Still a month and a half away from the spawn, crappie fishermen at Barnett Reservoir are already buzzing about what they feel could be one of the best springs ever on the 33,000-acre lake near Jackson.
And it’s all about the higher water they’ve seen this winter.
“Keeping the lake up like they have is definitely going to make it a better spawn for us fishermen,” said Tim Jenkins of Brandon. “We’ve always had to worry about whether or not the water would be up enough to get back in some of those main lake spawning areas. Unless we have a drought in a very unlikely time of the year — it always rains in March and April — then it’s going to be perfect.”
Under a new lake operation plan adopted by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District last summer, the reservoir has been maintained at no less than 297.2 feet above sea level this winter, and most of the time it has been at 297.5 or slightly higher.
In previous years, the operation plan called for a drawdown each winter to 296, which would be raised back to the summer recreation pool of 297.5 beginning in mid April. That’s right at the peak of spawn.
“Give or take a few days, I’ve always said that the peak of Barnett’s spawn is April 15,” said the lake’s best-known perch jerker, Rabbit Rogers of Fannin. “Depending on water temperatures and moon phases, it could be the week before or the week after, but count on it being near April 15. What’s the old saying about the only sure things being death and taxes?
“Well, it’s appropriate then that you can also count on the spawn coming close to April 15, when our taxes are due.”
With the lake at an elevation of 296 in April, it took hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of prime spawning out of play ... at least for the fishermen. The fish could still get in the areas but not boats, and unlike a lot of lakes in Mississippi, Barnett is not wader friendly.
“This year with the lake being 297 or higher going into April, it will make it better for the fishermen,” Rogers said. “We will be able to follow the fish right into the shallow grasses and stay with them.”
The timing of the operation change was made even better, fisheries biologists said, by the harsh winter weather.
“Those three hard, extended freezes we had, one in December and then the two in January, did a number on a lot of the vegetation crappie use,” said biologist John Skains, who oversees the agency’s aquatic weed program on the reservoir. “The pad stems, cutgrass and the primrose took a big hit, but it could have been a lot worse. Because the water was up, a lot of the grass was spared. Had they been more exposed by shallower or no water, then a lot more of it would have been killed.
“As it is, it will be reduced, but that’s not a bad thing for fishermen. It means a lot of crappie will be around less grass and that plays right into the hands of the fishermen.”