To the Chickasaw Indians, “Tippah” was a word meaning “cut off,” and was a fitting name for a creek between ridges in extreme North Mississippi because it “cut off” the east and west sides of the region before emptying into the Tallahatchie River.
It was the name given to the county, and eventually to the 145-acre Tippah County Lake, which seems most fitting since its fish-filled waters give local anglers the chance to “cut off” several hours worth of drive time to get to a major fishing reservoir.
For fishermen further south, it is worth the drive to the scenic lake because it has something for every angler and has it in abundance.
Built as a soil conservation project in 1972, Tippah County Lake opened in 1974 and soon became part of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ State Lakes system. Current lake manager Jim Cutberth helped build the lake.
Like all MDWFP lakes, Tippah County Lake is well stocked and intensively managed to produce good fishing. Tippah has bass, crappie, bream and catfish, and in June, the No. 1 fish targeted by fishermen are its big bream, particularly redear (a.k.a. chinquapin or shellcracker). Crappie comes in second with bass coming in third.
“Fish-wise, we stock bass, crappie, bream, and (channel) catfish,” said Cutberth. “We do have a few flatheads. They weren’t stocked in the lake but somehow they wound up in here. We do creel surveys throughout the year and we shock the lake every year in the fall and our biologists use that information to see what the lake needs.
“If it needs fish, we put them in. We fertilize the lake throughout the summer. In fact, this lake is better balanced to provide more fish caught per hour fishing than many of the state’s big reservoirs.”
MDWFP State Lake Program manager David Berry suggests that Tippah County anglers focus their efforts on bream this month. Tippah County Lake holds the distinction of producing the state record for redear, caught in November of 1991.
“The current state record redear sunfish was caught here at Tippah County Lake,” said Berry. “It’s something we are very pround of, to have a state record come from one of our lakes.
“Our biologists have stocked both bluegill and redear in the lake and both species seem to thrive there. Tippah has got a gravelly, sandy soil bottom so that’s an advantage there for both the bluegill and redear.”
Though it once held the state record for largemouth — Perry Reed’s 14-pound, 12-ounce fatty in 1986 — Berry does not rate the lake high as a trophy bass lake, but said the numbers of bass here are better than average.
“Tippah produces some good bass numbers but if you want to catch a trophy, you’re not going to come here and have a lot of success,” he said. “If you want to catch redear, this is the place to go.”
From April forward till the end of summer, much of the fishing effort focused on Tippah is by crappie anglers. Some fishermen will even split time, trying for crappie early and then fishing for bream during the middle of the day.
Cutberth said most of the crappie caught during the summer are taken around the lake’s fish attractor sites.
“We have a lot of local folks and some others who drive down here from out of state every year just to crappie fish,” he said. “It’s a good lake for crappie. In early May, anglers will troll deep, just slow troll with minnows. Other anglers prefer to use jigs and they do real well also.
“Fish are shallower then, but a little later on into the summer the fish will move out to deeper water and the anglers will go to fishing those brush tops, 10 to 12 feet deep and do pretty good on the brush.”
One piece of equipment that Cutberth said is almost mandatory to catching any species of fish is a good depth finder, preferably one with GPS capability. He said it’s not hard to find structure in the lake because it is so plentiful, but some areas will hold more fish than others and that’s easy enough to check with a good depth finder.
“It would really look like a junk yard if we drained the lake; There’s that much cover,” Cutberth said. “We try to add stuff every year. We’ve found when we put cedar tops and other woody cover out, we’re only going to get so much time out of stuff like that. So, we’ve come up with some different type plastic fish attractors and things that don’t require us to go back and replace nearly as often.
“You combine that with all the wood we’ve put in here and it’s unreal how much stuff we have in this lake.”
Cutberth can also help out fishermen with GPS-enabled electronics better by giving them a map with GPS coordinates listed for most of the major fish attractor sites. He said few if any of the locations are marked with surface buoys.
“We do mark our fish attractor sites with GPS coordinates but, of course, there is some older stuff in there that we don’t have the coordinates on but we have a lot of coordinates here, more than one person could fish in a week’s time,” he said.
“If somebody comes to this lake and wants to stop in the office, I’ve got a little map I can give them of the lake and we’ve also got a list of coordinates they can write down and enter into their depth recorders. The Department also has a really good depth contour map online that anglers can find and print off.”
With two boat ramps and a host of offshore structure, boating anglers have plenty of spots to fish, but Cutberth said shore anglers have not been forgotten. The road that loops around the lake has well-groomed areas where anglers wishing to fish from the bank have easy access to the water.
“We have ample opportunities for people to fish off the bank all around the lake,” he said “We also have several piers they can fish off of and the big pier is within casting distance of some good structure.
“We’ve also built some earthen piers in several places. Those are great places to fish too. We try to make it easily accessible to people to have a number of spots to get on the bank and fish.”