The state of Mississippi owns three of the best bream lakes in the country — Tippah County Lake, Lake Claude Bennett and Lake Ross Barnett.
Tippah County Lake has produced the state-record redear sunfish (shellcracker), and all three lakes regularly yield bream that average 1 pound or more.
“We have three lakes owned and operated by the state that historically have been the best bream-fishing lakes,” said Larry Pugh, assistant director of fisheries for the state.
Designed and managed to produce trophy bluegills and shellcrackers, each lake is equally productive.
“These lakes are fertilized to increase the plankton bloom, so they can produce more fish per acre than they will if they aren’t fertilized,” Pugh said.
Besides nice boat ramps and piers at all three lakes for boaters, the state has created gravel beds where the bream can spawn. Officials have placed them throughout the lakes in areas where bank fishermen can cast to them.
In addition to gravel beds, the state has sunk an abundance of brush in the lake to serve as fish attractors, which have been marked in the water, as well as on maps. The designs of all three lakes enables bank fishermen and boat fishermen to have equal opportunities to locate and catch bream when they go to their beds. Bluegills generally spawn three to four times throughout the summer on or near the full moon each month. But the spawning process and the rising water temperature cause a decline in the condition of the bluegills and the shellcrackers. You won’t find fish as large in July and August as in April, May and June.
Tippah County Lake
Home of Mississippi’s state lake-record redear sunfish (shellcracker), which weighed 3.33 pounds, Tippah County Lake covers 165 acres. It is located near Ripley, about 50 miles north/northwest of Tupelo off of Highway 15.
“The shellcrackers usually spawn about the first or second week of April on the same gravel beds where the bluegills spawn,” Pugh said. “The bigger redears tend to spawn on the deeper gravel beds in the lake.”
Tippah County Lake also has an abundant bass population, which helps produce bigger bluegills.
“The bass control bluegill reproduction, which reduces the competition for food among the bluegills and produces an accelerated growth rate for the bream,” Pugh said.
To catch the larger bluegills and redears, fish during the pre-spawn before the fish actually go to the beds, usually during the month of April. During the pre-spawn, the fish will hold in deeper water, and often will weigh more than they do during the spawn. The first full moon in May seems the peak time for the bluegills to spawn. Some of the shellcrackers also will spawn on the gravel beds at this time.
“Once the bluegills and the shellcrackers go to their beds during May, start looking for those saucer-shaped depressions on the gravel beds and in bedding areas close to the shore,” Pugh recommended. “Your best-quality bluegills will be caught from April through June, and you can expect the shellcrackers to be bigger than the bluegills. Catching a 2-pound shellcracker isn’t uncommon at this time of year. The bluegill will average 1 pound each, which is a really nice-sized bluegill.”
Lake Claude Bennett
Seventy-one-acre Lake Claude Bennett, located in Central Mississippi, is fertilized in the same way as Tippah Lake, and also has gravel beds and fish attractors.
To reach Lake Claude Bennett, travel 20 miles east of Bay Springs off Highway 18. Because of its location, the lake’s water temperatures average 5- to 7-degrees warmer than Tippah Lake, which means the spawn will begin earlier at Claude Bennett. However, the bluegills follow the same spawning cycle as the bluegills in Tippah. The first full moon in May signals to the bluegills that the time has come to lay their eggs. The bluegills spawn throughout the summer on every full moon.
The state manages Lake Claude Bennett, like Tippah, for bass and bluegills.
“Generally our smaller lakes, like Tippah, Lake Claude Bennett and Lake Ross Barnett, quickly become overpopulated with small bass,” Pugh said. “In many lakes, the catch-and-release philosophy of bass fishing is very effective. However, on our small lakes that we manage intensively, the catch-and-release concept of bass fishing isn’t a good thing. I encourage all people who catch bass when they’re bream fishing or bass fishing to keep their legal limit of 10 bass, especially the smaller bass.
Pugh explained that because these lakes hold numbers of 8- to 13-inch bass, the bass eat the 3- to 5-inch-long bluegills, which means the bluegill that survive past the 5-inch size have more food available to them and less competition for that food. Then those 6-inch bluegills can grow to the 1-pound size quickly.
“Lake Claude Bennett has a nice creek channel that runs through it, and the bluegills will concentrate on the underwater points of that old creek channel before they spawn or hold right off the flats before they pull up to the shallow water to spawn on the gravel beds,” Pugh said.
Lake Ross Barnett
Don’t confuse Lake Ross Barnett with Ross Barnett Reservoir, located on the Pearl River. Lake Ross Barnett, about 4 miles southwest of Mize in South Mississippi, off Highway 35, is only 81 acres in size.
But like Tippah and Lake Claude Bennett, this bass-crowded lake produces 1-pound bluegill and 2-pound or bigger redears.
Lake Ross Barnett has two creek channels that run through it — a main creek channel and a feeder creek — where you’ll find the bluegills and the shellcrackers prior to the spawn.
“Lake Ross Barnett is one of the best bream lakes in Mississippi for all the same reasons that Tippah and Claude Bennett are productive bream lakes,” Pugh said.