Around Mississippi, plenty of lakes and rivers offer December anglers plenty of hot action in cold weather
As any Mississippi sportsman can relate, the winter weather in the Magnolia State can be freezing one day and three days later be too hot and humid to enjoy sitting in a deer stand.
“Go fishing,” said Sidney Montgomery, an avid deer hunter and angler, who has learned to make the most out of what Mother Nature throws at him. “I can’t tell you how many December days I planned to hunt that I wound up fishing instead, and the great thing about it is, that the late fall and winter provides some of the best fishing all year.
“Think about it; fish are extremely sluggish in cold water, especially shallow-water fish like bass. You give them a few warm days in a row that creates even a small increase in water temperatures, and they will race to eat everything they can find. Just a couple of degrees can trigger a bite you won’t believe, even in the same water that two days before you couldn’t buy a bite.”
With that in mind, let’s look at some traditional hot spots in Mississippi to try during the warm days of the cold season:
No. 1: Bay of St. Louis
The mouth of the Jordan River, which forms the bay, has always been a good late-fall and winter fishery, especially on the Highway 90 Bridge, where redfish, puppy (black) drum and sheepshead dominate the catch. Filling a cooler full of tasty fish won’t take long and can happen quicker than you can get too cold to fish. Flip a bait shrimp with the smallest weight you can get away with on fluorocarbon leader against a piling and hold on. The key is keeping the bait close to the pilings, which are where the fish are hiding, ready to ambush whatever the current pushes past them.
No. 2: Oxbow crappie
With fish-finding electronics able to locate big, suspended schools of fish, the winter crappie fishing at Chotard, Albermarle and Ferguson lakes has exploded. Even Eagle Lake is getting attention in December. The winter fishing has actually exceeded the productivity of other seasons, but only for those fishermen who can locate the schools and learn to troll through them with lures or minnows kept at a precise depth. A difference is at Eagle Lake, where piers can hold big black crappie.
No. 3: Davis Lake
This 200-acre lake just off the Natchez Trace about 30 miles south of Tupelo is the place to go for trophy bass. Don’t go expecting to load the boat with limits. Go to get that one big bite, like Jeff Foster of Tupelo did five years ago when he caught 17.34-pound largemouth. The key, Foster said, is fishing slow and deep, near natural structure and cover like merging creek channels or stump fields. The two lures of choice are shaky-head worms or a jig ‘n pig. Foster was using a shaky-head.
No. 4: Lake Bill Waller
This 168-acre lake managed by the MDWFP is about 7 miles southwest of Columbia in south Mississippi and has always been a December hot spot. There is a big difference between Waller and Davis, and it relates to the depth that fishermen should target in winter. Waller isn’t that big, so the fish are wintering near shallow water anyway. A soft-plastic jerkbait fished around cover is one technique that works, but you can always slow down and fish a worm or a jig.
No. 5: Pascagoula River
This is a place that both freshwater and saltwater fishermen can appreciate in the winter. The bass fishing can be outstanding in the upper marsh, while the speck and redfish action can be exciting on the southern end. You won’t catch monster largemouth, but on warm days — on a spinnerbait or even a buzzbait — you can catch them by the dozens. Reds and specks are a lot easier to predict. Fish deep holes, looking for big schools of fish, but move up and fish hard structure and moving water along a bank.
No. 6: Okhissa Lake, bass
A key ingredient in patterning winter bass is deep water immediately adjacent to shallow areas, and Okhissa Lake has that in spades. In December, try a drop-shot or a shaky-head worm. Target the creek channel on the upper end of the lake where the channel comes nearest to the shoreline, and the drop-offs in the back ends of the coves.
No. 7: Columbus Lake, cats
Tight-lining deep holes with fresh cut bait can produce plentiful numbers of “eating-sized” channel cats and big blues, and whole live bait could put a big flathead tabby in the boat.
No. 8: Tippah County, bream
This MDWFP state lake near Ripley is the place to try for winter bream, believe it or not. Most fishermen like to fish on the bottom in water 10 to 12 feet deep, on tight lines, with big wads of night crawlers. Hold onto or at least secure your poles, because this lake produced the state-record redear (chinquapin) at 3.33 pounds, and it also holds big bluegill. Who knows, with night crawlers, a feisty catfish may come calling.
No. 9: Lake Washington, crappie and catfish
Recognized as one of the best crappie lakes in the country by many organizations, this old oxbow lake is amazing. Winter is just as good as spring, which is as good as summer, which is as good as fall. Drift-trolling in water at least 15 feet deep is important in winter, but that doesn’t always mean fishing deep. Locals use electronics to find what depth the most crappie suspend, and then tip a jig with a minnow and slowly drift the area. Don’t forget catfish, either. This is one lake where limb lines, also known as yo-yos, work wonders. A couple of hours on a pleasant winter day using prepared bait on yo-yos can provide a catfish dinner worthy of a Christmas gathering.
No. 10: Ross Barnett, catfish
What makes this lake so good for catfish in the winter is that a sudden cold blast kills shad in shallow water, which is where they stay in the winter. Dead shad on the bottom brings catfish in by the hoards. They can be caught with long casting rods from the bank in many areas.