When people talk about the Pearl River “between the dams,” the conversation likely involves the water between the main dam of Barnett Reservoir and the low head dam 33 miles upriver at the north end of the lake in Scott County.
That stretch is better known as “The Rez” and it is very fish friendly and popular.
But, there is another length of the river that begins at the tailrace of the reservoir and travels south to another low head dam near LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, and it, too, should be included in any conversation about fishing the Pearl River.
It is a meandering stream once it leaves the reservoir tailrace, very scenic, extremely peaceful and with a cornucopia of fishing opportunities. It can be fished from a bass boat, but a canoe or kayak is more suitable.
The middle Pearl has its challenges as well. Read on to see if this area is right for you, and your style of angling.
There are two boat ramps on this part of the Pearl: A single ramp at the Rez spillway and another at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, located just off Lakeland Drive and I-55 in Jackson. The spillway ramp is free access while the park launch costs $5 per launch.
One popular use of the “middle Pearl” is to put in at the spillway and use the park ramp as an exit, setting up an ideal course for kayakers and canoers who like to float and fish. Plenty of sandbars line the river, allowing for a shore lunch or a leg-stretching opportunity. Otherwise, there are no commercial venues along this route.
And, oh yeah, it’s got fish. Lots of them.
“This part of the river has about every kind of fish found in this part of the country,” said Larry Bull, assistant chief of fisheries with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “We introduced sea-run stripers to the river and hybrid stripers were there from previous stockings. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some stripes have found their way from the Gulf and made it over the waterworks dam at high-water stages.”
In addition to the stripers, there is a healthy population of spotted bass just waiting for an opportunity to grab your bait and keep your day interesting. It is the spotted bass that most bass fishermen chase in this part of the Pearl.
Keep in mind that the spillway is a mecca for shad, and some of those move on down river. Also downstream are sunfish of every kind. Crappie are also plentiful.
But this story is all about bass, and the secret to finding them is finding their food source and the kind of structure they are using, preferably both in the same place.
Just where the tailrace begins to end and natural banks grace the river’s edge, trees and structure are found. Josh Hawkins of Pelahatchie has found the bass fishing here to be fast and furious as long as the shad are near the surface, creating surface feeding frenzies known as “schooling.”
But just as soon as they blow up, they go down, and the fury ends, and then it’s time to hit the structure.
“There was a log there last year (2013) where I was never skunked,” Hawkins said. “I’d always start with a black/silver Rapala, working the still water as close to the log as I could cast. Rarely was I disappointed, always getting a hit in the first few casts. When the shad moved out, I’d switch to a Rooster Tail or Road Runner and follow the bass deeper.
“On one occasion I watched a striper checking under the log for a meal. It worked its way up along the log, so shallow the dorsal fin was partly exposed. The big bass had no interest in my small bait, apparently holding out for a larger meal. ”
The water is very shallow and filled with obstacles where the tailrace becomes the river. Smaller boats have little problem, but typical bass boats will have a great deal of trouble passing the gauntlet of stumps, logs and bars. Idle speed is a good choice for big boats. The wise choice.
“Down the river a ways there is a deep hole opposite a sandbar,” Hawkins said. “Crawdad type plastics always get results there for me. The current will keep you moving but it’s easy to return to the top of the run with a trolling motor. Around the bend from there are four outlet pipes that flow all the time. I never do much right around the pipes, but just downstream is a row of huge cypress stumps. This is where I always start another long float.”
The river at this point is littered with trees and logs. Where the water creates an eddy current, there is a place for a bass or two to wait for a passing meal. Set up below the obstacle, and cast a plastic crawfish into the current above the eddy. Hawkins uses a weighted hook and a Gulp watermelon six-inch worm.
“I believe the Gulp baits cause the fish to hold the bait longer, giving me more time to set the hook,” Hawkins said. “The hook has to be rigged snag-less, because the water is filled with snags for the next mile.”
Henry Fletcher of Canton fishes from a two-man boat equipped with a trolling motor. The small, light craft has no problems getting up and down the river and into areas holding good fish. During the late spring and early summer, Fletcher fishes during the dawn and again at dusk.
“The upper part of the river (just below the spillway) is better for bass,” Fletcher said. “I figure that’s because so many injured shad (from passing through the dam) are being pushed downstream. I have tried to use shad-like crankbaits in here but they tend to get hung. But some of my biggest fish come on a Rebel that is worked on the surface like an injured minnow.”
Fletcher likes to set trotlines on the river for catfish, and bass fish between running the lines. Sometimes he uses a cast net to capture shad and bream for bait in the fast water near the boat ramp. He claims the biggest bass he has ever caught on that stretch of the river swallowed a big bream on a catfish hook. Fletcher didn’t have a scale but said the spotted bass “had to weigh 4 or 5 pounds.”
For the adventurous angler interested in roughing it a little, the middle Pearl has a lot offer. Sandbars frequent the river and are wide enough to pitch a tent. With a little searching firewood is plentiful. For a canoe or kayak fisherman this area is a great choice for a weekend getaway, without going too far away.
Tommy Shropshire has made the trip several times and calls it “an easy float.”
Tackle for bass need not be on the heavy side, but a medium-action rod and a sturdy reel with 12-16 pound line is suggested. Whatever you plan to put on the end of the line has a very good change of snagging on the bottom, or on structure. If you’re fond of high-dollar lures you may want to leave them at home and stick to cheaper plastics. This writer lost two spinner baits in as many casts the first time he fished the middle Pearl. Switching to a June Bug colored critter bait I managed to land a few bass in the 1- to 2-pound class.
“I like to bring my grandson Cody here with a box of worms,” Fletcher said. “He’s going to get a bite and catch something, catfish and bream mostly. He’s just six, and doesn’t care if it’s a big fish or too small to keep. To him it’s a fish, and he caught it. Now if I can teach to boy to bait his own hook.
“We always see birds and most times a raccoon or two. He likes to look for alligators, and there are a few of them around, too.”
Hawkins said some of the best bass fishing on the stretch is close to the Lakeland Drive bridge.
“Near the bridge are some erosion control structures,” Hawkins said. “Bass will use this structure as well as the pilings under the bridge. I’ve had good luck there at times with a Rattle-trap pulled parallel to the structure. Under the bridge, cast past the piling and allow the bait to follow the current flow. Bass will rest in the slack water right below the piling and wait for an easy meal to come to them.”
According to Fletcher, if the river level at Jackson is under 5 feet, unloading a big boat at the spillway ramp can be a problem, as the ramp has a drop off at the end and eddy currents tend to deposit added sand at the ramp. For Fletcher, 7 to 9 feet on the Jackson gauge is the magic number.
“Tell your readers to be prepared for anything,” Fletcher said. “Fishing plastics, I’ve caught gar, grinnel (bowfin), and catfish as well as bass. If you like river fishing and don’t like crowds, this is the place to go.”