Many Mississippians have discovered the pleasures of retirement near the water. Typically, all that's required is a body of water with available land so that residents can enjoy their new surroundings.

Very few people plan their retirement camps around a great fishing hole, but for those who have chosen to reside around Moon Lake in Coahoma County, they picked a winner. Either by design or by chance, Moon Lake offers some great crappie fishing without all the fanfare and traffic of some of Mississippi's more well-known crappie spots.

Once a bend in the Mississippi River, Moon Lake offers big time crappie fishing in a smaller 2,200-acre oxbow. The lake offers a mixture of cover and depth with the deepest water lying at the bottom of the lake's famous "step-off," which is the outside bend or eastern shore, and along the northeast corner of the oxbow.

The site of a famous Civil War "back-door attack" by the Union army, Moon Lake is separated from the Mississippi River by a levee that was breached by the Union army just before the attack on Vicksburg.

With the levee long since repaired, Moon Lake now offers anglers a great fishery for some growing numbers of north Delta white crappie.

Jiggin' with Dawg

Ed "Dawg" Weldon (662-363-6275) is a well-known crappie guide on Tunica Cut-off, another Delta oxbow with much more publicity than Moon Lake.

On occasion, Weldon, who lives in the nearby town of Tunica, will slip off to Moon Lake to get in on some unpressured crappie angling around Moon Lake's standing cypress trees and along boat pilings that line the eastern shoreline. One of his favorite times to hit Moon Lake is during the late summer-early fall transition of September.

"There's a great deep channel that's been in that lake for years," said Weldon, "back when Moon Lake was a part of the Mississippi. That's where I do most of my fishing this time of year on the east bank. There's a drop-off that's nearly straight down, and there's a lot of natural and manmade structure on that drop. That cover makes a perfect place to catch late-summer crappie."

Weldon indicated that crappie are still interested in having a "comfort zone" during the late summer that provides cooler water and holds baitfish. With the intense heat of summer letting up, crappie are starting to move up from the deep part of the channel. He typically finds them holding anywhere from 10 to 20 feet below the surface, but they are really starting to key in on structure like standing cypress and willow trees as well as boat docks and pilings. These areas are very attractive to baitfish, and still have enough oxygen for crappie to congregate comfortably.

"I'll fish tight to cover," Weldon said. "I like to get right beside the structure I'm fishing, and drop a single jig down alongside the trees and pilings. With all the development on the lake, a lot of people have put out brushtops, stakebeds and other underwater structure.

"There's also a lot of structure to be found around the standing dock pilings. People like to sink stuff around these pilings, or they'll pick a lone tree off of a point to make a less-conspicuous honeyhole out in the lake. These areas get fished less than the docks do."

Weldon's bait of choice is a single 1/32-ounce jig tied on a small hook. To reach the appropriate depths, he'll often crimp a single split-shot 6 to 8 inches above the jig. He indicates that September crappie are not as aggressive now as they are in the spring, so he likes the smaller bait to match the young-of-the-year forage that's hiding out in the trees.

"I like the usual colors that produce on Tunica," Weldon said. "I don't like having to carry around a big bag with a lot of different colors, so I stick to my basic color schemes of red/white, blue/white, blue/chartreuse and black/chartreuse. That black/chartreuse is a hard color to beat on any of the delta lakes, and Moon Lake is no exception to that rule."

The Moon Lake Guide uses BnM Sam's Super Sensitive poles to reach around the bases of the standing trees as well as push jigs back under docks and pilings. His preference is a 10-foot pole, but he removes the last 4 inches of the pole and re-glues the rod tip to the shortened pole. Weldon said this gives him a little extra muscle to horse fish out away from structure and flip them over into his boat without having to work the crappie into a dip net.

He matches the beefed-up pole with beefed-up line, using 12-pound-test Stren Hi-Vis gold line to complement his outfit. Weldon pays no heed to the experts who say his line choice is too heavy - and he's been told by the best, specifically legendary angler Bill Dance, with whom Weldon was a childhood friend.

"I had Bill in the boat with me one day, and he looked at my line and said I was crazy, that crappie wouldn't bite that heavy line," Weldon said. "I told him to just sit back there and watch, and we caught our limit of crappie on 12-pound-test gold line.

"When he got back home, he sent me a big ol' spool of that 12-pound Stren gold line. I told him that if you put something they want to eat down there right in front of them, they'll eat it."

Weldon said Moon Lake crappie may not achieve the sizes of those in some other Mississippi waters, but he's found good numbers of fish that will average between ¾ and 1½ pounds. He also said there are days when he has seen some big crappie that top 1½ pounds that are willing to bite.

Carrying a Torch

Torch Tindle (662-515-0175) is a part-time crappie guide during the warmer months and when he's not chasing ducks during the winter with his Dixie Ducks guide service.

Tindle favors Moon Lake during September because while some crappie hold tight to the structure, he finds that a good many big crappie will suspend out in the deep holes in the north end of the lake. That's when the guide gets over the top of these fish and uses multiple rods to spider-rig troll.

"The crappie at Moon Lake can usually be found hanging out around 13 feet deep over water that's 18 to 20 feet deep," said Tindle. "They will stack up over the deepest water in the lake, which is in the old river bend on the north side of the lake. I'll get over them and push Roadrunner jigs tipped with minnows."

The guide's preferred setup for spider rig trolling is to run eight BnM Capps and Coleman rods out the front of the boat. He uses the 12-foot models set in Driftmaster rod racks. Tindle said that while a lot of guides and anglers will run two jigs on each line for this tactic, he prefers to use only one jig with a ½- to 5/8-ounce crimp-on weight secured to the line about 18 inches above the jig.

"I want enough weight to get down to the fish," he said. "That extra flash on the Roadrunner jig makes it look more like a live bait, then the whole thing is tipped with a minnow so crappie can zero in on it."

Tindle vertically trolls the deeper water in the north end of the lake just fast enough to keep his lines straight down. He uses a foot-controlled five-speed trolling motor, and leaves the motor on the No. 1 speed. Then he watches his graph to move to the areas where he marks the most suspended fish.

One of his favorite locations is just north of where Moon Lake Road turns away from the lake and the houses and docks give way to natural shoreline. He refers to this area as "the cane patch" due the large array of switchbacks along the bank.

For the last 20 years, Moon Lake has fallen under the jurisdiction of Gary Lucas, a regional biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Lucas said that in the past, Moon Lake has suffered during particularly rainy spring seasons.

"During the spring, run-off from the watershed above the lake would really muddy up Moon Lake," he said. "The result was that while crappie still spawned and recruited adequate year classes, the muddy water inhibited good plankton blooms, which reduced the amount of available forage fish for the crappie to feed on. There were plenty of crappie in the lake, but they were small. The lack of forage reduced their growth rates."

To combat this, the MDWFP instituted a minimum-size limit that allowed anglers to keep only five fish that were less than 10 inches long. The remaining 25 crappie allowed within the 30-fish creel limit had to be over 10 inches.

"We can see the effects of what that size limit is doing now," Tindle said. "Two years ago, there were a lot of fish that were just under the 10-inch limit. Now they are all over that limit with some real slabs mixed in. I'll bet I've only had 10 or 15 throwbacks all year, and I've had several 14- to 15-inch fish and one 17-incher that went over 3 pounds."

Another factor that plays into the success anglers are seeing this year is that the spring of 2007 was dry enough that the lake stayed pretty clear and didn't fill up with muddy water. That year class of fish that had a banner growing season is showing up in angler creels now.

"Unlike most fisheries, a moderate drought is actually better for Moon Lake than a year with too much water," said Lucas. "Moon Lake is separated from the Mississippi by levees. None of the rising waters from it get into the lake. Most of the runoff is just from poor erosion control and some backflow from Arkabutla through the bayou. As Moon Lakes settles down, high water discharges from Moon Lake into the old Coldwater River through the Yazoo Pass."

The lake's condition has improved rapidly this year.

"It was pretty muddy this spring," said Tindle of the copious amounts of water that poured across the area in March and April. "But as soon as it cleared up in early June, we got right back on them, and they have been biting real well all through the summer."

Access to Moon Lake is good from one of three ramps on the lake. There are two public ramps located off Highway 1 on the west side of the lake, one at the end of Paradise Point Road and another just west of Paradise Point at the state park. The other ramp is a private pay ramp located on the east bank at the intersection of Moon Road and Moon Lake Road, at a place called BMW Pit Stop. BMW Pit Stop is the only bait and tackle shop located on the lake.