Editor’s Note: Stop No. 8 on writer Phillip Gentry’s year-long, statewide tour of Mississippi’s top public lakes takes us near Crystal Springs, where there’s 500 acres of Florida largemouths, plus crappie, bream and catfish.
Most anglers have hung it up by the time August rolls into Mississippi. Water and air temperatures are at their highest of the year and on days with no breeze, even sitting on the water can feel like sitting in an oven.
Fortunately, for state lake anglers, these conditions are the ideal time to head toward Crystal Springs in Copiah County with some big plastic lures and a few crankbaits already tied on your rods.
Like most of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Park’s State Lakes, Calling Panther is stocked with bass, crappie, bream, and catfish, but through the years, it is the largemouth bass, particularly trophy-sized largemouth bass that draws anglers to Copiah County.
According to former lake manager Jake Guess, who graduated from the Law Enforcement Academy in March earlier this year to become a game warden in Simpson County, Calling Panther is a relatively new state lake when given that most of the others that have been around for 50 years or more.
“The lake began construction in 2000 and was finished construction in 2003. It was then filled and stocked with fish and was opened to the public in 2006,” he said. “The lake is stocked with Florida bass, white perch (crappie), redear bream, bluegill bream and channel catfish.
“Compared to most, this is a deep lake. We have water that will go 45 feet out in front of the dam,” said Guess. “Most of your summer fishing is done off the creek channels where the fish like to stack up in the deeper water along structure.”
Calling Panther impounds two creeks that connect at the headwaters of the lake, Finley Branch and Hurricane Creek. The two creeks form one channel that winds through the length of the lake. The bottom is littered with stumps, timber and lay down trees.
“The lake has a ton of structure,” Guess said. “Before it was flooded, the timber was select cut, but a lot of standing trees were left in it so there’s an abundance of structure. There are some shallow spots in the back that stay around 1½ to 2 feet, but then fall off into the creek channel, where it can be anywhere from 15 to 20 feet deep. Then, along the dam, the channel drops into spots that are 30 to 40 feet deep.”
Angling effort on Calling Panther varies by season and catfish, bream, and crappie lure fishermen to the lake. However, the Florida strain bass in the lake take precedence most of the time and especially when the weather gets hot.
“A lot of your bigger bass are caught here in the summertime,” said Guess. “A lot of people tell me they don’t even fish this lake until the water temperature gets to 92 degrees because they can target the fish when they stack in deeper water together.”
Guess said the best two summer bass patterns on Calling Panther are finesse fishing with big soft plastic baits and cranking in the timber with shallow to medium diving crankbaits.
Largemouth bass will hold in the tree tops and these two patterns represent the best methods for getting them out. He said the lake also sees its share of live baiters, mostly in the late winter and early spring, but the bigger fish fall to artificials.
“Our anglers do best by finesse fishing using big worms and big lizards on a slow fall. Fish tend to hit it on the fall. They are targeting fish in 20 to 25 feet of water and you need to have patience to allow the bait to get down there to them.”
Natural food is abundant, opening another opportunity after sunrise and at sunset.
“We have a good base of threadfin shad in the lake,” he said. “We get bass schooling early and late in the day during the summertime, but almost anytime you can be fishing in the deep water and shad will roll up to the top. You can take a crankbait and throw in amongst them and pull some nice fish out of there when they pull up on the shad.”
The down side to the timber, if you can call it that, is that there is so much of it, it can make boating difficult. MDWFP State Lakes Manager David Berry said the agency is taking measures to correct that problem.
“We are drawing the lake down at Calling Panther,” said Berry. “We’re going to drop it 3 to 4 feet and try to clear some boat lanes and channels. It’s very difficult to navigate once you get past the main lake going upstream to get back in the parts of the back of the lake because of all the timber.”
Berry also reiterated what Guess said about the forage base at Calling Panther. The scores of shad in the lake did not occur by chance either. MDFWP put much effort into establishing a grocery store in order to feed all the lake’s big, hungry Florida largemouths.
“We stocked different species of food fish at Calling Panther,” said Berry. “We stocked it with both gizzard shad and threadfin shad and that has really worked well there.”
Not only do the lake’s largemouth have shad to eat, but as the fish get bigger they start relating more to the lake’s bream species that are so prolific in the 500-acre pond.
“Calling Panther has got a lot of bluegill in it,” said Berry, who added that the lake attracts a lot of bream fishermen. “There’s so many of them, and the bass also take advantage of that.”
Calling Panther also has a good population of crappie, both white and black, as well as the crossbred Magnolia Crappie. Guess said the white crappie seem to get bigger, but there’s a good mix of all.
“This time of year, crappie also stack along the creek channel. It seems like the crappie are best caught while sitting still,” Guess said. “The anglers have a pattern. If you sit still on one spot, you can pick up three or four in a 10-minute span and then it’ll shut down for another 20 minutes and start again.”
Guess said live bait is the ticket this time of year and most anglers are only using single pole tactics because timber makes trolling difficult.
“Fishermen use small minnows, the smallest minnows you can buy and they fish about 12 feet deep along the main creek channel,” he said. “Because spider-rigging is tough here because of the timber. Most of the anglers use single poles.”