Editor’s Note: The fourth stop on writer Phillip Gentry’s year-long, statewide tour of Mississippi’s top public fishing lakes is in Stone County, where April is a great time to chase largemouth at the Pat Harrison Waterway District’s Flint Creek Water Park. One of South Mississippi’s biggest lakes, it was where two 2015 Bassmaster Classic anglers learned their craft.
Pardon the Petal Bass Club if its members are a little cocky this year.
Petal sits in the heart of South Mississippi, surrounded by good fishing holes but quite a fair distance from any major reservoir with a prestigious bass reputation.
Yet, in February, two members of the Petal Bass club, Cliff Pace and Teb Jones, competed in the most prestigious fishing tournament in the nation — the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Pace won it in 2013.
Former club president Rocky Rowell remembers competing with both Pace and Jones in club tournaments, including many at Flint Creek Water Park, in Rowell’s hometown of Wiggins. Though 30 miles south of Petal, Rowell said members considered it the club’s official home lake.
“I can remember fishing with Cliff Pace on Flint Creek when he was just a youngster,” said Rowell. “I know for a fact he learned a lot about fishing deep water with a jig right here on this lake.”
Flint Creek Water Park means a lot of things to a lot of people in Mississippi’s Pine Belt. In the summer, it’s a boater and water skier’s getaway. To a camper, it’s a place to go spend a few days communing with nature.
To Rowell, it’s a good place to go set the hook on a hefty largemouth bass, especially in April.
“Flint Creek is a very dynamic lake,” said Rowell. “It gets a lot of fishing pressure and it can be a tough place to figure out, but it’s got a real healthy shad population and that right there is the key to why it’s such a good bass lake. It doesn’t require a lot of management from a fisheries standpoint. The fish that are there are healthy and they reproduce really well every year.”
Flint Creek’s 650-acre lake and 1,900-acre water park is managed by the Pat Harrison Waterway District, a state agency located in Hattiesburg. The District manages eight Water Parks, and seven have fishing lakes.
“Flint Creek was built by the Army Corps of Engineers sometime around 55 years ago as a recreational park,” Brewer said. “We have control of the flow of water going out of the lake. It’s fed from Flint Creek on the other end and there’s water coming in from another creek too.”
Despite the tributaries, Flint Creek is clear when compared to similarly sized lakes in Mississippi. Brewer said it’s the clear water that can make the lake tough on newcomers. He said the clear water warms slower than other lakes and the fish will tend to hold deeper at Flint Creek.
“It’s just like any other lake, you’ve got to experiment, use different colors at different depths until you hit the right things,” he said. “There’s good bass fishing in here, bream and crappie, too. One fish may be running deep and the other kind may be running shallow. Me and my grandsons, we’ve caught fish all over this lake from one end to the other.”
Flint Creek’s main lake points are the key to its consistent bass fishing, according to Rowell. During April the bass move shallow and are susceptible to topwater baits and sub-surface baits like flukes and Senkos.
Rowell said after the spawn, bass will move off the points and can be caught nearly year round using a Carolina-rigged lizard in watermelon seed colors.
“A lot of bass school in this lake because of all the shad,” said Rowell. “I like to throw a crankbait when they’re schooling (surface feeding), something in either a clown color or natural, like a crawfish or chrome pattern. It’s best to use light line or at least a fluorocarbon leader because the water is so clear.”
By the end of April, both bass and crappie will move out into deeper water. While the fish may spawn in the backs of the coves and cuts around the lake, Brewer said he long points produce better bass and crappie in April.
“Out in the middle, it will be 30 to 40 feet in places and then it shallows up as you come in,” said Brewer. “There is good depth. If you’ll watch as you’re fishing around the edge, you’ll see points going out in the water. You’ll see little ridges. If you follow those points out and fish at different depths, you’ll find a bass out there and white perch too.”
While April may be a little cool for jet skis and water skiing, Rowell said by summer recreational boat traffic exceeds fishing traffic.
Not to worry. Rowell said the wave action can be good for the fishing.
“In summertime, you’ll get a lot of recreational boat traffic,” he said. “If you can fight the waves, you can still catch fish. I think all the waves pull the shad to the surface. You can have a boat go by and cast right in the wake and catch a bass. Maybe it aerates the water or something, but it really doesn’t hurt the fishing.”
Rowell said April is an excellent crappie month on Flint Creek. He said fishermen do extremely well and catch fish in an honest 2-pound range and up.
Depending on the stage of the spawn, fish can be caught in the backs of the tributaries on different forms of structure. Post-spawn, Rowell said the majority of crappie anglers key in on ledges, drop offs and any man-made structure that exists in the lake. Toward the backs of the main tributaries there are still areas of standing timber and stumps and crappie will move up into these areas to feed on shad early and late in the day and retreat back to deeper structure when the sun gets up.
“Some pretty crappie in this lake,” said Rowell, “but it’s not really much of a quality bream lake because of all the bass in here eat a lot of them. But I see a lot of 2- and 3-pound white crappie come out of here.
“Crappie will be on brush piles or rather just above them in about 12 to 18 feet of water in April,” he said. “Most of the guys spider rig or troll using six or eight rods. Seems like they catch more crappie on minnows than jigs.”
For anglers wishing to remain at Flint Creek for several days or even a week or more, the park has full service camper hook-ups as well as a wide selection of lakeside and near-lake cabins that can house an entire family or maybe even a small fishing club.
The park has three different boat ramps that are open around the clock.
As a final amenity, the business district of Wiggins is two miles outside Flint Creek’s entrance gate. The town features grocery stores, specialty shops, fuel, a hospital, golf course, camping, bait and fishing supplies, video rentals, and restaurants.