of color that is characteristic of the lower pools of the Tenn-Tom Waterway.

"Bay Springs is a deep, clear-water lake," Inman said, "but it's not uniform all the way across. On the south end, you're going to get into 70, 80, 90 feet of water. At the north end, you'll run into a lot of shallower stump beds and a lot of shallow road beds, and that water can get muddy a lot quicker. It'll also warm a lot quicker, and those fish spawn sooner.

"By the same token, when we start pulling crankbaits in May, we might go to the north end of the lake and find 3 or 4 degrees difference in the water, and there won't be any kind of difference as to water clarity.

"There'll be times you can pull cranks all day on the north side of the lake and not touch a fish. You go down to the south side of the lake and wear them out. At times it fishes just like different lakes."

Fishing a transitional lake during a transitional time of year is part of the challenge of crappie fishing; this time of year it can reap you big rewards or make you lose your religion.

For what it's worth, the crappie fishery itself at Bay Springs is in somewhat of a state of transition because of the increasing number of black crappie the lake has been producing of late.

"I'm going to say the mix now is probably 70/30," Inman said, "with 70 percent being white crappie, but that's changing.

"It seems like the black crappie species is coming on more and more lately. We've caught more blacks these last couple of years than we ever have."

Late April will find a few Bay Springs crappie on the north end of the lake still responding to spawning urges. The lake has a healthy population of crappie, and the waiting list for good spawning sites will have some fish going later than others. The majority of fish spawn in generally deeper water.

"About the middle of April they're going to be coming off the spawn," said Inman. "You know, the spawning on Bay Springs is typical of most clear-water lakes. They're going to spawn deeper than the bigger, muddier lakes like Grenada. Grenada crappie spawn in a foot of water. You're not going to catch crappie that shallow here in Bay Springs."

Depending on the weather, crappie begin their transition to the post-spawn around the first of May, and do so by suspending, he explained.

Crappie suspend deep at Bay Springs. May means bright sunlight and clear water, and deep, open water farther south is where they're heading.

Sounds simple enough, but your best bet for catching them is to be mobile.

"The fish will be on the downhill slide, and they'll go out and suspend over deep water," he said. "For example, from Ashcraft where there is a lot of good spawning areas, you can just ease back out in the main lake and you'll find crappie suspending over structure or a small drop-off or something like that.

"There's an old levee that runs up real close to Ashcraft. The water on the backside of that submerged levee is 35- to 40-foot deep, and that levee goes up to about 20 feet deep. That's a good place to find post-spawn crappie."

With all the emphasis on transition, it stands to reason that Inman and his tournament-fishing partner Phillip McAnally don't depend on only one tactic to catch fish. The pair will follow post-spawn crappie from the spawning flats in many of the lake's tributaries out to open water using tight-line tactics.

From there, things start to speed up and covering more water is necessary - that's when the pair rely on a tactic that has come to define summer crappie fishing in Mississippi.

"It's kind of like no rhyme or reason as to why they do, but when they come off the spawn, they're going to go back out to that deep water and your bigger crappie will be suspended deep," said Inman. "If you're not hooking up by spider-rigging - the slower tactics are just not producing - then it's time to break out the crankbait rods."

Seasonal patterns on Bay Springs also transition throughout the calendar. To successfully catch crappie year round here, you need to keep your head in the game. Phillip McAnally grew up fishing the impoundment and said there is a pattern that can be followed.

"By that middle of May, first of June, that's when they're hungry, and they're more aggressive," said McAnally. "May, June and July is when your crankbaits are going to work really well. Then you get into that hot July/August time; crappie get inactive and they'll hold in deep brush piles. That's when we fish the thermocline.

"We don't get a lot of rain or a lot of boat traffic in the hot summer. You have to fish at a specific depth where the stumps and brush are in the thermocline. Typically, it's around the 20-foot mark where you're going to have to fish late summer."

Fall at Bay Springs is a time to jump from point to point. McAnally suggested tight-line tactics to catch fish holding along the edges of main lake points.

"Usually in the fall the shallowest you'd fish is probably 17, 18 feet deep," he said "Crappie go back up to the main lake and secondary points. It's easier for them to move in and out as the water cools. Probably the best bite on this lake is in the fall up until about Christmas. Sometime around Christmas, that's when they go back out to the deep holes again."

The first of the year will find the pattern moving north again, as crappie both seek warmer water and position themselves closer to their spawning grounds which is still a few months away.

"January, February, and early March, they're usually feeding in deep water," said McAnally, "at least 30 foot deep in 30 to 40 foot water, and the bite starts coming back south on this lake toward the deeper end."

As days get longer and a few warming trends begin to emerge between fronts, the staging for the pre-spawn occurs.

"When it happens, all the fish move to the north end of this lake because it warms up first," he said. "There's a lot more shallow water up around the Crows Neck area. You'll catch more white crappie on the north end of this lake; you'll catch the big black crappie just wherever you can find them.

"We use spider trolling tactics with longer rods when the fish go shallow because the water's so clear. You get three or four fish on a spot, then you spook them and they're gone."

 

Destination Information

How to get there

A number of US Army Corps of Engineers public access areas exist around Bay Springs. To find a listing of these areas, log onto http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Portals/46/docs/recreation/OP-CO/tenntom/pdfs/rec/lakemaps/baysprings.pdf

Best tactics

As crappie leave the shallows during the post-spawn, expert Wayne Inman suggests starting off initially using tight-line trolling tactics to follow fish from shallow flats to deeper water and the nearest structure.

As the water begins to warm and the progression speeds up, Inman trolls crankbaits to cover more ground for locating and catching fish. The lake has a 70/30 mixture of white and black crappie and both tactics work well to catch fish.

Later during the summer when thermoclines set in, trolling crankbaits over or vertically fishing structure just above the level of the thermocline works best.

Accomodations

Piney Grove Campground, Highway 30 E, New Site, MS (662) 728-1134

Campground is owned and operated by the USACE.

Booneville Area Chamber of Commerce, (662) 728-4130, http://www.boonevillemississippi.com/

Guides/More Information

Wayne Inman, 662-416-1296, http://www.mscrappieguides.com/

Bay Springs Marina, (662) 728-2449, http://www.bsmarina.com/

Maps

USACE, Bay Springs Office, 82 Bay Springs Site Rd., Dennis, MS 38838

Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, 1 (800) 561-5105 http://www.delorme.com/