Behind the pontoon boat, three lines were pulling Bandit 200 and 300 crankbaits in assorted colors through the waters of Barnett Reservoir on a cool October afternoon.
It was peaceful and the radio was blaring tunes from the local 70’s station.
Then, suddenly, things were quite chaotic.
Fishing rods weren’t bent, including the one the driver held out the center of the boat. Lines were crossing, creating a mess.
And the sound of rock and roll was lost to the cacophony of excited screams and hollers, as three fishermen had their hands full of dealing with big striped bass on the line.
That’s how exciting striped bass fishing can be on Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, when the big fish start forming schools on the humps near the river and off the edge of flats on the east side (Fannin flats).
“That we landed one of those was luck,” I told my fishing partners. “That we caught two was unbelievable. That we caught all three was a miracle.”
And, it was one that was repeated two more times that day after we found a school of stripes between 7 and 11 pounds stacked on top of a 9-foot hump rising out of 20 to 30 feet of water. The last two times we caught them casting while sitting still. We’d pinpointed them with trolling and them sat on the school casting.
We were at the limit of six each when the water suddenly began boiling with fish about 50 yards from our spot. The surface activity had started and the fun really began. We switched to long-throwing spinning rods with shallow-running spinnerbaits designed for redfish. Hookups were immediate with every throw, but the fish had dropped to 4 and 5 pounds.
“Doesn’t matter, I’ll take this kind of action all day long,” said partner Ron Garavelli of Madison, the former chief of fisheries for the state wildlife agency. “I’ve had good days, but nothing like this before with stripers.”
The weather will most assuredly cool down in October, but improved fishing is just as much a certainty. From the Tennessee line south to the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Sound, seasonal movements will create some of the best action of the year.
The striper action on the lower main lake, usually a case of trolling until the fish are located and then wearing them out, is just one of the trips fishermen should try this fall. Here are five more trips worth taking in the 10th month.
1. Bull reds, Mississippi Sound: The near-shore fishing for big redfish hits a peak in October, as the bulls move up to feed on the edge of the outer marsh and the barrier islands. Huge schools of reds can change the color of the water when they are moving in search of food. It’s a blast, whether you use big gear and go for numbers or go light and enjoy the line-stretching battles.
2. Black drum, sheepshead, Gulf Coast: Later in the month, after a couple of cool fronts, look for loads of black drum, a first cousin of redfish, and sheepshead to start stacking on shallow reefs and structure. Two key areas to target are the pilings of the U.S. Highway 90 bridges that span the openings of two big bays, Biloxi and Bay St. Louis. Pitching pieces of shrimp to the bases of those pilings can fill an ice chest of good eating “puppy drum” and sheepshead, along with a few slot redfish.
3. Crappie, Grenada, Sardis and Enid Lakes: The trolling action heats up in the fall on these three North Mississippi Corps of Engineer Flood Control impoundments. Trolling crankbaits — usually a Bandit 300 series — over the edges of the creek channels near their intersections with the riverbeds is the preferred fall method on all three lakes in October.
4. Bass, Barnett Reservoir: Once the shad start migrating into the shallows, the bass will follow. Usually that movement takes both into the pads, where the shad seek cover and the bass seek shad. There may be a hundred different ways to catch these bass in the pads, but none are more fun, or as productive, as running a plastic frog across the vegetation. Don’t forget to check the piers. It was in October three years ago that the winning weight in a Bassmaster Central Open was caught flipping boat docks and piers on the lower main lake at Pelahatchie Bay.
5. Catfish, Tenn-Tom Waterway: October is a prime catfish month on most Mississippi waters, but few can match the production of the Tenn-Tom. All of the pools offer excellent fishing, but this is a prime time to hit the upper end between the headwaters at Pickwick Lake and Bay Springs Lake. Mississippi Sportsman once provided an October look at this fishing action in a yearlong series of Catfish Hotspots. Read it here.