After pushing their plastic boats from the tops of their vehicles and into Barnett Reservoir, Dwayne Walley and Brad Case slipped along the edges of the backwater lily pads barely, making a ripple as the day came to life around them.
Stopping to eye a stump that protruded several inches above a thick heart shaped clump of vegetation, a sure sight that clearly read “a big largemouth bass lives here,” Walley pitched a Mississippi born and made Scum Frog just past the patch and eased the bait up on top of the vegetation.
When the tiny ripples faded, the frog was perched on the edge of a pad like a kid on a diving board, garnering up the courage to jump. Walley hopped the frog into the small opening in the vegetation and ….
A big largemouth bass exploded on the frog and quickly worked right, then left, and took to the morning sky in an attempt to shake the hook. Walley worked the fish halfway to the boat, all the while while working the boat halfway to the fish.
The two met in the middle where the fish was duly measured at a ¼-inch past 20 inches, photographed and released.
Walley looked over and smiled at his partner, partially because he was the first to strike that day but mostly because the two anglers had all the water in sight to themselves.
Kayak bass fishing in Mississippi has not garnered the popularity that it has in some neighboring states and other locations across the country. Regardless of whether your quarry is largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, or even bull redfish along the coast, opportunities to catch these fish and more from a kayak are plentiful, but the news has been slow to spread.
“Years ago, I started a web site called mskayakfishing.com. It was mainly just to get a group of guys together to try and have an organized tournament series,” said Walley. “We’re still trying to do that, but it’s been 3 years in the making. One of the big issues we’re struggling with here in Mississippi is there are just not enough kayakers who want to come together.”
While Walley would prefer to have more kayak bass anglers in the state, he and those who fish from kayaks are reaping the benefits of having hard to reach areas to themselves. His two favorite kayak bass fishing venues are the aforementioned Barnett, because it is close to his Madison home, and the smaller Calling Panther Lake near Crystal Springs.
“Although the two lakes are different in size, the upper end of The Reservoir and Calling Panther fish very similarly, especially this month,” said Walley. “There is a lot of shallow water with a lot of ground cover, a lot of pads and pad stems and all that kind of cover. It’s a great place to throw top water, and I do enjoy top-water fishing.”
Walley said the top-water bite, usually something in a frog or frog pattern, will be better early and late. Once the heat gets up, he looks for bass to move back out to the closest drop to find cooler water and some deeper cover.
“Just off the edge of all the pad line, it drops off into the stumps. There are an awful lot of stumps and structure,” he said. “During the middle of the day, it’s jig-fishing heaven or worm-fishing heaven. I like to slow down sometimes and just work around all that structure.”
Another common factor that Walley has found on both Barnett and Calling Panther is ease of access to the backwaters. As a kayak angler, he has to resort to some unconventional methods for getting to the areas he wants to fish.
Like a lot of “car-toppers” or “truck-bedders,” as kayak anglers are often called, if Walley can find a road, he can usually get his boat in the water without having to make a long paddle from a public ramp.
“On Barnett, there are several roadways around the upper end and, if there’s no rain, Pipeline Road is open,” said Walley. “The Pearl River Wildlife Management Area roads are open but you have to have a permit. You have to have both a permit and license just to be on that road. Nevertheless, it’s open so it can get you back into a couple of real good areas.
“We’ve been able to go pay our entry fee to get in the park at Calling Panther and then drive back up through the park and put in at the creek where the nature trail is. If you paddle out of the creek that puts you in the top part of the lake and you don’t have to paddle all the way round. I recommend that if you’ve never kayaked it and you want to fish Calling Panther.”
Another strong patron of Mississippi’s kayak bass community is Karl Hudson of Corinth. One of the primary reasons he prefers his plastic boat to a fiberglass one is for the solitude as well as the reliability.
“I’ve always had a love for fishing out of paddle boats,” said Hudson. “I tell folks my boat starts every time I go to the lake. I don’t have to spend any money on fuel. I don’t have to worry about my motor or other mechanical things breaking down, so on and so forth. The main thing I like is I can get into places that other people just don’t fish.”
Even when fishing big public waters like Barnett, Hudson feels like he still has a sizeable advantage over other anglers fishing from larger powerboats. He passes on the need for speed and the desire to run all over the lake, looking for one bite here and one bite there. Paddling allows him to concentrate on one home area and target every big fish in it.
“Kayak anglers have an advantage when it comes to catching big bass,” Hudson said. “The bigger boats tend to fish out on the main lake areas. They tend to fish just the open water places that get picked over several times a week, maybe even every day.
“I like to fish in places where I can get in close around boat docks, marinas, and grass beds, back in behind places that people usually don’t think to fish — the overlooked spots. I’ve always enjoyed fishing places that other anglers overlook.”
Skeptics who doubt the kayak angler’s ability to target trophy largemouth bass need to surf over to an online kayak bass fishing tournament website and take a look at some of the entries. Kayak anglers frequently target trophy bass because they can get to them easier than a power boating angler.
“A trophy bass is a home body. He’s not roving all over the lake,” said Hudson. “So, the way I fish, from a kayak, I can get right in there with the solitary fish, especially around boat docks, humps, back ends of covers, places where the bigger fish are going to be.
“I may only catch one or two in a day but they’re going to be better-than-average fish.”