Flowing through the heart of the Desoto National Forest, there is an often overlooked waterway that provides a challenging yet rewarding fishing adventure for anyone looking for something unique.

Black Creek is a beautiful South Mississippi stream located just southeast of Hattiesburg, and is known for its sprawling white sandbars and its tea-stained waters. The sandy terrain filters much of the sediment, leaving clear waters that become tinged by the decaying leaves that the overhanging canopy of trees impart to the water.

Rippling through shallow gravel bars followed by frequent log jams, the current often subsides, yielding to lazy deep bends in the creek. Much of the land bordering the creek is national forest land, some of which lies in the newly created Black Creek.

In 1986, 21 miles of Black Creek - from Fairley Bridge Landing upstream to Moody's Landing - was designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. Black Creek is Mississippi's only National Wild and Scenic River.

Uncompromised beauty hides beneath a canopy of bald cypress, longleaf pine, various varieties of oak, poplar and many other species of trees. The forest is broken only by the roadways at the respective launch points. With five launch points, canoe enthusiasts have plenty of opportunities to access the creek. Because of its frequent shallow runs often littered with tree logs, travel by canoe is the best choice.

The scenery alone makes a float trip down this stream worthwhile. However, for the fisherman interested in a challenging yet memorable experience, float fishing from a canoe on Black Creek is lots of fun.

If you don't own a canoe, there are two local companies that offer daily canoe rentals and a shuttle service to and from the put-in and take-out locations. They are Black Creek Canoe Rental in Brooklyn and Soggy Bottom Canoe and Kayak Rental near the Janice Landing. The downside to using a rented canoe is that you typically will be shuttled along with other groups. It is to your benefit to distance yourself from the often large, rowdy groups who use the canoe rentals. In addition, using a rented canoe will limit the time you can spend fishing on the creek as you will need to arrive at the takeout by your pickup time.

If you have your own canoe, you will obviously need to arrive extra early in the morning in order to allow time to drive to the take-out and leave a vehicle for when you arrive downstream. As for the type of canoe, a sturdy aluminum one with a keel works best. Some fiberglass models and cheaper aluminum models are easier to turn over. Stability is important to stay afloat, especially when you intend to fish. If you have never canoed or have limited experience in a canoe, you may want to take a few float trips to learn how to canoe before losing all of your fishing tackle in the creek.

Because of the possibility of turning the canoe over, take only a limited amount of gear, especially if you are not confident that you will stay upright. Creek fishing is all about finesse. It has nothing to do with expensive tackle or fancy gear. It is all about the positioning of the boat and making the perfect cast.

The challenge of float fishing is that you get only one shot to make that perfect cast. Most of the fish are right up on the bank in heavy cover. You are at the mercy of the current to some degree, although you can back-paddle upstream to get a lure unhung or even re-fish a hole if it produces.

Light casting tackle is preferred for bream and crappie. A closed-face reel with 8-pound monofilament will work just fine.

For bass, a medium-action rod with 10- to 15-pound-test line will work fine. A 2- or 3-pound creek bass can feel like a monster when pulling against the current. You'll have to set your drag a little tighter than normal, however, because if the fish runs too far, he'll hang you up in the snags. You won't land every fish because of this fact. It is truly a challenge and an art.

Short, low casts up close to the bank will produce fish when using small spinnerbaits such as Beetle Spins and H&Hs. Use the Beetle Spins for bream and crappie and a mid-sized or larger spinnerbait for bass. As usual, brighter colors work better on sunny, clear days, while darker colors work better on cloudy days.

As a general rule on the creek, smaller baits produce more fish. However, in some of the deeper holes, casting a larger spinnerbait can produce nice creek bass. Plastic worms can be used for bass if you are tied up in a spot out of the current. These spots are few and far between, however, and you will find yourself wishing that you had your spinnerbait back on.

For a change of pace, you may want to tie up to a log next to one of the deeper and better holes along the creek if you start catching fish. With casting, you will most likely only get one or two shots per hole. If you tie up to a log to fish, it is usually to pole fish for bream or crappie.

When pole fishing for bream, use crickets, earthworms or catalpa worms, depending on what's available. The most prolific species of bream are what the locals fondly call "redbellies." They are officially called redbreast sunfish.

In the late summer, when the water level is low and the creek is clear, you can catch an ice chest full of these fish. They are typically small, however. For the indiscriminant fisherman this is one way to take home lots of fish. They are a beautifully colored fish, and are quite good to eat. There are also bluegills, redear sunfish and goggleyes.

One method that works well for bream in heavy cover is to tightline right up in submerged brush or around logs. When using this method, simply fish without a cork or quill. All you need is a fairly stiff pole rigged with line, hook and sinker. You will know it when you get a bite. This technique works well when letting the fish take the cork under will get you hung every time.

If you plan your trip when the catalpa worms are on the trees, you might just find a catalpa tree on one of the many sand bars loaded down with free bait. All you need is a little pinch off of one of these big, juicy worms to entice a bream or white perch to take a bite.

When fishing the creek, it is to your advantage to be able to quickly switch from your baitcasting rod to your pole or light casting rod in a moment's notice. It is advisable to bring all of your rods rigged up ahead of time. Find a handy place in the canoe for your extra fishing rods.

If you have time and intend to camp on one of the many sandbars overnight, you'll have access to the abundant catfish in the creek. Position yourself on the upstream side of one of the deeper holes, and fish the swift water. Don't forget to pack insect repellent to ward off the mosquitoes once the sun starts going down. Also, be warned that this is a typical Mississippi stream, and it is full of all sorts of snakes. Be careful to watch your step at all times during the day or night around the creek bank and on the sandbars.

Also, with regard to snakes, if you are using cut bait, be especially careful. The local cottonmouths have a keen sense of smell, and will be swarming you on the sandbar at night if you leave that bait sitting out.

On one trip during the middle of the night, a moccasin actually emerged from the water and coiled around the handle of my propped rod, which had cut fish smell on it. He ran his head up the rod before realizing we were watching him. Needless to say, we gave that snake some room.

The next morning we awoke to snake tracks in the sand all along the water's edge. Remember, that Black Creek is a wild and rugged place. You do need to go prepared, be careful and use common sense.

My father, "Jim" Williams, who is a Pearl River County native recalls being one of the first in the area to purchase a canoe.

"I purchased my first canoe in 1964," he said. "I still have it. It's a 17-foot Grumman aluminum canoe. Over the years I have developed a love for this creek, and have returned over and over again."

Today, canoeing has gained popularity, and more people frequent the creek. Even still, a relatively small number of individuals actually own canoes and float the creek outside of the larger groups that use the canoe rentals during the summer months. My father always recommends that you go prepared.

"It's a good idea to take some matches, some plastic or a tarp and a little extra food and water just in case you get caught in a thunderstorm or if someone gets hurt and you have to spend the night on the creek," he said. "Also, remember that when the water level is low in the creek, it will take longer to complete the trip. You may have to pull the canoe over some logs, which will slow you down."

When planning your trip, select a section of the creek to float that may be floated easily in a day's time. If you are renting a canoe, Brandon Pearce with Black Creek Canoe Rental gives some advice for selecting a trip.

"It mainly depends on the amount of time you have," he said. "We offer a couple of trips above our location that take only a few hours up to about five and a half hours. If you are looking for a longer float, we offer several overnight trips below our location on the creek. The average travel speed for most people is about 1-2 m.p.h. Remember to allow 30 minutes to an hour for lunch when figuring out how long it will take to complete a trip."

Keep in mind that five or six miles on the creek can seem like a long way if the water level is low or you are inexperienced at paddling a canoe. Remember that you need to reach the take-out before dark. In addition, throughout the summer months afternoon thunderstorms are always a risk. Getting on the creek early in the morning is your best bet to ensure that you have time to fish and enjoy your trip without having to rush to the landing before dark or to outrun a thunderstorm.

Pack a lunch in an ice chest, and take along plenty of water for the day. Most importantly, enjoy the creek and the natural beauty that surrounds you. This waterway is one of the last truly wild rivers left in Mississippi. Be mindful of this fact as you enjoy this place.