Editor’s Note: Outdoor writer Phillip Gentry’s year-long discovery of the best state lakes makes its second stop at the 81-acre Prentiss Walker Lake near Mize, where the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks state lake offers fishermen a nice February treat.
Fishing and February aren’t typically words used in the same sentence unless the words “no”, “don’t” or “too cold” are used between them. That’s unfortunate for the majority of anglers and fortunate for a smaller number because the month of February can offer some of the best sizes of fish to be had, especially on Mississippi’s state lakes.
The benefit of fishing a smaller body of water, like one of the state lakes, is that there is a limited amount of area that fish can hide. If you want to verify that, go into any of the lake manger’s offices and look at the photos on the bragging board. Chances are you’ll see some hefty largemouth bass and heavy stringers of crappie displayed by bundled up anglers with big smiles on their faces.
If you’d like to put your photo up there with theirs, one of the best bets for state lake fishing during this time of year is Prentiss Walker Lake.
Located in Smith County southwest of Mize, Prentiss Walker is a relatively deep lake with water over 30 feet available out in front of the dam. A well-defined creek channel runs through the middle of the lake and bass, bream, and crappie can be found adjacent to this channel during seasonal movements between the shallow spawning grounds in the southwest corner of the lake and deep water haunts near the dam on the northern bank of the impoundment.
Lake manager Stan Sullivan said the lake dates back to 1963 when it was originally constructed and has been a state lake since that time. The lake was originally stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish or shellcrackers, white and black crappie, and channel catfish.
Since that time, the lake has also participated in an experimental stocking program of hybrid crappie, also known as Magnolia crappie, engineered by the MDWFP, which he states have done well in the 81-acre lake, according to trapping survey in the last couple of years.
“Prentiss Walker is known for the bream fishing,” said Sullivan. “Of course, anglers come here for other things — crappie is beginning to catch hold this time of year, but from April, May, and June, it’s mainly bream, bluegill and the redear that most people are after.”
Sullivan said a small contingent of anglers come to Prentiss Walker in February with the sole intent of catching a trophy-sized largemouth bass. The lake has a dual population of bass, brutes in the 7- to 10-pound range and a much larger number of 1- to 2-pound bass that are over-populated and would benefit the lake to be heavily harvested. However, it’s the brutes that the February anglers are after.
“Our lake record was caught about four years ago,” said Sullivan. “It weighed 13 pounds, 13 ounces. Every year, in late winter, February and March, is when the bigger bass are usually caught. I’ll have several anglers tell me they’ve caught a 10-, 11-, or 12-pounder most every year.”
Foregoing typical bass fishing tactics, Sullivan said in his experience, the bigger bass are caught using live bait, big live shiners to be precise, which anglers catch in other locations and bring to the lake to fish live. The big baits are rigged and slow trolled around the lake.
“A lot of people think this is illegal, in the sense that most largemouth bass anglers believe bass should be caught on artificial baits, but the largest bass that was caught here at Prentiss Walker was caught on a shiner that was being trolled behind the boat,” said Sullivan.
As for the over-population of smaller bass in the lake, Sullivan said most anglers don’t think about largemouth bass as table fare, but the fish are known to be good to eat and removing some of them would actually enhance the rest of the fishery at Prentiss Walker.
“Right now, we are really over populated with smaller bass,” he said. “They need to be caught and taken out. We have a limit of 10 per person per day which, in my belief, should be more right now, but bass fishermen are taught to catch and release. There are a few out there that will catch and keep a limit of bass for the meat process of it and I welcome that at this time.”
When it comes to crappie fishing at Prentiss Walker, February is also a great time to find slabs putting on weight and getting ready for the spring spawn.
MDWFP fisheries biologist Larry Bull said that many local anglers lean more toward smaller boats on the 81-acre impoundment but the same big water trolling tactics frequently used on Mississippi’s big impoundments also work when crappie fishing on Prentiss Walker and other state lakes.
“Prentiss Walker is a deep lake with over 30 feet available out in front of the dam,” said Bull. “It’s got a good creek channel that runs through the middle of the lake and crappie can be found adjacent to this channel during the month of February. Those fish are moving up from the deep water at the dam toward the shallow water at the back of the lake and this time of year, you’ll find them somewhere along that route.”
“We see a lot of guys trolling, spider rigging, for crappie at Prentiss,” he said. “Some folks just feel safer on a smaller body of water, especially if it’s a windy day because there are more places to get out of the wind.”
Bull claims the crappie population in Prentiss is dominated by white crappie but both black and white species are well represented.
Prentiss has also received stockings of Magnolia crappie
“The hybrid crappie or Magnolia crappie was put in here around three, maybe four years ago, and they were put in at two different stages,” Bull said. “First stage was around 8,500 fish. The next stage was put in about 11 months later and the second stage was somewhere around the same amount of fish. The Magnolia have done well here and we get good reports of anglers catching them.”
To assist anglers with fishing Prentiss Walker, Sullivan has created a number of fish attractor sites on the lake and enhances them on a regular basis. Most of these sites are marked with white buoys but GPS coordinates for the attractors can also be found on the MDWFP website.
“Most of our structure is in the shallower water, up to 10 feet deep,” said Sullivan. “Look out from the edges maybe 30 to 40 yards mostly. There were some tree tops piled years ago when the lake was reworked back in1998. There are several big piles of tree tops. We’ve also put in Christmas trees in the past and last February, we went around the edge of the lake and cleared a bunch of undesirable small trees or bushes, 6,8,10 feet tall. We piled them up on a barge and got out there and made two or three big piles of debris in the lake for cover out of that brush.”
As far as finding the best locations to fish, Sullivan said he keeps an up-to-date map in his office that anglers can view, but it’s not in a printed version. The map on the MDWFP website is also a good source of information and it is available online and in print.
“For the most part, all of our fish attractors are mapped,” said Sullivan. “I did some on my own before we got the barge and we’ve also tried to mark those. When the biologists came in and cut the debris last year and put it on the barge, we went out and mapped it at that time. I have a map right here in my office that’s permanent here, you cannot take it with you, but you’ve got a good idea of where the brush tops are. You just need to go find them.”
How to Get There
Lake Prentiss Walker is located in Smith County southwest of Mize. The street address is 103 Ross Barnett Lane, Mize, MS 39116. GPS coordinates: N31 50.0208, W88 43.329.
According to Lake manager Stan Sullivan, Prentiss Walker is best known for its bluegill and redear bream, crappie, including white, black, and the Magnolia crappie, and hefty-sized largemouth bass.
Bass: The largest bass of the year can be caught in February by trolling live shiners slowly behind a boat or fishing a live shiner rig. Sullivan also said the lake is over-populated with 1- to 2-pound bass that can be caught using plastic worms and jigs in typical pre-spawn patterns for this time of year.
Crappie: The maximum depth at Prentiss is around 30 feet out in front of the dam at the head of an old creek channel that courses through the lake. Crappie anglers do best in February by slow trolling live minnows on tight line rods up and down the edge of this channel.
Bream: Finding bream in the winter at Prentiss is most of the battle in February. Look for bream to hold tight to deep-water cover. The lake has some old brush piles that are left over from when the lake was reworked in the late 90s. Look for bream to hit worms and crickets fished deep and slow around this cover.
Launching: A boat ramp is available at Prentiss Walker with no restrictions on the size boat or motor launched on the lake. The daily ramp fee is $7 per boat.
Camping: Prentiss Walker offers 19 RV hookups with power, water, and picnic tables at each site. Sullivan said there are fire pits at about half the sites and finding vacancy in February usually isn’t a problem. Camping permits are $18 per day and a 30-day camping permit is $360. Primitive/tent camping with no electricity is also available for $13 per night.
Cabins: Prentiss Walker offers two cabins for rent on the property. The cabins are well-furnished FEMA trailers acquired after the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and have been converted into permanent structures. The only thing a person needs to bring when renting one of the cabins are linens for a queen bed and a regular bed. Towels, bath cloths, and soap are provided. Cabin rentals are $65 per night weekdays and $75 per night on weekends.
Prentiss Walker Lake, 103 Ross Barnett Rd., Mize, MS. Lake Manager Stan Sullivan, (601) 733-2611, www.mdwfp.com/fishing-boating/state-fishing-lakes/central-region/prentiss-walker-lake.aspx.
Lake and Campsite Maps, online at www.mdwfp.com/fishing-boating/state-fishing-lakes/central-region/prentiss-walker-lake.aspx.