May is a month of great promise.
High school seniors are about to start a great new life of learning. College graduates are embarking on careers and setting courses for their lives.
Gardens are starting to grow a new crop of delicious vegetables, and mornings on a lake are rarely more pleasant.
Then there’s this: May is a peak month of bass activity, and Mississippi has an abundance of public bass fishing waters near everybody. Be it a lake, a river or a reservoir, bass anglers should rejoice in the fact that big bass are hungry after the spawn.
Fisheries Biologist Jerry Brown, who currently has the title of State Lake Manager for the Mississippi Department of Wild, Fisheries, and Parks, points to three lakes in southwest Mississippi where bass anglers should set their sights. One is newer, the other is older and the third is very old.
“Lake Calling Panther was built as a trophy bass lake,” Brown said. “The 404-acre impoundment in Copiah County has not been a disappointment. Three bass weighing over 10 pounds have been taken there this spring and we know bigger bass live in the broken timber and flooded forest that makes up the greater part of the lake.
“Calling Panther can be challenging to fish. Since it opened in 2006, it has and should continue to produce big bass on a consistent basis. If you choose to use large live bait, remember there are some 20-pound plus catfish in there that will give you a pull on the line.”
It is common knowledge that big bass prefer a large meal. Anglers who understand this and fish for only trophy bass look to very large shiners or shad, and the necessary tackle to wrestle the brute bass from the timber. Big baits and tackle have accounted for many big fish on Calling Panther.
Likewise, for artificial lures, consider a large shad-colored bait that will mimic an injured minnow at all depths. Find some that can be reeled up quick, and then allowed to slowly fall. The slower the fall the more realistic the bait appears, thus the better the chance of a inducing a strike. Keep in mind big bass are lazy, they will put forth no more effort than needed to get that big meal.
Another south Mississippi hot spot, Jeff Davis Lake near Prentiss, was renovated in 2010 and reopened in 2013 and is already producing whoppers. According to Brown a dozen or more 10-pounders have been caught already in 2017 with many slot fish weighing up to 8 pounds. A new lake record was set this spring with an 12.6 behemoth.
To help these trophy bass lakes hot, biologists urge fishermen to take out some of the smaller bass.
“We encourage anglers to keep smaller bass and help keep the bass population healthy,” Brown said. “Too many bass will cause the bass to compete for forage fish and not grow as we’d like. The lake is only 100 acres, but it is prime condition for bass angling.”
Some structure was left in Jeff Davis Lake during renovation and those locations are clearly noted on maps of the lake found at MDWFP.com. According to Brown, an abundance of willow trees were flooded when the lake was refilled.
Another of Brown’s favorites for great action is Eagle Lake, the fishing hole north of Vicksburg that has been a popular fishery for the past 75 years. An oxbow separated from the mighty Mississippi, it has been a popular destination for crappie, bream and catfish but an aggressive Florida bass stocking program has turned it into a good bass destination.
“The 4,700 acre lake is regularly stocked with Florida strain largemouth bass,” Brown said. “We sampled the lake in the fall of 2016. The bass population looked great, very fat and healthy fish. While it is not known for trophy bass, it is a lake where good numbers of 3- to 5-pound fish can be caught.”
Inside the crescent oxbow are shallower waters and some standing timber and brush. Across the lake is a long row of boathouses and piers where bass will be feeding on bream. Learning to skip a spinnerbait under some of these structures is a talent worth learning.
Piers and docks have always been a top choice for bass fishermen, and time and nature have caused so much material to accumulate them. Many are built on top of previous structures. A word to the wise — rig weedless when possible.
Forests have bass
The U.S. Forest Service boasts of several fine bass lakes in the state — Davis Lake in Chickasaw County and Okhissa in Franklin County. Davis is said to be the possible home of the next state record, having produced a 17-3, the second largest ever recorded in Mississippi. Both lakes were engineered to be optimal for bass spawning. Ideally, bass prefer a level gravel bed for spawning. Both lakes were designed to have level ledges in the shallows to promote ideal conditions. The bass have responded by having several years of incredible hatches.
“Both lakes are maintaining a high level of fish production,” said Rick Dillard, Fisheries Biologist for the U.S. Forest Service. “Okhissa may have more slot bass than Davis, but both lakes need to have a few under-slot fish removed to avoid over- population. Davis Lake has peaked, but it is difficult to say it is in decline as a bass fishery. It is a spectacular bass lake and even past the peak it is better than any other lake I manage. Davis is still a top destination for double-digit bass.”
Dillard added Turkey Fork in the Chickasawhay National Forest in Greene County as a sleeper waiting to be discovered by the angling public. The lake has been limed and fertilized in recent years and is being highly managed. Samplings on the lake are indicating good numbers of bass in the 10- to 12-pound range.
“Chewalla Lake in the Holly Springs National Forest is a 260-acre no wake fishing lake with Florida strain bass approaching double digit weights.” Dillard said. “The lake is spring fed and can be quite cold in the upper end, where the springs fill the lake.
“In August of 2016, we measured the water temperature at 60 degrees. Toward the dam it was considerably warmer. There is a rumor we have stocked this lake with smallmouths, but that is not true. The water in part of the lake is cold enough to support smallies, but not on a large scale.”
Northeast Mississippi is full of opportunities.
Another state fishing lake gaining attention as a bass hole is 145-acre Tippah County Lake. Often overlooked as a bass destination, Tippah once held the state record for largemouth weighing 14.75 pounds.
“Tippah produces 8- to 10-pound bass every year,” said Trevor Knight, MDWFP Fisheries Biologist for the northeast region. “This lake needs to be fished, so there is a creel limit of 30 bass and no slot restriction.”
Knight said bass are routinely caught on topwater baits at night, and said the Jitterbug remains the most popular night bait on the lake. Texas and Carolina rigs are popular around points and on the creek channel, and Knight recommends shallow-diving crankbaits around riprap and wooden structure.
He also recommends fishing the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
“The Tenn-Tom lakes are hot and remain an excellent destination for bass anglers,” Knight said. “Bay Springs Lake is the northernmost impoundment and covers about 6,700 acres. This is one of those lakes where an angler could fish every day for a week and never throw in the same water twice. Plus, it is one of the few lakes in Mississippi where an angler could reel in a largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass on any cast.”
Knight said Bay Springs is one of the top spotted bass fisheries in the country due to the prevalence of the “Alabama” strain of spotted bass. Knight concedes that largemouth have become more dominate in recent years with the expansion of vegetation in the lake.
“Frogs have become popular summertime bait around the grass and weeds,” Knight said. “It used to be that Bay Springs was a deep water fishery, but now a substantial number of largemouth and spotted bass are staying shallow all year. When the fish do go deep, football jigs, Carolina rigs, drop shots and jigging spoons appear to be the go-to baits.”
Pickwick Lake remains a vibrant location for bass anglers. Knight reports that five-bass tournament limits weighing from 25 to 30 pounds are common. It is another fishery where anglers can boat a largemouth, spotted, or smallmouth bass.
“Pickwick just never stops amazing me,” said Knight. “It is such a productive lake with such a wide variety of opportunities. Many people come to J. P. Coleman State Park and spend a week fishing the 7,500 acres of Mississippi water that is just a small part of the 43,000-acre lake. In addition to bass, fishermen could encounter a walleye, sauger or yellow perch. Catfish are a big draw and crappie and bream get a good share of attention.
“Smallmouth bass are typically caught along rock bluffs and gravel bars. Largemouth can be caught all over, with some fish staying in the grass beds while other move to the ledges. Deep diving crankbaits, flutter spoons, and Texas rigged 10-inch worms are popular summertime baits on the ledges. Umbrella rigs and jerk baits are popular in the winter and spring.”
Further south on the waterway, Knight points to Columbus Lake as a popular destination and for good reason. Aliceville, Columbus and Aberdeen are three in a row and what can be said of one can be said for all.
“Our fall sampling at Columbus Lake indicated a significant improvement in bass health,” said Knight. “The old gravel pits on the lower lake and the old river runs in the mid-lake are prime areas to fish.”
Towboat traffic on Columbus Lake creates and interesting bass fishing opportunity. The big barges and boats move a lot of water very quickly. As they displace the water in the channel it flows in and out of feeder creeks and small oxbows. This moving water triggers a bass bite where those areas meet the main channel. To a lesser degree, the filling of the lock also creates a stronger current. These currents move baitfish and bass respond from ambush points.