Few lakes in the state stir the hearts of crappie fishermen like Eagle. An old oxbow, now locked out from the constant fluctuations of Muddy Bayou and the Yazoo River beyond, Eagle Lake is co-managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and the Eagle Lake Management Board.
The lake has seen its fair share of changes over time. While always popular for hunting and fishing, the small community surrounding the 4,700-acre lake located only 20 miles north of Vicksburg now draws water enthusiasts of all walks.
Years ago, Eagle was well known for its established population of white crappie that still can be found in the oxbow. Over time, however, components of the lake have changed, and with greater water clarity and stability rose a dominant population of specks.
Today, crappie anglers are more likely to go home with a cooler full of black crappie, and though requiring a bit of adjustment, most don’t seem to mind. The lake has always been a popular destination for fishing tournaments, and is a favorite stop every year for anglers from the Magnolia Crappie Club.
With the pages of the calendar flipping over to November, Eagle Lake becomes a go-to destination for many members of the popular panfish organization. To find out where to find specks on Eagle and how to catch them, Mississippi Sportsman caught up with Magnolia Crappie Club Vice President Shelton Culpepper and Tournament Director Hugh Krutz for some advice.
Piers and boat docks
One of the beautiful things about early winter fishing on Eagle Lake is that it’s relatively simple. There are no complicated multiple rod setups to use, no establishing trolling runs, no complicated sonar signals to sort. It’s fishing docks — with one pole.
“Crappie spawn very early after the first of the year on Eagle Lake,” said Culpepper, who hails from Bay Springs and owns a camp at Eagle. “Because of that, these crappie will actually start gathering up as early as November. They’ll overwinter under and around piers in water that ranges from 10 to 16 feet, and you can catch them there all through the winter.”
Culpepper said it’s not unusual to catch crappie that may weigh as much as 2½ pounds from under Eagle Lake piers, but you’re more likely to find fish in the 1½- to 1¾-pound range. The good thing is that often where you catch one, you’re likely to find a bunch of them.
“There’s a lot of baitfish in this oxbow,” he said. “The forage is made up of gizzard shad and threadfin shad, and they’ll wander all over the lake. When they move through the boat docks where crappie are hiding, the fish don’t have to move much to feed.”
Looking at a map of Eagle, the lake is a typical oxbow in a thick horseshoe or boomerang shape. The outside bend of the lake holds the deepest water on the perimeter, and this is where the bulk of the piers and boat docks are found. These old wooden and metal structures are the private property of the adjacent landowners, so consideration should be given when fishing the waters around them not to disturb or damage private property.
Finding the right dock
There are several boating access areas, both public and private, on Eagle Lake. One of Culpepper’s favorites is the Eagle Lake Landing public ramp located mid-lake off of Highway 465. He prefers this spot because it’s a marker of sorts to divide the boat docks and piers that line the lake.
“Most people put in and head south,” he said. “There are a lot more piers going south than there are going north. You’ll find docks for about the next 2 miles going north before the water gets too shallow to hold fish, while there are docks for 5 miles or more going south, all the way down to Brown’s Landing.”
Culpepper prefers to fish the northern docks in an attempt to hit the less-pressured areas. He also said there seems to be more old docks that way.
“Some of them are even falling down, and an old wooden dock that’s falling into the water is a magnet for crappie,” he said.
Because of the water stability at Eagle, the vast majority of structures are on permanent pilings. Cross braces were installed along these pilings during dock construction, and that’s one of the key structures Culpepper looks for. He offers that most often he’ll find crappie suspending right along these cross braces in deeper water.
“You’re looking for the sweet spot,” he said. “That’s a little 3- or 4-foot-diameter area that will hold a bunch of fish right in that same spot. You can put your jig all over that dock and not get a bite, then stick it down in that sweet spot and catch a mess of fish without having to move the boat.”
He offers that crappie may be drawn to these sweet spots due to the location of some sunken brush that was planted by the property owner, or it might just be a natural corner with a broken cross brace or something sticking out that fish will get around. One quick way to locate such areas is to look at the dock itself. If there are rod holders and spotlights mounted all over the dock, it’s apparent the homeowners like to fish and very likely have sunken fish-attracting structure under and around the pier.
“Time of day can also be important,” said Culpepper. “Early in the morning and later in the evening, crappie may just be holding around the dock and mostly on the outside edges. Once the sun gets up, they’ll back up under the dock, and will really congregate under the boat houses people have built on the ends of their docks. Those provide a lot of shade and cover. That’s when you have to get under there and jig them out.”
Krutz is another MCC member who looks forward to working Eagle Lake’s boat docks once the weather cools off. A newly appointed member of the BnM Poles pro staff, Krutz, who lives in Brandon and fishes all over the country, enjoys the challenge of single-pole jig fishing, and submits that Eagle is a great place to do it.
“The fish won’t be real aggressive, so a subtle approach is needed,” he said. “I like a smaller jig, something in the 1/32- to 1/16-ounce range. I’ll combine the small head with a plastic tube jig, and put it right in their faces.”
Krutz offers that the best presentation is either a straight-down approach targeting fish holding tight to sunken structure or if there is enough clearance between the bottom of the pier and the water, he’ll swing the jig back under the dock and let the jig pendulum as it sinks deeper and deeper in an arc back to the boat.
Another presentation that works well when crappie won’t chase a bait is to use a slip cork and adjust the depth to where the angler thinks the fish are holding, and pitch the jig and cork up under the pier along the interior pilings.
Both Krutz and Culpepper employ a 10-foot vertical jigging pole made by BnM for their pier fishing. Bites are often extremely light as crappie typically get their fill of baitfish just by waiting for them, so they may not be actively feeding. Line watching is a critical skill to have as the line may simply stall or go slack when a big speck inhales the small jig. Line size and jig choices are the final pieces to the puzzle.
“Because line watching can mean more bites, I use 8-pound Vicious line on my reels,” said Culpepper. “Crappie tend to just suck the jig in, and all you’ll see is a little tap or the line go limp. That’s when it pays to have a sensitive rod tip.”
Krutz balances Eagle Lake’s aqua-tinted water with combination colored jigs. He favors bright colors, and matches the size of the skirt to the size of the jighead.
“I like a Southern Pro tube in 1½-inch length when I’m fishing real slow with the 1/32-ounce head,” he said. “If I’m going a little deeper, I’ll use a 2-inch tube on a 1/16-ounce head. My best colors are black/chartreuse and orange/chartreuse.”
If the bite gets tough, both pros have a trick that they use to put crappie in the livewell.
“Take a No. 6 bream hook with a tiny split shot crimped up above it,” said Culpepper. “Then go to the baitshop and get the smallest minnows you can find, and drop them on that splitshot rig straight down to the fish.
“Hugh and I both did that during a tournament a couple of years ago when things got tough. We went to the small minnows, and we caught some pretty good fish. Neither of us were in the running at first until we switched over, and I think Hugh came in second and I took fourth.
“There’s just something about those small minnows they can’t resist.”