Those of us dragging 65 or more years behind us remember when fishing at Lake Chotard meant double-checking river gages, crossing the Little Sunflower River and Steele Bayou on a barge ferry powered by a Ford Model A engine, and dodging potholes along a muddy road to reach Laney’s Fish Camp.

A dollar for the boat rental included a sculling paddle.

You had to furnish everything else. We bought bait (what we didn’t bring from home) at the “Low-Sto” near Eagle Lake, as well as ice, snacks and any tackle we didn’t bring.

We had a 5.5 horsepower Johnson outboard but rarely used it. A paddle-boy, and I say that with absolute respect for the jobs these men did, was an additional $2 or $3.

Yep, $5 and you’d leave with all the fish you cared to clean. We left home at 4 a.m. and returned home well after dark. The last ferry was at sundown.

For a boy accustomed to fishing for red-bellies and mud cats, a trip to the old Mississippi River oxbow lake was a grand excursion. The fish were big and bit readily, but just being on the lake with the men was the greatest. Not getting hung up and causing a problem was divine.

Modern trips means driving up U.S. Highway 61 north out of Vicksburg, crossing the new Yazoo River bridge at Redwood, where you turn west on Mississippi Highway 465, which takes you past Eagle Lake to the road atop the levee. Another few miles gets you first to Laney’s Landing and another will get you to Chotard Landing Resort.

The landings provide ramp access to a bream fishing heaven.

Reading the river

The Mississippi River dictates the level of Chotard, and it is not always a friendly edict. But every summer, when the river gets right, the bream will bed and can be caught in the same fashion they were 50-plus years ago. 

Bluegill will bed every month, usually on a full or new moon, as long as water levels are conducive to bedding. When the Mississippi River reaches 13-feet or less on the Vicksburg gauge, river access to the lake is closed. 

The stable level will prompt the bream to bed and the magic can begin. If the remainder of the spring of 2015 is like the first few weeks, the river may never get right. For that reason we’ll also look at Eagle Lake bream fishing, just up the road from Chotard.

Modern fishing means cane poles have been replaced by fiberglass, Styrofoam and plastic have replaced turkey quill and brown cork bobbers, and the paddle boys have been retired to fancy rigs with trolling motors. 

Yet, the heart of the excitement has not changed.

Crickets and worms are hands down the preferred bait of bream anglers at Chotard. There was a time when roaches were available to anglers, but those have gone the way of the cane pole. I have often wished I had owned a camera on a trip to the Low-Sto, to capture the hand-lettered sign: “We have roaches.” 

It was just below the other sign that hawked, “Ice, Beer, Hamburgers.”

Back to the present, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks biologist Jerry Brown points to the vulnerability of the Chotard fishery because of the flux of the Mississippi River. The river is connected to the lake by a chute at the far west end of the oxbow.

“Fishermen we have talked to look for a slow fall starting in the mid 20s on the Vicksburg gauge. The best time will come when the river reaches 15 feet,” Brown said. “That is the time to fish crickets at a depth of 2-3 feet around stumps, cypress knees and tree tops.”

“Years when the spawning opportunities have been poor will be reflected in the absence of a specific age class of fish,” said Brown. “When several years of good spawning occur the fishing is good; when several years of poor spawning occur, not so much.”

Brown said bream bed every month, typically on a full moon, as long as water conditions are favorable. This spawning behavior can extend into September or October. Bream prefer to spawn on gravel or sandy bottoms, but will have to settle for what is available when those conditions don’t exist.

“Move slowly along the shoreline, working the water from shallow to deep,” said Brown. “Where you find 2 or 3 quick bites, there is likely to be more bream bedding. Some people claim they can smell bream. I won’t dispute this, because I have noticed a fishy odor near bream beds.

“Once they have spawned, bream will seek deep, heavy cover. Don’t hesitate to fish at 10-12 feet.

Brown warns anglers to use caution on the lake. Asian carp, renowned for their aerial reactions to boats and motors can be a danger, even causing damage to people and equipment.

Chotard Landing, located on the lake, is a good place to get information on fishing conditions. It offers cabin rentals, RV hookups, bait, and food and have a modern boat ramp. Jerry Johnson, owner of the facility said he is a cricket man, and bream fishes every year as often as he can.

“Once the water gets right (the river level) the bream fishing here is as good as it has ever been,” Johnson. “Fishing around stick-ups and trees, about 2-3 feet deep, anyone should get a box full of bream.” 

Contact Chotard Landing by calling (601) 279-4282, or by visiting their website at www.chotardlandingresort.com.