I-55 corridor is crappie central for Mississippi anglers

I-55 between New Orleans and Chicago cuts through some of the best crappie lakes in Missisisippi — and the nation. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

Remember when America’s interstate highways were known as “Super Slabs,” in reference to the long, thin, seemingly endless ribbons of concrete that linked our states.

One of those roadways truly lived up to that nickname.

I-55, which connects New Orleans and Chicago, is the boss of super slabs — at least the part that runs through Mississippi. You see, adjacent to its path through the Magnolia State are some of the world’s best crappie-fishing lakes.

FYI, big crappie also go by the nickname “slabs” for the prized slabs of flaky, white-meat fillets they feature.

Most of the attention goes to the I-55 stretch between Jackson and Barnett Reservoir north to Sardis and Sardis Lake. In between are the two most-notable lakes, Grenada, the consensus No. 1 crappie lake in the world, and Enid Lake, where the world record white crappie of 5 pounds, 3 ounces was caught in 1955 and has never been bettered.

There’s also Arkabutla Lake at Coldwater at the very north end, which is always included in any discussion of top crappie lakes in the country, probably because it has been featured often on Bill Dance’s TV shows.

Southern spoilers

But did you know that two other lakes at the south end that could definitely be added to the I-55 Super Slab corridor.

They may not be nearly as famous, but Lake Lincoln near Wesson and Calling Panther Lake at Crystal Springs are rapidly earning reputations for their crappie production.

Lake Lincoln, also the name of the state park where it’s located, is known for quantity. Here’s all you need to know — when federal officials wanted crappie to stock at the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Okhissa at Bude, they came from Lincoln.

They were captured there by electroshocking boats and transferred 40 miles by livewell trucks to Okhissa and released more than a decade ago. In the time since, those Lincoln transfers have produced a blooming fishery.

“Okhissa may have been designed as a bass-fishing destination lake, but its natural topography is absolutely perfect for crappie,” said Bill Runnels, a perch-jerking regular from Brookhaven. “There’s so much deep water there, with a lot of deep structure, and that it is ideal. They have done well.

“But when I heard they were taking them out of Lake Lincoln, that bothered me back then, because it was so good for crappie I hated for them to take the fish out. Turns out, it didn’t make a dent in the fishing. There were so many in the lake that I actually think it was a blessing for Lincoln to take the few hundred or so they took. In the last 10 years, the average size of Lincoln crappie I’m catching is bigger, a lot bigger, than what I used to catch.”

Head to the banks

Runnels trolls most of the year at Lincoln, but not in April.

“No way. I’m headed to the banks, and I’m jigging for spawners,” he said. “The males move up in late March and start turning black. The females usually move up about the first week of April and stay good through the last week of the month. I’ve caught plenty on straight, vertical jigging under a slip cork in 18 inches to 2 feet of water, and that’s great if you like to feel the thump of a bite.

“But I’ve started throwing little spinnerbaits like a Road Runner on ultralight spinning gear, and that’s fun. It may not produce the numbers that jigging will but, man-oh-man, is it fun. I love it. You need to be ready for something bigger, too, because last year I caught a 10-pound largemouth doing that, and a lot of smaller bass, too.”

Calling Panther slabs

Calling Panther, a jewel of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ state lake system, is similar in its topography: lots of deep cover that fosters a strong crappie population.

“I catch more at Lincoln, but I’ve caught much bigger ones at Calling Panther,” Runnels said. “My biggest is 3.25 and I’ve had at least 10 more 3 pounds or better. I don’t do so good there during the spawn, because I just haven’t found the hot spawning spots yet. I do better there in February and March when the big females are starting to move up but are still hanging in 8 to 10 feet of water. They are full of eggs and thick as slabs get.”

Runnels said he would like to zero in on the spawning areas at Calling Panther but is torn between his choices.

“I know I can go to Lincoln and catch them, that’s a given,” he said. “It’s hard to leave them biting to go searching. Heck, I’d even like to go find where they spawn at Okhissa, too, but there just aren’t enough days.”

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Bobby Cleveland
About Bobby Cleveland 1271 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.

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