Rebounding bass fishing at Barnett Reservoir may get more attention, but the fishing for other popular species, including crappie and catfish, may be better.
And so far, in 2018, even bream fishing has been phenomenal.
“This year in our creel surveys, we’ve seen more and bigger bluegill than I can remember,” said Ryan Jones, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks who oversees management of Barnett Reservoir. “They aren’t catching the giants we see from Eagle Lake or the river lakes like Chotard, but they are catching a lot of fine, hand-sized bluegill. I’ve checked boats this year with 80 or 100 fish. That’s a good thing.”
Crappie is another species that thrives in Barnett.
“It never gets bad,” said Jones. “I know crappie are cyclic, even at The Rez, you can see a down year or two of spawning, but a down year on Barnett is not the same as a down year anywhere else. An off-year at Barnett is more like a blip, while other lakes can lose nearly an entire spawn class.
“Barnett had a couple of down years recently, at least in our trawl samplings, but I don’t hear people complaining about it, so I wonder if they even notice it.”
Barnett Reservoir continually shows up in the top-20 crappie hot spots rankings from many national publications and websites, and it is best known for its quantity, not quality. Three-pounders are indeed rare, but 30-fish limits are not.
Perhaps the sleeper fish at Barnett is the catfish.
“Oh my gosh, don’t get me started about the catfish at Barnett,” said Johnny Walters of Jackson. “It’s unbelievable. I can run jugs and catch fish. I can run trotlines and catch fish. I can regular pole fish and catch fish, and it’s not rocket science. The entire lake is full of channels, blues and flatheads.
“If you have a boat and a depth finder and the time to do it, you can catch a 48-quart cooler whenever you want to and eat fried fish every day. I’m serious. There’s a lot of pressure on bass and crappie, but there’s not that many of us who go out there concentrating on catfish.
“I try to target fish between 1½ to 5 pounds, the best for eating, and I let the bigger ones go. I released a 62-pound blue (in mid-June), my biggest yet on Barnett, and I caught it drifting a night crawler a foot off the bottom in 15 feet of water. I thought I snagged a stump until it got mad enough to start pulling my boat out toward the river channel.”
After two down years in a row, 2018 has also seen an upswing in striped and hybrid striped bass on Barnett Reservoir.
“The lower lake is full of big stripers and smaller hybrids, all over it,” said Clifford Neames of Clinton, who fishes for anything that swims in The Rez. “From crappie to stripers, it’s just been a good year.”