"It's like the fourth quarter of a football game," said Mike Jones, owner of Southern Star RV Park on Lake Washington. "We've had a great time since Valentines Day and we've caught some slabs, but the clock is winding down. Summer's on its way, but there's still time to get on some good fish."

Such are the sentiments of many Mississippi crappie anglers who ply the state's oxbow lakes. May finds some oxbow crappie still holding to the shallows, but most fish are coming off the spawn and heading out to deeper water where they will escape the coming hot summer.

If you're a crappie fanatic, now's the time to head over to the birthplace of blues music before the water gets too hot. Mississippi Sportsman queried several local experts to get their take on where to find post-spawn crappie action this month.

 

Lake Beulah

Shelby's Rusty Burroughs is a part-time crappie guide when he's not on the road fishing crappie tournaments across the country. When he's home, Burroughs can be found crappie fishing on Bolivar County's well-kept crappie secret - Lake Beulah. He finds that by May, Beulah's crappie are coming off the spawn and heading out of the shallows.

"I'll start out the month checking some of the deeper areas that have flooded willows on them," said Burroughs, "but once the water temperatures get to the mid 70s, the spawn is over. Most of the fish head out to deep water, and that's usually where I find them.

"For deep-water fish, I want to look for both structure and cover. The old river channel on Beulah is the main form of structure, but there are several old creek channels, cuts and ledges that can make one area better than another."

Burroughs suggests using your sonar to find fallen trees, manmade brush piles and any other type of vertical structure. He uses a Humminbird Side Finder unit to locate anything of interest using the river channel and ends of docks and piers as primary search points.

"Out in front of the main landing at Beulah is an old pile-driver barge," said Burroughs. "She's laying on her side, and it's a bad place to get hung up while trolling, but it's always got crappie all over it."

A little easier to locate are individual brushpiles scattered around the ends of piers on the lake. These docks may extend anywhere from 10 to 30 feet away from the bank, and are crappie magnets - both the piers and the associated brush. If you can find piers with 10 to 12 feet off the ends of them and some type of structure, you'll find crappie.

"There's a blue hole on the south end of the lake about mid way," he said. "The water in there drops down to about 35 feet, depending on the water level of the lake. That's another good place to find crappie, as is the second blue hole a little farther south of there. You know you're at the second hole because there will be one lone cypress tree standing near the edge of it.

"These are old borrow pits that were used to get dirt for the levees, and are the best places to fish if you're going to slow-troll to catch fish."

 

Tunica Cut-Off

Located due west of the town by the same name, Tunica is a great place to catch late-spring crappie if the water has achieved the right levels to keep it in check.

Ed "Dawg" Weldon is a full-time guide on Tunica, and states that water levels above 15 feet and below the 30-foot mark on the Memphis gauge are necessary to catch late-spring crappie at Tunica.

"If the water is coming in on the upper end of the lake, it will pretty well ruin the fishing," he said. "The fish scatter out, and can be just about anywhere. On the other hand, if it's much below 15 feet, then there's no water up in the willows, and that's bad for fishing too."

Because Tunica is one of the northern-most oxbows suitable for crappie fishing, the spawn usually lasts a week or two longer than the southern oxbows, so Weldon is expecting to find fish still holding in shallower water completing the spawn or at a minimum holding along the outer edge of shallow cover before moving to deeper water.

"Our water temps in May will be reaching into the 70s, and many fish will still be shallow," he said.

Weldon indicated that not all crappie on Tunica spawn at the same time due to the availability of suitable spawning cover.

"They start on the edge of the switch willows and cypress trees along the inner turn of the oxbow, and as the spawn progresses, they will push deeper into the tangles," he said. "When the spawn starts to tail off, the fish will pull back to the edges before they head out to deep water."

Weldon uses single-pole tactics almost exclusively.

"I like a 1/32-ounce jig with some kind of tube jig or rubber skirt in red/chartreuse or black/chartreuse," he said. "Since I'm fishing water that's less than 4 feet deep, I'll cast the jig under the cork and pop it a little to get their attention."

 

Lake Washington

Washington is one of the largest and oldest natural lakes in Mississippi. According to Mike Jones, May will still find a few crappie hanging around the edges of the cypress trees and knees that line the 5,000-acre lake, but the majority of anglers have backed out to the deeper waters in front of his park and are slow-trolling to catch the lake's growing population of crappie.

"Longline trolling is starting to get popular on this lake," said Jones. "We're hitting a cycle where we're getting a number of 2½- to 3-pound crappie from this lake. I've even seen a few 4-pounders come out of here."

Jones said that when his regular anglers, who begin piling into his park around Valentine's Day, start catching bream in the shallows, it's time to move out deeper. One of the more popular trolling spots is the Alligator Hole, more specifically the old gravel pit located within the 'gator hole where the bottom drops off to around 18 feet.

Like Beulah and Tunica, Washington also has a number of private piers and boat docks that will hold fish, if you can find adequate depth around them. These will mainly be found around the midpoint of the lake, which somewhat shaped like the number 3.

"There's a lot of folks who have lights on the ends of their piers, and some of them leave the lights on all night," said Jones, "so first thing in the morning is a great time to find crappie invading the brush around these docks to feed on aquatic bugs and baitfish before the sun gets up."

 

DeSoto Lake

Another good late spring crappie location for tournament angler Rusty Burroughs is DeSoto Lake, located northwest of Clarksdale. Like all of the Mississippi oxbows, the lake's main structure is the old river channel.

Burroughs said crappie will hang along the drop of both sides of the channel.

"The Mississippi side is the deeper drop into the channel, but crappie will hold along both sides," he said. "Crappie tend to suspend after they come off the spawn, and those edges are the most likely spots to hold them.

"After they come off the banks, I start looking in water that's at least 10 feet deep, and usually find fish suspended or holding tight to cover in these depths. For suspended fish, I'll cruise up and down the channel edges, and once I pass through a good concentration of fish, turn around and fish back through them."

The two strategies that describe late-spring crappie fishing on DeSoto or any of Mississippi's oxbows is either single-pole or multiple-pole approaches. For single-pole jig fishermen, a long 10- to 12-foot pole is the norm, and is used to vertically fish a bait down into structure or open-water jigging if a concentration of suspended fish is located.

It's best to measure the distance to the top of the structure or suspended fish using the rod length as a guide. When fishing a piece of structure, many anglers will mark its location with a floating marker buoy, then back off and jig fish the structure from a number of angles.

The multiple-pole approach is generally spider rigging, otherwise known as vertical trolling. Because most crappie anglers fish from the front, the tactic has also come to be known as "pushing" because the long rods are sticking out of the front of the boat, which causes the baits - either jigs or live minnows - to push along in front of the boat.

Burroughs said trolling crankbaits is becoming more popular as crappie anglers discover how to control the depth of presentations to keep from losing so many of the expensive baits.

Whether they choose to ferret out the last remaining spawners or get a jump on deep-water fishing for post-spawn slabs, Mississippi's delta region has a lot to offer to crappie anglers with or without the blues.