Head to Okhissa Lake for some great spawning action in a reservoir designed by Bill Dance to produce trophy bass.
Angling for Florida strain largemouth bass has always been something of a challenge. When the big sows get on the bed that challenge is multiplied in spades by the fickleness of the female.
Many bass anglers have watched as the their baits are carried away by females, but hook-sets only result in baits flying back toward the anglers with the ferocity of an angry bird.
The United States Forest Service has only a few fishing lakes in Mississippi. Of those, Okhissa Lake near Bude has to be considered the crown jewel.
Not far, as the crow flies, from the famed Natchez State Park Lake where the state largemouth record was caught, Okhissa offers many of the same characteristics. Soil, depth and structure in the two lakes are some commonalities.
So, is Okhissa on track to produce a new state record? Don’t bet the farm it won’t.
Okhissa Lake is one of the many lakes designed and enhanced by legendary bass angler Bill Dance and his staff of fisheries experts. As much time planning this magnificent body of water was expended as was spent in actual construction.
Larry Clay was a fisheries biologist for the Forest Service when the lake was being planned and constructed. He is now an associate in the Dance organization and describes Okhissa as a fisheries biologist’s dream.
“Okhissa is not just a dammed creek that just flooded some hills and hollers,” Clay said. “It took years of studying topography, soil, available structure and a myriad of other factors before the first shovel of dirt was ever turned.”
According to Clay, a successful fishery can be designed and managed just as any other wildlife habitat. Naturally, what anglers cannot see are the gravel spawning beds, structure arrangements and best management practices put in place prior to the lake’s filling.
Clay said there are 39 miles of shoreline in Okhissa. Shelves were created during construction, and over 600 gravel beds were located on the shelves and in the lake to allow for spawning.
“One interesting thing we have found in research at different lakes, including Davis Lake in Mississippi, is the need for the gravel beds to be level,” Clay said. “Where gravel beds are on a slope, all the bedding activity appears to be concentrated at one depth, whereas when the gravel bed is level, bedding activity is far greater and well dispersed around the gravel bed.”
In response, Clay said the lake might currently be rebounding from the low end of par, as far as fishing goes, but that it is certainly a healthy and improving location. Clay said he expects the lake to peak in the next five years.
The current lake record is over 11 pounds. This is not to say there are not larger fish in the lake; this is just the largest fish caught and confirmed.
“Due to a number of circumstances, when we stocked the lake originally, we had to use smaller fish (1 to 1 1/2 inches) rather than the preferred fingerling that is 2 to 4 inches,” said Clay. “We compensated for the expected mortality by introducing a greater number of fingerlings.”
Back to the matter at hand
Back to the matter at hand — how does one get a spawning bass to “take the bait?” That may be as easy as changing baits a bit. The Texas-rigged lizard has long been a standard for spawning bass, but it may be time to tie on something different.
“Thinking smaller is a key approach to catching picky spawning bass,” said T. J. Stallings, an angler and spokesman for the TTI/Blakemore fishing brand. “Critter baits about 4 inches long are a great size. I never use a lizard over 6-inches in length.”
Stallings said the key is to use a fish-egg-eating bait pattern such as a crawfish. The Culprit Water Beetle rigged with a red Daiichi hook is one of his favorites. Adding a red hook creates a gill-flash phenomenon and is likely to trigger the fish to inhale the bait, rather than just move it away from the bed and drop it. This works well when fish are heavily pressured.
Another technique recommended by Stallings is to use segmented baits by adding a hitchhiker. The segmented bait has a more natural swimming action.
“The spawning bass will often take the intruder away from the bed and drop it,” Stallings said. “Say the fisherman is using a lizard with a long tail: Chances are the bass will grab the tail and swim away with it rather than eat it. Remember the feeding bass often tries to swallow a bait head first
” A second hook, located in the second bait segment, increases the chances the bass will be hooked.”
Michael Suggs is a local angler who has fished Okhissa since its opening in 2007. He sees things from an angler’s point of view, and has caught hundreds — if not thousands — of bass from the lake.
“My partner and I fished a tournament (on Okhissa) in 2007 and landed 110 bass in the 2- to 5-pound range in a day,” Suggs said. “The (largemouth bass virus) took out a good number of fish in the slot range.”
Suggs was a participant in a fundraising tournament that allowed the volunteers to release 2,600 Florida-strain largemouth in December 2011. If all other factors fall into place, one of those bass could become a new lake record — perhaps a new state record.
A bait is a bait is a bait
The water and season dictate the best bait to be used. Bass, at any given time, are spawning, schooling or hanging out waiting for a meal. Knowing what the fish are doing and how bass react to their current environment can be a key to success.
Bass habits are well documented, and there is no need to debate those here. We interviewed as many bass anglers on Okhissa as we could and here are the results:
• Spawning bass in late winter, when many anglers enjoy sight-fishing, seem to like soft critter baits such as lizards and worms. Carolina-rigged critter baits can remain in the bedding area longer, allowing finicky Florida-strain females more time to strike.
• Schooling bass can be caught on spinnerbaits and lipped crankbaits. The new multi-bait rigs such as the Yumbrella and the Alabama Rig should produce the same result at Okhissa that they have on other lakes in the south.
The Yumbrella made in Arkansas is less expensive than its Chinese-made counterpart. Both fish the same and demand stiffer rods and a minimum of a 30-pound line.
• White skirts on red heads got the most votes for best spinnerbait, although blade variations didn’t appear to matter to those anglers we talked with.
• Crankbaits that imitated shad were hands-down the favorite crank.
• Surface feeders will take the old standards such as a Rattling Chug Bug or stick baits such as those made by Rebel. If I had to choose just one top-water lure it might be the Zara Spook. For night fishing at Okhissa a black Jitterbug is hard to beat.
Deeper-holding bass sometimes fall for the Fat Shad series of baits, or those that suspend at 6 to 8 feet.
Okhissa is located on Highway 98 southeast of Bude in Franklin County at 31 25’51″ N latitude, 90 50’27″ W longitude.
The lake is a pleasure to the eye as well as the soul. During the spring it is not uncommon to hear turkeys gobbling in the early morning as dogwood blossom along the banks. In the fall deer may be seen feeding beneath the hardwoods that line the shore.
Signs direct visitors to one of two boat ramps. Ample, paved parking lots are provided at each ramp. Rest rooms are located near each ramp.
When you have a good day fishing at Okhissa, or any lake for that matter, send Mississippi Sportsman a picture to share in the magazine or online. Visit MS-Sportsman.com for details.
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