Crappie fishermen on Barnett Reservoir enjoyed an early Christmas present in December, with one of the best late-season runs on the fish in anyone’s memory.

And, it could be the gift that keeps on giving, as long as the drought conditions continue to plague Central Mississippi.

“Best cold-weather run I’ve seen on The Rez in my life,” was how James Thomas of Jackson put it. “I’m for real now, and not kidding. I’ve fished this lake for nearly 40 years and I’ve caught my share of fish, but I have never seen so many 1½- to 2½-pound fish hitting so often. 

“There was a run of five days when my buddy and I limited (30 each) in less than two hours. We didn’t have time to get cold. Been like that since before Thanksgiving, too, but it’s getting better and better in December.”

Thomas said every one of the fish came from the edge of the river channel within 200 yards of the Mississippi Highway 43 bridge that separates the two areas of the 33,000-acre lake known as the main lake and the upper river area. The river passes through a 100- to 150-yard wide channel beneath the bridge, creating a perfect funnel through which migrating schools of shad pass in mild current.

Predatory fish, like crappie, suspend there waiting for a meal. 

“When it starts getting cold, that’s where I go, and that’s where I usually find them,” Thomas said. “I drift or troll for them with jigs tipped with a small minnow or with just a medium to large minnow. Once we establish a depth, and we don’t have fancy electronics so we do it by fishing at different depths until we find them, we wear them out.

“This year, I’ve never seen the numbers that we’ve seen, or that we’ve caught. We’ve caught enough to fill our freezers and those of our family and friends. We’re now trying to get enough for a big fry for our church to start the New Year and I believe we can handle that.”

Thomas said the action would stay good until the first heavy rain comes and creates too much current for the fish to stay in the funnel-like area created by the bridge.

“But that’s OK, because once that happens, the fish just move over on that big flat on the east side below 43, where the eddy current circles back and creates what they call the Welfare Hole,” he said. “That’s when you see about 200 or 300 boats in about one or two acres and they’ll all be catching fish.

“So it’s not like the catching stops. Oh no, you can count on the Welfare Holes to be magic when the current starts running.”