Editor’s Note: Stop No. 11 on Phillip Gentry’s year-long look at the state’s best public fishing holes is a perfect November destination. Simpson County Lake, just off U.S.Highway 49 between Magee and Mendenall, becomes a crappie fishing destination as the weather cools. The rest of the year, it’s famous for big bream and fat bass.
Simpson County Lake Manager John Lee wasn’t being flippant when he answered the question of the best place to catch fish this month.
Though it looked like he was pointing “In the water,”,the warden was simply doing what he always does by going the extra mile, walking down to the deep end of the lake, and pointing to the exact locations where his “guests” will be most likely to be successful.
“This time of year, the fall fishing, it’ll be about center ways on the dam,” said Lee. “We put a lot of structure out about 30 yards out from the levee and there’s another spot over by the pier that you can access where we put out some Christmas trees.”
For a small 76-acre state fishing lake, located just of U.S. Highway 49 between Mendenhall and Magee, Simpson County Lake is a stand out at a time when many sportsmen are in the woods deer hunting or in the stands cheering on their favorite college football teams.
Like all of Mississippi’ Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ state lake system, Simpson is stocked with largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie, and while its reputation is built on bass and bream, it’s the crappie that are the big attraction on the lake this time of year.
“We have three types of crappie, the black crappie and the white crappie, and we also have the Magnolia crappie, which is a cross between both the white and the black,” Lee said. “They all bite pretty good on shiners, medium size to small shiners.”
Unlike some other lakes, where crappie struggle for lack of food and tend to over crowd and then develop stunted growth patterns, Lee said Simpson County lake has a huge population of golden shiners.
He’s not exactly sure if the forage base is naturally occurring in the lake or if the population became established from anglers discarding old bait supplies. In either event, the common golden shiner found Simpson County Lake to its liking.
“We did some electro-fishing around that structure we put out,” he said. “We had some 2 ½ to 3 pound crappie come up. They’ve been eating all those little shiners, that’s the reason they were there, feeding off the bait fish.”
Although the bass fishing is predictably slower at Simpson County through the fall, Lee said the lake produces some trophy-sized largemouth bass in the spring, when the big females are feeding up during the pre-spawn. He also said the lake’s golden shiner population, the bigger specimens, were also good for catching those fish as well.
“Come spring, I have some guys who come down and catch the larger golden shiners from about 6 to 8 inches with a hook and turn around and go out in the boat and fish with them,” Lee said. “Some use a balloon as a bobber or use a big cork and troll around with the shiner drifting behind the boat.
“I had a guy catch a 12 pounder two years ago in October. The biologist said if that fish was caught in February or March, when she’s got some eggs in her, she could have been a 14 pounder.”
While crappie anglers typically favor live bait to match the hatch at Simpson County Lake, Lee said that some anglers trolling crankbaits for crappie last fall brought in some of the best catches of slab crappie he’s seen in a while.
Motor restrictions are enforced on Simpson County Lake, but Lee said it’s not the size but the speed that is restricted. In any event, his guys do better trolling crankbaits using an electric trolling motor and weaving in, out and around the fish attractor areas.
“I’ve got 2 guys that come out in the fall and winter and troll crank baits. They’ll troll all day and catch some nice ones – 2- to 2½-pound crappie,” said Lee. “One of the guys told me they vary different sizes and depths, using mid-range, deep divers, and shallows. The colder it is, the better it is for them.”
Like other state lakes, biologists have put a lot of time and effort into balancing the bream population in Simpson County Lake. Lee said that like the lake’s population of largemouth bass, it doesn’t see a lot of bream fishing in the fall. Most Simpson County anglers are too busy with the crappie. Lee said that the size of bream caught in the late spring and early summer were also impressive.
“In the spring, we’ve got some shellcrackers, chinquapin, redear, whatever term you want to use, that will go 2 pounds,” he said. “Our anglers catch them all the time 2 pounds, or a pound and a half. But we have seen some that would go 3 pounds.”
The lake is not only a good venue for redear, it’s got a decent population of bluegill in it and a variety of different bluegill sub-species. The tactics for catching bream species are pretty similar and the ample bank access fishing afforded at Simpson County means that even anglers without a boat have a better than average shot a catching some quality fish.
“We’ve got the coppernose bluegill, regular bluegill, and the chinquapin. Those are the main three bream species we have,” Lee said. “Anglers usually catch the bluegill with crickets from April all the way to August, I mean some real good fishing. The chinquapin, they bed before the bluegill. You can catch them by fishing with red worms on the bottom and you can find them on shallow points sticking out into deeper water all over the lake. You can be on the bank tight-lining or you can get in the boat and fish around the stumps. They’re going to bite.”