"The colder the weather, the better the fishing gets" is the way professional angler Kent Driscoll describes the crappie fishing behind the dam at Ross Barnett Reservoir.

The spillway that turns the Pearl River impoundment back into the Pearl River is a well-known hotspot for crappie anglers throughout the year. One reason for the magnetism of the area is the moving water spilling through the dam draws baitfish from the far reaches of the Pearl and also from the Ross Barnett impoundment itself.

"While it looks rough on the fish, coming through that spillway doesn't hurt them one bit," Driscoll said. "Both crappie and bait come through that spillway and create a great fishery on the other side."
Winter spillway fishing

Because the tailrace waters at Ross Barnett are rich with baitfish, game fish, particularly crappie, are abundant as well. When water temperatures drop below the 50-degree mark, baitfish dispersed all over the upper river areas instinctively move upcurrent. Despite colder water temperatures, baitfish work their way upriver, and are effectively corralled into compact masses.

As water temperatures begin to fall even more, baitfish become disoriented by the cold water. Hungry predators, especially schools of crappie, lie in wait in slack-water areas, and feed on the disoriented bait.

"The rock outcroppings along the edges of the spillways create eddies close to the bank," said Driscoll. "Those are great hiding places for crappie to lie in wait and ambush bait that is swept along by the current."

The crappie pro indicates that since cold water and dissolved oxygen are evenly distributed throughout the spillway area, crappie are just as likely to be found along the bank in 3 feet of water as they are in deep holes out in the middle of the run. Driscoll also pays attention to prevailing weather conditions to help pin down the whereabouts of spillway crappie.

"On a cloudy day, the crappie in the spillway seem to prefer the deeper haunts out in the center of the run," Driscoll said. "However, on a sunny, bluebird day, I have often found them just below the surface of the water hanging around flotsam and debris that collects in an eddie or other slack water area along the sides of the spillway run.

"Those are the days when you can ease along the bank and cover a lot of ground fishing anything that looks good. Because the current dictates the movement of the fish, by the time you work all the way around the immediate spillway area, you can often find fish back in the same spots you've already caught fish from."

Click here to read the rest of this feature, which originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Mississippi Sportsman.