Editor’s Note: After two years of bird dogging the best crappie and catfish holes across the state, Mississippi Sportsman asked outdoor writer Phillip Gentry to hunt down the best state lakes for anglers to fish, one month at a time. His choice for the cold waters of January was a trip to Waynesboro and Maynor Creek Water Park, one of the facilities operated by Pat Harrison Waterway District.

Entering the gate at Maynor Creek Water Park creates a big-lake feel with the hospitality of a well-run private outfitter. At 450 acres, the lake has enough room to offer all of the area an angler wants, yet it’s small enough that getting out of a cold north wind is much easier than if fishing on a big wide open impoundment.

As a year-round park, Maynor Creek offers the typical summer amenities, including swimming, water skiing, and paddleboat rentals. There is also a hiking trail with a horse trail currently under construction expected to open this summer.

Of course, none of that matters in January.

There are no skiers, no swimmers and very few hikers. The people who come to Maynor Creek Water Park near Waynesboro come here to fish. For a winter angler, it’s paradise.

The park is well-managed, thanks in great part to Park Manager Dwight Shepard and his staff. Shepard said the park has its own group of regular anglers and most of them are pretty tight lipped about the great winter fishing on the lake, not wanting word to get out.

“We have a lot of bass fisherman who come to Maynor Creek in the wintertime, because that’s the best time to catch the big lazy bass and they’re usually really big fish,” he said. “The (crappie) fisherman, they come out and troll over at the dam because that area is where the deepest water is. That’s where they’ve been catching a lot of the big white perch now, while they’re trolling.

“They move around out there and catch some off the structure that’s under the water, too, but they really like fishing right along the drop off at the dam.”

Maynor Creek’s fishery is co-managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, but Shepard said it’s rare that they need to call MDWFP for assistance with stocking efforts. The reason for this is a rather homegrown nursery system that Shepard himself instituted to insure that there’s good spring recruitment of bass, crappie and bream. He protects one of the prime spawning areas.

“During the spring spawn, we restrict entry by anglers to the back section of the lake, that area on the other side of the bridge,” said Shepard. “That protects our spawning fish from harvest. We leave that shallow end of the lake shut down for six weeks. 

“That way, I’m going to give all the fish time to lay out. You’re not going to come in and catch fish that are full of eggs where you just squeeze them out when you catch them. We call it our in-house stocking program and it seems to working pretty good.”

Shepard said while the lake staff has not built any fish attractors in the lake in some time, many of the local anglers have and he admits that finding and fishing this structure has been the key to catching limits of fish from the lake. The down side is the locations are not mapped, so anglers will need to do a bit of searching. 

“Of course, anglers are welcome to plant their own brush,” he said. “The more structure they put in here for the fish to stay around, the more fish they’re going to catch, so we do not have a problem with letting people do that when they come in. As far as the trees and stuff they sink in the lake, it shows up pretty good on sonar so other anglers can find them but as far as me being able to tell you ‘there’s a bunch of trees or brush here,’ I can’t do that.”

Wesley Seal from Decatur can attest to the first class winter fishing on Maynor Creek. He fishes the lake year round but finds that the wintertime crappie fishing is hard to beat. During January, Seal can be found sitting in the front of his boat manning 6 to 8 rods while his dad is in the back bringing up the rear. 

Seal said he picks a trolling run on Maynor Creek based on the location of baitfish, structure and the deepest water depth he can find. Then he will bump along, spider–rig fashion at about .5 mph, using his trolling motor to cover water. He rarely ventures outside of the marked ski area and most of the time, he will confine his range to within less than 50 yards of the dam that contains the spillway on the south end of the lake.

“From late December and through the month of January, I expect to find crappie in the deep water up around the dam,” he said. “I’m talking about fishing about 8 to 10 feet deep in 15 to 16 feet of water. Somebody going in there for the first time that didn’t really know much about the lake will need to have good electronics to look for specific targets like bait fish, underwater structure, and the creek channel.

“I have Hummingbird electronics with side imaging technology. It’ll allow you to see structure on the bottom, creek channels, and bait fish. When I see something like that on my side imaging, I mark that as a way point and then go back and make a milk run, trolling through the way points.” 

Seal said the cold weather usually puts crappie in big schools.

“When you find them, you can usually do pretty good,” he said. “They’ll be suspended above the structure, any kind of structure you can find, a hump, brush tops, just any kind of structure. If you can find creek channels, they’ll suspend over the edges of creek channels, too.”

As far as either Shepard or Seal can see, the only down side to winter fishing at Maynor Creek is the weather, but of course it’s winter all across the country and some areas have it worse than others. 

“I think it’s a real good crappie lake, and it’s not that well known,” said Seal. “You go down there and you catch pretty good numbers. The thing I like is you also catch good-sized crappie. It’s not uncommon to catch 2½- to 3-pound fish when it’s cold."