As summer peaks and outdoor enthusiasts look for locations to get away from the crowds and enjoy great fishing and camping opportunities, it would be hard to pick a better destination to celebrate the Fourth of July than Lake Mary Crawford.

Operated by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Mary Crawford is a 128-acre lake located in Lawrence County, about five miles west of Monticello on U.S. Highway 84.

Whether your holiday plans include camping, fishing, or just getting out in the great outdoors, Mary Crawford is an ideal getaway.

Though small in size, the lake has the feel of a big impoundment. 

Opened in 1957 when J.P. Coleman was governor, the lake has developed a reputation for excellent bluegill fishing and has a good population of largemouth bass, redear sunfish (shellcrackers), crappie and catfish. 

Two fishing piers that meet the American Disabilities Act standards, make fishing from the bank an easy and popular experience. 

Its two boat ramps will accommodate boats of all sizes with no motor restrictions; however, the lake is restricted to trolling speed only, except on Sunday from noon to sunset.

For those wanting to spend a long weekend or maybe even several days, Mary Crawford offers 20 camping pads with water and electrical hookups, a full facility bathhouse, and a pavilion for larger day-use get-togethers. 

Camp sites and the pavilion can be reserved ahead of time by contacting Lake Manager John Stamps at (601) 587-7853 or by calling the MDWFP at (601) 432-2400.

Summer fishing usually means concentrating on bream and crappie during the heat of the day, but Stamps said the lake’s high population of bass provides a lot of action early and late. 

Stamps also said the lake gets plenty of attention from catfish anglers who have found plenty of decent-sized channel catfish over the past several summers.

“During the summer months, we get quite a few anglers on the lake catching catfish,” said Stamps. “Two summers ago, just before I came on as lake manager, there was a 29 pounder caught. A few weeks ago, I had man weigh a 35-pound channel cat out of here.”

Night fishing on the lake is a favorite past time during the summer, both as a way to escape the heat as well as catch a mess of catfish. Night fishing is allowed but only with hook and line — no yo-yo’s, trotlines, jugs or nets are allowed. The limit on catfish is 10 per day per person.

“I have a bunch of my anglers that come out here just before dark and they’ll fish until around midnight or so and catch plenty of catfish,” he said. “Last summer our average was between 4 and 10 pounds, but like I said, we’ve got bigger ones in here, too.” 

Like most of the MDWFP’s state lakes, Mary Crawford has a huge lake record largemouth bass to her credit — 13 pounds, 4 ounces, caught in 2000. 

Keeping with that profile, the lake has a handful of really big fish and scores of smaller fish in its waters. The population of largemouth bass is so abundant that the MDWFP raised the creel limit to help manage the population.

“We’re overpopulated with bass,” Stamps said. “That’s why we have raised our creel limit to 30 per person, with no slot on them,” said Stamps. “The bass anglers who fish here this time of year have been catching them on (plastic) worms. 

“Worms work during the day. In the morning and in the evening, you can go with a crankbait, buzzbait or spinnerbait. But most time, in the heat of the day, they just go with the worms in the deeper water.”

The MDWFP’s state lake coordinator David Berry confirmed the assessment, even comparing the number of bass in the lake to panfishing.

“It’s almost like you’re panfishing, you can catch so many small bass that quick,” said Berry. “You go along the bank and catch a bunch of pound, two-pound largemouth. There’s numbers but no size. 

“Every now and then we’ll see somebody come in with a 4-pounder pound or bigger. The lake is very bass crowded.”

Like many of the state lakes, Mary Crawford has a reputation for producing good numbers of good, eating-sized bream. Stamps said during the heat of summer, the bream catch tends to lean more toward bluegill than shellcrackers. He said that bluegills become the top targeted fish after the crappie fishing slows down.

“The bluegill, when they get started, are the most popular fish in the lake,” Stamps said. “I have (creel-checked) anglers in the summer that regularly come off the lake with 40 to 80 bream a day. I’m talking bigger than hand-sized bluegill. The limit on your bream, you can have 100 per person.”

Deepwater brush piles on the lower end of the lake will congregate the majority of the crappie in Mary Crawford. The lake has a stump field in the water ski area, where water depths can go as deep as 22 feet. There are two creek channels that converge and all of that area in the lower lake will hold crappie during the summer.

“During the summer, we have had good numbers of crappie caught on this lake,” said Stamps. “Most of them average over a pound apiece. Most of our crappie anglers are just single pole jigging with jigs or minnows, out there in the main lake area.” 

Stamps said that he is familiar with the lake’s history despite his short tenure. Much of the timber was cut, leaving stumps on a deep water flat. Most of the rest of the lake’s structure was installed later. A list of the man-made brush piles and other structure is available at the warden’s office or online at MDWFP.com. 

“Some of our old timers have marked our brush piles with something like a water bottle and tied ropes to them to refresh their memory, but to find most of the brush tops and other structure you have to go by GPS,” said Stamps. “It’s very easy to find the stump area. When the water level is down a little bit, there are stumps galore.”

Reserving one of the lake’s 20 campsites is recommended on weekends, especially around July 4. Primitive tent camping is also available on the grounds.

“On our camping pads, I have 19 cemented pads with water, electricity and I have one that don’t have the cement pad but you can pull a trailer or camper up to it,” said Stamps. “We also have plenty of room for primitive camping.” 

Warm weather and South Mississippi go hand-in-hand. Naturally, where you have a decent sized body of water in this region, you’re also likely to encounter alligators. Lake Mary Crawford is no exception.

Stamps said he does have a few alligators on the property, but mostly they keep to themselves. He encourages his anglers and campers to use common sense when confronted with an alligator, advising them to enjoy the big animals while keeping a safe distance.

“They’re fun to look at but just do not feed them,” Stamps said. “A gator is more scared of you than you are of him but, if you go to feeding him, he’s going to come around because he’s going to be looking for an easy meal.”