Sure, February is usually Mississippi’s coldest month, but it is also one of the best for fishing. When the conditions allow it, crappie, bass and catfish action can be as good as it gets all year, and the conditions vary by species. Here are five of my favorite cold-weather trips:
1. Catfish, Barnett Reservoir
On those days when common sense tells you to stay inside because it’s cold, the catfish will be biting on Barnett Reservoir.
You will not need a boat. I repeat, you will not need a boat.
Using long surfcasting spinning rods and either nightcrawlers or cut shad for bait, plenty of catfish will be within reach due to a freak phenomena affecting shad.
“When you see those guys sitting on buckets or chairs with an array of surf-cast rods off the Natchez Trace or in Pelahatchie Bay, they’re catfishing,” former MDWFP fisheries director Ron Garavelli said. “What happens is that shad that fail to move deep during extremely cold weather will die in the shallows. Catfish simply move up out of the nearby deep water and gorge.”
That’s what makes some areas along the Trace — the deep side of the lake — and the Bay’s south shore near the creek channel so good. Normally deep catfish can move up on flats and feed within quick reach of the warmer depths.
2. Black Crappie, Eagle Lake
Yep, this is a holdover from January, and it’s even better in February. Black crappie, aka specks, will move up on the piers in cold weather and suspend among the pilings.
“You’d think you’d have to fish 10 or 20 feet deep, but really the majority of the specks we catch at Eagle in February are between 3 and 4 feet,” said David Thornton, who lives on the oxbow lake’s banks. “That’s a common mistake people make — fishing under the fish.
“Now, later on in the month, when we move out and start drift fishing for prespawn white crappie, then you start fishing 12 to 20 feet deep. That’s good, too.”
3. & 4. Largemouth bass, Neshoba County Lake and Lake Bill Waller
Ready to get your line stretched with a shot at a bass of a lifetime? Then either one of these two MDWFP state lakes — Neshoba County near Philadelphia and Bill Waller near Columbia — are optimum choices.
The difference is that at Neshoba it will be prespawn, while at Waller it will include some spawning fish on the beds. At Neshoba, 12- and 13-pound fish have been common the last two years, and Waller produced a 13-pound, 4-ounce prespawn bass in December.
“Oddly enough, we can see bass on the beds at Waller in late January, but this year I think we will be looking more at February after that run of cold weather we had in January,” said O.T. Sutton of Columbia. “Just think it’s going to be later.”
5. Puppy drum, Bay of St. Louis
Our saltwater choice for February is a no-brainer, even though other more-popular fish are available. But, for dependability, the black drum, aka puppy drum, on the bridge pilings and cuts in Mississippi’s coastal rivers can’t be beat. They are plentiful, and when the size range is 6-pounds and under, they are great fish to take home to the table.
“The great thing about them is that they will eat until they get full, and then eat some more,” said Capt. Kenny Shiyou of Bay St. Louis. “That, and in the same waters, especially around the bridge pilings, you can catch a bunch of sheepshead, too.”