Even in a state as rich in crappie venues as Mississippi, small state lakes play an important role in providing quality fishing for residents who may not be able to regularly visit the big impoundments, or who feel more comfortable fishing smaller waters. The MDWFP operates 21 prime fishing lakes throughout the state that offer outstanding fishing on 4,643 acres of picturesque waters.
Although the state manages all of its large public waters through creel surveys and electro-shocking studies, and even provides re-stocking as needed to improve the health of these fisheries, the expansive size of major impoundments, oxbows and waterways does not lend to an intensive management plan the way smaller state lakes do.
Neshoba County Lake
“Most of our state lakes range in size from 100 to 800 acres,” said MDWFP state lakes coordinator David Berry. “Most all of them have public boat ramps, and there are no motor or size restrictions on what sized boat can be launched.
“We also maintain fishing piers and shoreline access so that shore-bound anglers have the best access to the fish as possible. But one of the best aspects is that each lake has a designated manager who is responsible for creating and maintaining a management plan to keep each lake operating to its highest potential, whether that be bass, bream, catfish or crappie.”
Crappie are among of the most sought-after fish species in the state due to their tenacity on light tackle and excellent quality on the table. MDWFP divides its state lakes program into three regions — the northern region, central region and southern region. District Fisheries biologist Larry Bull explains that Mississippi’s state lakes mirror the geographic makeup of the rest of the state. Accordingly, some of the better crappie fishing is found in the central region of the state.
“There are a couple of pretty good crappie lakes in the southern region, but the majority of our truly outstanding crappie lakes are in the central region,” said Bull. “Those lakes are home to about equal numbers of black and white crappie, and we have even stocked some of the Magnolia crappie, a sterile hybrid species, in some of these lakes.”
When asked to name which lakes were the best, Bull, in no certain order, pointed out Neshoba County Lake, Simpson County Lake, Prentiss Walker in Smith County and Claude Bennett Lake in Jasper County. Here’s a run-down of what these lakes have to offer:
Mississippi anglers may have overlooked Neshoba as a crappie lake due to all the limelight from last season’s production of 10-plus-pound largemouth bass.
“We made the state list of the top-10 bass lakes in the state last year,” said Neshoba County Lake Manager Chuck Hazelwood, “but we’ve done a lot for our crappie anglers too.”
Neshoba was drained and remodeled back in the late 1990s. Four major creeks feed the lake, and these creeks were dug out when the lake was emptied. An unfortunate incident for the landscapers is now beneficial for anglers.
“The lake flooded while they still had their equipment in there,” said Hazelwood. “The only way to get the big earth-moving equipment out was to dig trenches across the flat areas to drain off the flood water.
“What we have now is a series of ditches and creek channels that crisscross the flats. The average lake depth is only 5½ feet, but those ditches, channels and holes where tree stumps were dug out now hold a lot of crappie.”
Structure in the form of brush, stumps and small trees cleared from the area when the lake was down was also stacked strategically along the channel edges to create ideal crappie habitat. The manager is also working in conjunction with crappie anglers to maintain additional structure in the lake.
“This past winter was the first time we’ve sunk trees in the lake,” he said. “On the right-hand side, going out toward the island, we put out some cedar trees on those flats and marked them with buoys.”
Hazelwood claims the habitat building efforts are paying off.
“During some electro-shocking surveys performed back in mid January, the biologists brought up some really nice-sized crappie from the lake,” he said. “Based on those findings, we should have a really good spring this year.”
Simpson County Lake
The lake manager at Simpson County Lake off Highway 49 between Mendenhall and Magee is John Lee, who says his 76-acre lake contains a mixture of both black and white crappie as well as some of the sterile Magnolia crappie. He said that the stock of black crappie probably outnumbers the white crappie, but the bigger crappie that come from the lake are white crappie.
“There was a 3-pound white crappie caught here a couple of years ago,” said Lee, “and this past fall there was an angler out trolling crankbaits, and he had a mess of big white crappie that would go at least 2 pounds each.
“Those were some of the best crappie I’ve seen from here.”
Lee’s management plan for Simpson is to add and replenish the lake’s fish attractors, typically Christmas trees, every other year. These attractors are the best places in the lake to find specks, and most anglers who fish minnows or jigs around these attractors do very well.
“We put a lot of those trees along the levee where the water is 16 to 18 feet deep, and that holds a lot of crappie for most of the year,” he said. “There are stump fields in the back of the lake and on the east side where it’s spring fed.
“During the spring, crappie move into those areas to spawn and anglers catch both species around those stumps.”
Located in Smith County, southwest of Mize, Prentiss Walker is a relatively deep lake with water over 30 feet available out in front of the dam. A well-defined creek channel runs through the middle of the lake, and crappie can be found adjacent to this channel during seasonal movements between the shallow spawning grounds in the southwest corner of the lake and deep water haunts near the dam on the northern bank of the impoundment.
Bull said that many local anglers lean more toward smaller boats on the 81-acre impoundment, but the same big-water trolling tactics are frequently used when crappie fishing.
“We see a lot of guys trolling, spider-rigging, for crappie at Prentiss,” he said. “Some folks feel safer on a smaller body of water, especially if it’s a windy day, because there are more places to get out of the wind.”
Bull says the crappie population in Prentiss is dominated by white crappie, but both species are well represented.
Lake Manager Stan Sullivan has created a number of fish attractor sites on the lake, and enhances them on a regular basis. Most of these sites are marked with white buoys, but GPS coordinates for the attractors can also be found on the MDWFP website.
All of Mississippi’s state lakes are designed to provide ample bank fishing access. One of the better locations for bank fishing is Lake Claude Bennett in Jasper County. The lake has a wooden fishing pier located on its southern shore between the boat ramp and the on-site campground. In addition, there are seven earthen piers that allow anglers access to deeper water channels. One unique feature found at Claude Bennett is a number of gravel beds, located near the fishing pier.
Fish attractor sites are maintained in at least five different locations at Claude Bennett for boating anglers.
“We do not allow anglers to put secret brushpiles in the lake,” said Bull. “Of course, we have a number of volunteers who want to assist the lake manager, and we welcome this type of help.
“Usually we’ll mark the sites after the brush or other material is put in so that all lake users can enjoy them.”
Bull states the average-size crappie in Claude Bennett will be in the 10- to 12-inch range and weigh between ½ and ¾ pound.