As thousands of Mississippi deer hunters stare at dry brown dirt where food plots have been planted, fishermen are watching falling water levels at their favorite hot spots.
The drought of 2016 is beginning to impact outdoor recreation, and experts don’t see it getting better any time soon.
“We don’t have any appreciable rain in the forecast for at least 15 days, and that takes us into November,” said John Sigman, general manager of Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state agency that oversees the 33,000-acre Barnett Reservoir near Jackson. “We have not had to close any ramps yet, but if we go much longer without a significant rain event, with runoff, that could change.”
The reservoir stood at 296.14 feet above sea level on Tuesday, but Sigman graphed out a shaky story based on the dry forecast and a fall of two tenths of a foot every week. Without appreciable rain, the lake would lower to 296.0 on or about Oct. 17, and be at 295.0 by Nov. 17.
In 2016, about six ramps had to be closed when the seasonal lake level dropped as low as 295.1. Sigman said there is no set level when ramps are closed, but action is taken as boaters report problems. He also advised that even though ramps are open, the low water exposes hazards that normally would be 1½ feet lower, or more.
Lakes are reaching dangerously low and unsafe levels throughout Mississippi, mostly private lakes.
“I usually have about 3 feet of water in the cove on my 500-acre subdivision lake, but right now we couldn’t even kayak in the cove,” said Joyce Stewart, who lives on a lake-centered development near Jackson. “I’m serious; it’s like 2 inches deep in the cove, maybe 6 inches in the middle.”
Meanwhile, hunting camps and land managers are anxious about their food plots.
“I put the seed out, but now I’m worried that the turkeys may get it all before we get a rain,” said deer hunter Ray Thompson of Leake County. “It’s been dry for so long that our ground is cracking, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to walk. You can break an ankle if you step into one of those deep fissures.”
A worse-than-average season of armyworm moths forced a lot of clubs to wait until October to plant, some even mid-October.
“We had several clubs and some hay farms take a pretty big armyworm hit, and our extension agent advised us to wait until the damage had run its course to plant,” said George Haynes, whose club is in Northeast Mississippi. “Now we’re just waiting until there’s rain in the forecast so we can get out there and put the seed on the ground.”
That could be a while.