Mississippi isn’t lacking in waters that offer great bass fishing, and plenty of them are owned and managed by the state or other authorities. Here’s the 411 on the best of the best.
June is a month of great promise. High school seniors are about to start a great new life of learning. College graduates are embarking on careers and setting courses for their lives. Gardens are starting to grow a new crop of delicious vegetables, and mornings on a lake may never be more pleasant.
The best news is, Mississippi has great bass fishing close to just about everybody. Be it a lake, a river or a reservoir, anglers should rejoice in the fact that this may be a peak year for bass fishing.
A relatively warm winter will mean a good carryover of forage fish, so bass will have plenty to eat. On the down side, bass will have plenty to eat, so an artificial offering will need to trigger a response in the bass not necessarily associated with hunger.
Jerry Brown, a fisheries biologist who is state lakes manager for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, points to three lakes in southwest Mississippi where bass anglers should set their sights. One is newer, the other is older and the third is very old.
Lake Calling Panther
“Lake Calling Panther was built as a trophy bass lake,” Brown said. “The 404-acre impoundment in Copiah County has not been a disappointment. Three bass weighing over 10 pounds have been taken this spring, and we know bigger bass live in the broken timber and flooded forest that makes up the greater part of the lake.”
It is common knowledge that big bass prefer a large meal. Anglers who understand this and fish for only trophy bass look to very large shiners or shad and the necessary tackle to wrestle the brute bass from the timber. For artificial bait, consider a large, shad-colored bait that will mimic an injured minnow. Reel the bait up, then allow it to fall back. The slower the fall, the more realistic the bait appears, thus the better the chance of a inducing a strike. Keep in mind, big bass are lazy, they will put forth no more effort than needed to earn that big meal.
“Calling Panther can be challenging to fish,” Brown said. “Since it opened in 2006, it has been and should continue to produce big bass on a consistent basis. If you choose to use large live bait, remember there are some 20-pound plus catfish in there that will give you a pull on the line.”
Jeff Davis Lake
Jeff Davis Lake was renovated in 2010 and reopened in 2013. According to Brown, a dozen or more 10-pounders have been caught, with many slot fish weighing up to 8 pounds. A new lake record was set this spring with a 11.6-pound behemoth.
“We encourage anglers to keep smaller bass and help keep the bass population healthy,” Brown said. “Too many bass will cause the bass to compete for forage fish and not grow as we’d like. The lake is only 100 acres, but it is prime condition for bass angling.”
Some structure was left in Jeff Davis during renovation, and those locations are clearly noted on maps at mdwfp.com. According to Brown, plenty of willow trees were flooded when the lake was refilled.
Eagle Lake is a famous fishery just north of Vicksburg. An oxbow separated from the Mississippi River, it has been a popular destination for anglers of all varieties. Crappie, bream and catfish have long been the mainstay, but according to Brown, it is a good bass-fishing destination as well.
“The 4,700-acre lake is regularly stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass,” Brown said. “We sampled the lake in the fall of 2016. The bass population looked great — very fat and healthy fish. While it is not known for trophy bass, it is a lake where good numbers of 3- to 5-pound fish can be caught.”
Inside the crescent are shallower waters and some standing timber and brush. Across the lake is a long row of boat houses and piers where bass will be feeding on bream. Over the years, time and nature have caused much material to accumulate around these structures. A word to the wise: rig weedless.
U.S. Forest Service Lakes
The U.S. Forest Service can boast several fine bass lakes in Mississippi, including Davis Lake in Chickasaw County and Okhissa Lake in Franklin County. Davis is said to be the possible home of the next state record. Both lakes were engineered to be optimal for bass spawning. Bass like to have a level gravel bed for spawning, and both were designed to have level ledges in the shallows to promote ideal conditions. The bass have responded by having several years of incredible hatches. Those years, coupled with the release of Florida-strain fingerlings, allow bass anglers to feel a tug on the line.
“Both lakes are maintaining a high level of fish production,” said Rick Dillard, a USFS fisheries biologist. “Okhissa may have more slot bass than Davis, but both lakes need to have a few under-slot fish removed to avoid overpopulation.”
“Davis Lake has peaked, but it is difficult to say it is in decline as a bass fishery,” Dillard said. “It is a spectacular bass lake, and even past the peak, it is better than any other lake I manage. Davis is still a top destination for double-digit bass.”
Chickasawhay National Forest
Dillard said Turkey Fork in the Chickasawhay National Forest in Greene County is a sleeper, waiting to be discovered by the angling public. The lake has been limed and fertilized in recent years and is being heavily managed. Samplings are indicating good numbers of bass in the 10- to 12-pound range.
“Chewalla Lake in the Holly Springs National Forest is a 260-acre, no-wake fishing lake with Florida-strain bass approaching double-digit weights.” Dillard said. “The lake is spring fed and can be quite cold in the upper end, where the springs fill the lake. In August 2016, we measured the water temperature at 60 degrees. Toward the dam, it was considerably warmer. There is a rumor we have stocked this lake with smallmouths, but that is not true. The water in part of the lake is cold enough to support smallies, but not on a large scale.”
Tippah County Lake
Another state lake gaining attention as a bass hole is 145-acre Tippah County Lake. Often overlooked as a bass destination, Tippah once held the state record for a largemouth weighing 14.75 pounds.
“Tippah produces 8- to 10-pound bass every year,” said Trevor Knight, MDWFP fisheries biologist for the Northeast region. “This lake needs to be fished, so there is a creel limit of 30 bass and no slot restriction.”
Knight said bass are routinely caught on topwater baits at night. The Jitterbug remains the most-popular night bait on the lake. Texas and Carolina rigs are popular around points and the creek channel. Knight recommends shallow-diving crankbaits around riprap and wooden structure.
“The Tenn-Tom lakes are hot and remain an excellent destination for bass anglers,” Knight said. “Bay Springs Lake is the northernmost impoundment and covers about 6,700 acres. This is one of those lakes where an angler could fish every day for a week and never throw in the same water twice. Plus, it is one of the few lakes in Mississippi where an angler could reel in a largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass on any cast.”
Knight said Bay Springs is one of the top spotted bass fisheries in the country due to the prevalence of the Alabama strain of spotted bass. Knight concedes that largemouth have become more dominate in recent years with the expansion of hydrilla and pondweed.
“Frogs have become a popular summertime bait around the grass and weeds,” Knight said. “It used to be that Bay Springs was a deep-water fishery, but now a substantial number of largemouth and spotted bass are staying shallow all year. When the fish do go deep, football jigs, Carolina rigs, drop-shots and jigging spoons appear to be the go-to baits.”
Further south on the waterway, Knight points to Columbus Lake as a popular destination, and for good reason. Aliceville, Columbus and Aberdeen line up along the waterway, and what can be said of one can be said for all.
“Our fall sampling at Columbus Lake indicated a significant improvement in bass health,” said Knight. “The old gravel pits on the lower lake and the old river runs in the mid-lake are prime areas to fish.”
Towboat traffic on Columbus Lake creates and interesting fishing opportunity. The big barges and boats move a lot of water, very quickly. As they displace the water in the channel, it flows in and out of feeder creeks and small oxbows. This moving water triggers a bass bite where those areas meet the main channel. To a lesser degree, the filling of the lock also creates a stronger current. These currents move baitfish, and bass respond from ambush points. Umbrella rigs around the vertical walls of the gravel pits will stimulate a bite. Using a ChatterBait or drop-shot is a good practice as well.
Pickwick Lake remains a vibrant location for bass anglers. Knight reports that five-bass tournament limits weighing from 25 to 30 pounds are common. It also is one of the few Mississippi lakes where anglers can boat a largemouth, spotted, or smallmouth bass.
“Pickwick just never stops amazing me,” Knight said. “It is such a productive lake with such a wide variety of opportunities. Many people come to J. P. Coleman State Park and spend a week just fishing the 7,500 acres of Mississippi water that is just a small part of the 43,000-acre lake. In addition to bass, fishermen could encounter a walleye, sauger or yellow perch. Catfish are big draw, and crappie and bream get a good share of attention.”
“Smallmouth bass are typically caught along rock bluffs and gravel bars. Largemouth can be caught all over, with some fish staying in the grass beds, while other move to the ledges,” Knight said. “Deep-diving crankbaits, flutter spoons, and Texas-rigged, 10-inch worms are popular summertime baits on the ledges. Umbrella rigs and jerkbaits are popular in the winter and spring.”
School days, bass days
One of the fastest-growing youth movements across the nation is bass fishing. At every level from junior high to college, bass fishing has become a friendly but competitive activity.
Mississippi has collegiate teams at Mississippi State University, Itawamba Community College and Mississippi College competing for prizes and bragging rights against teams from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee and beyond.
“We have a roster of about 300 youth who are fishing across the state,” said Tony Stephens, Mississippi Bass Nation state youth director. “Kids from across the state are competing with each other on the water and forming friendships in social media where they discuss fishing and fish related topics.”
Still relatively new in Mississippi, the most-recent state tournament had 85 boats entered. By contrast, Louisiana fielded 130 boats in its championship tourney, while Alabama, which has had a program much longer, put 300 boats on the water.
“In bass fishing, there are no criteria for height or weight, sex or race,” Stephens said. “It’s friendly competition, but make no doubt about it, these kids are out to win. The tournaments we host are similar to the adult programs. Youth learn patience, perseverance, how to deal with winning and losing and the importance of fair play. Of course, they see firsthand the importance of fisheries conservation and respect for our natural resources. Currently we host four tournaments and one state tournament.”
To learn more about this youth B.A.S.S. program visit MississippiBassNation.com and click on the youth icon.
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