Whether you prefer bass or crappie, the third month of the year is the peak time to catch a big one. The fish are busy feeding to build up their energy for the spawning season, and generally achieve their biggest weights of the year.
It is the prespawn period that puts Mississippi literally on the top of the list when it comes to the best crappie lakes in the country.
When the popular website Fishhound.com produced its list of top 50 crappie lakes in 2013, Grenada Lake ranked No. 1, Sardis Lake No. 2 and Arkabutla Lake No. 5.
Enid, the other North Mississippi COE lake, ranks No. 20 and still boasts the world-record white crappie. Fred Bright of Memphis caught the 5-pound, 3-ounce fish in July of 1957.
Mississippi has an oxbow lake in the top 10 — Lake Washington at No. 7 — and Barnett Reservoir and the Tenn-Tom Waterway rank No. 29 and 30, respectively. Not bad, eh?
We kept that in mind when we chose our Top 5 fishing trips for the month:
1. Barnett Reservoir — Even though it ranks lower than the flood-control pools, this reservoir near Jackson is far and away more user friendly. Because Barnett is not truly a flood-control lake, its water level is fairly constant when compared to the major fluctuations at Grenada, Sardis, Enid and even Arkabutla. Barnett’s range is more like a foot, where the others can be as much as 20 feet or more, and can vary wildly in the spring. The main lake is where most of Barnett’s prespawn crappie are targeted, and locating the creeks and ditches crappie use as migration routes to and then as staging areas near the shallow spawning areas is the key to success.
2. Lake Washington — We choose this oxbow for the same reason — stable water conditions. Located between Rolling Fork and Greenville off Highway 1 in the Delta, this shallow oxbow produces outstanding prespawn drift-fishing (trolling) on the intermediate flats where the big females stage before moving shallow to spawn. Fishermen like to fish the inside curve of the natural oxbow, staying in 5 to 9 feet of water and covering the entire water column with multiple rigs. Jigs tipped with minnows are the prespawn pick.
3. Grenada Lake — Even if you have to deal with rough water — wind is a killer here — and changing levels, there’s a simple reason why you have to go to Grenada. It produces more 3-pound crappie than any other lake. See Giles’ story inside to learn the experts’ tricks.
4. Davis Lake — I know, I know. It’s hard to believe that we’re three months into the year and this is the first time Davis Lake appears on our list of must-do trips in 2014. It was the No. 3 trip on our December picks, and it returns now for the same reason. It is Mississippi’s No. 1 prespawn bass-fishing destination. At 200 acres, it is small enough to learn quickly, yet in that small size Davis has just about any kind of cover and structure bass fishermen like — deep and shallow stump fields, brush piles, creeks/ditches, bluff banks, riprap banks and coves. Pick your poison, bring plenty of shaky heads and soft plastics, and get after them. Don’t go to Davis for quantity. Think quality and remember this tip: String up with heavy line. These fish are brutes. The lake record of 17.3 pounds was caught in 2013.
5. Eagle Lake - Another oxbow, this one qualifies as both a crappie and a bass destination. The preferred pattern for white crappie in early March is drifting/trolling off of the area known as Float Row. By the end of the month, however, you will see fishermen wading the shallows for spawners. Black crappie are fished around the piers and docks. In early March, they will be suspended shallow on the deep ends of the piers. A 1/32- ounce tube jig tipped with a small minnow fished 3 to 4 feet deep in 8 to 15 feet of water will surprise you. Later in the month, the males will move shallower, but the females will still be around the pier pilings. Bass fishermen take plastics, jigs and spinnerbaits and head to the lower end of the horseshoe-shaped lake near Tara Wildlife. Largemouth will move up to the outer edges of the trees and stumps, and by covering enough water, you can find concentrations of the fish.