Editor’s Note: The fourth stop on writer Phillip Gentry’s year-long, statewide tour of Mississippi’s top public fishing lakes takes us near Philadelphia, where locals will tell you it is wise to bring heavy tackle — ‘Here, there be monsters’ — and it’s not just limited to bass.
In any serious discussion about big bass locations in Mississippi, there’s one body of water that’s always in the Top 10 but rarely at the top of the list.
But, if we were to change the parameters of the discussion to per acre — such as pounds of bass or number of lunkers per acre — then there is one lake would be the hands-down winner.
We give you Neshoba County Lake, located a few miles from downtown Philadelphia in the east central part of the state.
Like most waters in the state lake system of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, this 138-acre gem is stocked with bass, crappie, bream and catfish. It is prolific at producing them all, but since the lake was renovated and restocked late last century, Neshoba County Lake has become known as a trophy largemouth destination.
According to lake manager Chuck Hazelwood, the lake was built during the Depression, back in the 1930s, using day laborers who were paid 35 cents per day to toil with scoops pulled by mules to dig out the impoundment.
The original body was 226 acres but had to be rebuilt in the late 1990s and the new, longer spillway reduced the acreage to its current 138 acres.
When Neshoba reopened after the renovation, the fishing, particularly the largemouth bass fishing, responded with some huge fish that seemed to outpace regular growth rates for stocked fish. Hazelwood said the lake is very fertile and that helps the fishery tremendously, but it was an old 35-acre beaver pond that gave the newly remodeled lake such a good start.
“They restocked the lake after it was rebuilt, but in the back, we had about 35 acres that were behind a beaver dam,” Hazelwood said. “So, when we drained the lake down, they left the beaver dam alone and then we blew the dam when the lake came back up.
“A lot of my big fish were back in that 35 acres and came back in after the lake was filled.”
Mississippi anglers may have overlooked Neshoba as a crappie and bream lake due to all the limelight from it’s continued production of double-digit bass (over 10 pounds).
However, by the time May rolls around, more anglers go there for the perch jerking than for big bucket mouths.
“We made the state list of the top 10 bass lakes in the state for several years, but we’ve done a lot for our crappie anglers, too” Hazelwood said.
Four major creeks feed the lake and these creeks were dug out when the lake was emptied. An interesting fact about Neshoba is that an unfortunate incident for the grading company that was contracted to retool the lake is now a major benefit for anglers.
“The lake flooded while they still had their equipment in there,” Hazelwood said. “The only way to get the big earth moving equipment out was to dig trenches across the flat areas to drain off the flood water. What we have now is a series of ditches and creek channels that crisscross the flats. The average lake depth is only 5½ feet but those ditches, channels and holes where tree stumps were dug out now hold a lot of fish.”
Structure, in the form of brush, stumps, and small trees cleared from the area when the lake was down were also stacked strategically along the channel edges to create ideal crappie habitat. The manager is also working in conjunction with crappie anglers to maintain additional structure in the lake.
“About three to four years ago was the first time we sunk trees in the lake,” he said. “On the right hand side, going out toward the island, we put out some cedar trees on those flats and marked them with buoys.”
Those locations were marked with GPS and are available to anglers with Internet access.
“If you go to mdwfp.com and click on the state lakes and click on Neshoba County Lake, it’s got the GPS coordinates for our brush piles on it, where they’re at and what we’ve done to them,” Hazelwood said. “I think all the state lakes have that set up on there now, and also you can get maps off of it.”
The habitat building efforts appear to be paying off in fish.
“During some electro-shocking surveys performed back in mid January, the biologists brought up some really nice-sized crappie from the lake,” Hazelwood said.
For the bream angler, May is prime time and Hazelwood said there are plenty of better-than-hand sized bream to be caught at Neshoba.
One aspect of fishing the lake during the warmer months is that the aquatic vegetation in the lake starts growing back, and that can take some getting used to for new anglers.
Contrary to popular belief, the grass is Neshoba is not out of hand but is part of the habitat of the lake.
State Lakes Manager David Berry said that not everyone feels that way the first time they visit the lake, but all it takes is that one big fish or that huge stringer of bream or crappie and they change their minds pretty quickly.
“Neshoba has a lot of weeds, which is good for bass, bream, and all species of fish,” said Berry. “One of the biologists over that lake years ago says ‘grass equals bass.’ It’s not a pretty sight, people sometimes complain about it, but it actually gives the fish more cover.
“They sit there and forage for food and stuff comes right to them and they’re not out there in the wide open. Neshoba is basically a big old flat pond.”
While anglers may specifically visit Neshoba for bass or crappie or even the bream that abound in the lake, a large number of channel catfish also reside there. Berry said the catfish are holdovers from past fishing rodeos, and some of them have gotten big over the years.
“A lot of channel catfish wind up in that lake, too,” Berry said. “Some people go there just to fish for them. Sherry Hazelwood (who preceded her husband as Neshoba County Lake manager) is our rodeo coordinator for the department and this is her home lake. We used to hold two rodeos here a year, but I think this past year they cut back to just one but, yeah, it’s well stocked with channel catfish and some of them get really big after just a few years in the lake.”
From May on through the summer, daytime temperatures can get more than a little uncomfortable. Chuck Hazelwood said many of the local anglers bring their campers to the lake and fish early and late, using the middle of the day to rest up and take it easy until time to get back to fishing.
“Some folks prefer to come stay a few days and camp on the property,” he said. “It’s kind of like their home base. They fish early in the morning and they sleep during the day.
“In the afternoons, they go out and fish for the species of fish that they’re working for. A lot of guys come in here and they’ll fish for crappie in the morning and bass in the evening or vice versa, they’ll fish for bream in the morning, crappie during the day, and bass at night.”
Overnight at Neshoba was made a lot easier during the winter when the campground and other amenities were remodeled. Hazelwood said a lot of folks are finding out how much fun it is to come and stay a few days. He even has a primitive camping area for the more adventurous.
“We just remodeled our campground,” he said. “I have 22 pads right now with complete full hookups. All parking is on concrete pads and I have a state-of-the-art bathhouse.
“We also have primitive camping. A lot of people like to move to the island to primitive camp. It’s cool and it’s primitive. There’s no water, power, electricity, nothing out there, period, but some people prefer that.”
Location: 138-acre Neshoba County Lake is located 7 miles southeast SE of Philadelphia on Hwy 486. The street address is 10360 County Road 1711, Philadelphia, MS 39350.GPS – N32 42.625; W89 00.678
Activites: It is open year round and provides great fishing, sightseeing, winter duck hunts and camping in a well-maintained campground.
Fishing: According to Lake Manager Chuck Hazelwood, Neshoba County Lake is best known for its trophy-sized largemouth bass. The lake also has good populations of crappie, bream and channel catfish. Here are his tips for May:
Bass: During May, after the spawn, most fishermen are throwing frogs and buzzbaits. Hazelwood doesn’t recommend anything weighted because of Neshoba’s grass and shallow water. Other favorite weightless baits include swim worms, senkos, and flukes, in watermelon red, baby bass, and Colorado shad.
Crappie: The deep channels in the lake concentrate crappie, as well as the deeper water along the levee. The fish are starting to move back out to the deep water after the spawn. Try using minnows and jigs (blue & white, blue & green).
Bream: Try worms off the earthen piers or fish crickets under corks working along the spillway. They will be bedding in May, and plenty of bedding structure (pea gravel, brush) was strategically placed for bank fishing benefit.
Channel Catfish: As the water warms up, the catfish bite will get even better. Try using whole night crawlers or cut bait on the deeper flats and around points with open water. Early and late are better times to get bites. Noodle baits — stink or dip baits — work well.
Boating: An onsite boat ramp is available at Neshoba Lake with no restrictions on the size boat or motor launched on the lake. The daily ramp fee is $7 per boat.
Accommodations: Neshoba Lake offers 22 RV hookups with power, water, and sewer. Primitive camping is also available. Camping permits are $18 per day and a 30-day camping permit is $360. Many motel options are available in Philadelphia, and in nearby Choctaw, where the Choctaw Tribe operates two casinos and adjoining hotels.
Maps: Lake and Campsite Maps, online at www.mdwfp.com/fishing-boating/state-fishing-lakes/northern-region/neshoba-county-lake.aspx
More Information: Neshoba County Lake, Lake Manager Chuck Hazelwood, (601) 656-7376 or visit MDWFP.com.