This south Mississippi river doesn’t cover much territory, but it’s full of great bass fishing for anglers who’d enjoy a nice float trip from freshwater to brackish water and even saltwater.
Traditional thinking is that a float trip goes with the flow. On most Mississippi streams, that means putting your canoe, kayak or paddleboard in upstream of a take-out point and being at mercy of the current in between.
The Jourdan River in Hancock County is perfect for a bit of a twist on that traditional thinking. The Jourdan is not a long river, but in its 18.2 miles, it twists and turns and changes from freshwater to saltwater and is one of the few Mississippi short rivers affected by an ocean tide.
McLeod Water Park southwest of Kiln, is operated by Hancock County. It offers a host of opportunities for campers and day-use vacationers. It features no cabins, but there are 120 RV spaces with hook-ups, and tent camping is allowed for the adventurous. Canoe rentals are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and kayaks are in future plans; kayaks are already popular among paddlers enjoying the Jourdan River Blueway.
“The park is growing by leaps and bounds,” said Kevin Ladner of Hancock County’s Recreation and Parks, who has fished the river for most of his life and praises the opportunities it provides.
“Bass fishing has always been good, but we can see it improving all the time,” Ladner said. “The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries released both native black bass and Florida-strain largemouth. Our bait shop recently sold out of (more than 2,000) minnows to crappie anglers, but the word reached us that bass were also very active on the river.”
The Jourdan offers plenty of fishing for all of the popular species.
Largemouth bass, bream of all kinds and crappie are frequently sought by local anglers, as are catfish. But before the river dumps into the Bay of Saint Louis, spotted seatrout, red drum, white trout and flounder sweeten the mix. Even sharks and striped bass may be found in the river, which is part of the Jourdan River Blueway.
Public launch sites are a problem upstream of McLeod, but a few places offer take-out closer to the Bay of Saint Louis. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is the principle enforcement on that part of the Jourdan north of I-10; the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources serves the remainder of the river.
Choose the power
Using McLeod Water Park as a central location, anglers have two choices: motor upstream and float back to the put-in and call it a trip or paddle against the current and float back. We have taken a powerboat up the river, towing a canoe, and floated both vessels back down to McLeod. More people get to fish that way, and the creeks and oxbows are easily explored with the canoe, using the other boat as a base of operations.
For bass anglers, there is no shortage of targets along the river. Points, humps, submerged structure and cuts offer hiding places for both largemouth and spotted bass. The same baits that have proved worthy on other float trips proved their mettle on the Jourdan.
For much of its length, the Jourdan is little different from other central and south Mississippi rivers. Most banks are low, with vegetation growing to the water’s edge. Upstream of McLeod, cattails and grass are plentiful, and spotted bass seem to hold around them. Weedless baits worked close to the bank produced frequent bites.
On a recent trip, Robert Hayes of Brandon and I had good luck using a variety of crankbaits and plastics. When worked close to the cattails, the venerable Rapala produced good results. A square-billed crankbait handled the deeper cuts and points, also with good results. A new bait for us was an Oden with an attractant reservoir in the nose and slits where the gills are cut. A few squirts of mullet juice and the bait leaves a scent trail in the water. Mullet, also known as Biloxi bacon, are common in the Jourdan and the targets of many anglers.
“It has been my experience that small river bass will strike a Beetle Spin on a consistent basis,” Hayes said. “Yellow and black are my favorite colors, with black and white running a close second. Depending on my rod and reel, I like to use a 3/8-ounce for skinny water and a ¼-ounce for faster current. Beetle Spins are often found at big-box stores for under a dollar each. That takes some of the sting out of losing one to a brush pile or submerged log.”
Further down the river, the Oden also serves to prompt redfish and speckled trout to bite. Far and away, the most-popular summer bait for saltwater fish is live shrimp, but specks and reds are often caught with a D.O.A. shrimp fished under a popping cork. MirrOlures are a popular bait in the lower Jourdan. The floating series in pink/silver and a dark green/silver sinker proved to be the best on our recent trip.
“Redfish will often follow bait before they commit to a bite,” Hayes said. “The attractant in the Oden bait will sometimes make the difference in a bite and a miss. Most of the people I see fishing for reds are using bull minnows or shrimp and fishing on the bottom with some sort of Carolina rig.”
At McLeod, Jimmie Lake is connected to the Jourdan River by a man-made channel. The narrow connection allows fish to come and go as the water and tidal patterns change. As the summer, progresses the salinity of the water increases, and saltwater species venture upstream.
Downstream from McLeod Park, the river gets more developed and noticeably wider. Residential development has flourished on either side of the I-10 bridge since Hurricane Katrina.
Diamondhead continues to rebuild and grow, and much of the river winds adjacent to the city. The development consists of a maze of canals, seawalls and boathouses that hold those fish that tolerate brackish water. Most of Diamondhead is north of the I-10 bridge, in the area patrolled by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Once you pass under I-10, you are in the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Regulation guides are available at most tackle shops and online.
The Jourdan empties into the Bay of Saint Louis. According to Ladner, the restaurants and shopping areas of Old Bay St. Louis are only a 30-minute ride by boat from McLeod, and a public pier is on the gulf side of the area.