Summer wouldn’t let go of its scorching grip on the Mississippi Delta as temperatures soared to nearly 100 degrees just before the autumnal equinox. On the heels of a minor cool spell, the water temperature in Lake Washington dropped from the mid-90s to low 80s.
One of the largest and oldest natural lakes in Mississippi, Lake Washington averages about eight to 10 feet deep, but drops to 22 feet in places. Houses, camps and docks line one side of the 5,000-acre Mississippi River oxbow about 25 miles south of Greenville, Miss. The other side consists mainly of cypress trees growing in up to seven feet of water.
Fishing with Gene Bishop, (www.fish5work2.com) a Bassmaster Classic veteran, YouTuber and guide from the Jackson area, we hit the shady banks on the inhabited side at first light. We tried topwaters around the docks, stumps, trees and other structure.
“In the morning, I like to start with a topwater bait, like a SPRO Poppin’ Frog or a buzzbait,” Bishop said. “Once that slows down, I run a subsurface lure like a Redline Lures bladed jig in watermelon with a Strike King Rage Twin Tail Menace Grub on the back of it.”
In the lake filled with bluegills and enormous (for the species) redear sunfish (shellcrackers, chinquapin) Bishop rigs his bladed jigs differently. Instead of rigging a twin-tailed trailer horizontally, he attaches it vertically.
“With the trailer rigged vertically, it looks like a bream tail flipping as it goes through the water.” Bishop said. “I think a bladed jig mimics a bream more than anything else. Bass love big bluegills and Lake Washington is full of them. I think that’s why bass get so big on this lake.”
After landing several bass in the 1- to 3-pound range, we headed across the lake to fish the cypress trees as the sun grew more intense. Even on the hottest days, shade beneath the trees keeps the water cooler. Big bass gather under those trees during the summer and early fall when temperatures sizzle. Next to a shady tree, Bishop landed the lunker of the day, about a 5-pounder that hit the Redline Lures bladed jig.
“When the sun gets up, fish get easier to catch because they will be in the shade,” Bishop said. “Big bass will be right next to the tree trunks. When it gets really slow, I like to throw a green pumpkin Texas-rigged brush hog. I flip it under the boat docks as far as I can.”
Although a good bass lake, the ancient oxbow attracts more attention from crappie enthusiasts. Lake Washington produces many 1- to 2-pound crappie and some bigger ones. It has delivered 4- and even 5-pounders in the past. In addition to the abundant natural cover, the state established numerous fish attractors in Lake Washington.
In late winter and spring, the lake receives tremendous pressure from crappie anglers, but in the fall many sportsmen drop their fishing rods for firearms as hunting seasons start. In addition, schools open, football season begins and people do other things.
Watch for baitfish
In the two late September days I spent on the lake, we didn’t see another boat. However, as the last day of summer dawned, acres of baitfish dimpled the placid surface in the middle of the lake. Where baitfish gather, predators prowl.
“In late September, crappie scatter to chase bait,” said Will Hutto of Crappie Brothers Guide Service (601-906-7360) in Richland, Miss. “The lake is full of shad. I watch for baitfish flickering and bigger fish coming up to hit them. That’s the place to fish. As we get more into fall, fish will continue feeding up for the winter.”
When crappie scatter, anglers must find them. Calling it “long-lining,” Hutto trolls with several rods holding different temptations running at varied depths. Two of his favorite crappie enticements include Pico crankbaits and Crappie Magnet Fin Spins sweetened with curly-tail grubs. When he finds fish, Hutto works over the area with a spider rig.
“When fish scatter, look for bait,” Hutto said. “They go wherever the bait goes. I like long-lining so I can cover a lot of ground and find fish. In warmer weather, crappie chase baitfish more so they’ll go for something like a Fin Spin. The silver blades give off good flash, like something crappie would want to chase and eat.”
On this hot day, crappie stayed about 50 to 100 yards off the cypress trees in water seven to nine feet deep. Some fish dropped to about 13 to 15 feet deep. When baitfish do down, crappie go below them. Crappie look up and rise to attack succulent baitfish.
Bass and crappie anglers both use electronics to locate deeper fish and their preferred depth. The lake contains a tremendous amount of brush piles and other structure that hold various fish species. Besides bass, crappie and bream, the lake contains excellent blue, channel and flathead catfish populations.
“With the hot weather, fish are going to be down deep,” said “Big” Mike Jones of Bait-n-Thangs Outdoors Adventures (662-822-2087, www.baitnthangs.com) in Chatham, Miss. “Catfish always bite. They will be in the cooler areas of the lake. Fishing around the docks and in the shady areas produces the most action in hot weather.”
At Lake Washington, Jones conducts the annual Big Mama Crappie and Bass Tournament, slated for March 4, 2023. Anglers can bring in only one bass and/or crappie with the biggest one of each winning. Jones also raises money to honor veterans and supports Camp Looking Glass, which provides recreational activities for children and adults with disabilities.
People wishing to visit the area can find many places to stay around the lake. At Roy’s Store, people can buy snacks and supplies, grab a breakfast biscuit or lunch.
“We have a 3-bedroom, 2-bath mobile home and RV sites where people can stay,” Jones said. “People can rent cabins around the lake or stay at nearby Leroy Percy State Park.”
For details on the Big Mama Crappie and Bass Tournament or for lodging, call “Big Mike” at 662-822-2087.