The last bream spawn for Mississippi’s summer is approaching. Here’s how to take advantage of the Magnolia’s favorite sunfish.
August is marked by days of heat, two-a-day football misery, sweaty girls playing softball, NFL teams cutting final rosters and college teams checking the county jails for prospects.
Yep, summer in the South.
And, in a lake near you, bream will be bedding for perhaps the last time in 2019. Bluegills and their cousins are triggered to bed by photoperiod — the length of daylight in a 24-hour period — water quality and temperature. These pint-sized cricket eaters will repeat the process from spring to fall as long as these criteria are met. The days near the monthly full moon and, to a lesser degree, the new moon, are the peak bedding times. Where there is a bed in April, there will likely be a bed in September.
“State lakes have a good reputation as bream producers,” said Jerry Brown, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “As a rule, the fishing pressure may be a little lighter in the late summer. Skiing and pleasure boating may be restricted or prohibited, so the water is less disturbed, and a periodic restocking may have been completed with new fish having extra time to grow. There are just too many factors affecting the lake habitat to go into here.”
So many bream-related articles begin with a nostalgic note. While it’s true that many a first fish caught was of the bream variety and came from a creek or farm pond, the fact is the little fighters remain a popular pursuit by savvy anglers. With a small hook and a bit of earthworm, just about anyone can catch a pond perch, but bringing a trophy bluegill to the boat with a dry fly or light tackle is much easier said than done.
Brown points to a few lakes as being good destinations across Mississippi. In the central portion of the state, Lake Tom Bailey and Prentiss Walker Lake are among top choices. In the northern counties, Lake Lamar Bruce and Tippah County Lake are consistent bream producers. In the south, Lake Bogue Homa and Lake Mary Crawford hold favor among serious bream hunters.
The Information Highway
“Regular updates on all these and other lakes are found at mdwfp.com,” Brown said. “Needless to say, the backwater flooding of 2019 had wreaked havoc with the lakes of the south Delta, such as Eagle and Chotard. They will rebound, but not soon. Catfish and Asian carp are plentiful, but bream missed a lot of spawning time.”
Anglers can get current information on the MDWPF website by reviewing the “Reel Facts” listed with each lake. Also available are lake-bottom reports, with the location of fish-attracting structure such as pallet piles and brush piles. Some state lakes, such as Tom Bailey, have fishing piers with nearby fish attractors for use by the boatless anglers.
Rick Dillard, a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, tells anglers not to forget smaller lakes such as Marathon in the Bienville National Forest and Davis Lake in the Tombigbee National Forest. Turkey Fork, Choctaw Lake and Okhissa remain good picks as well.
New Kid on the Block
The coppernose bluegill is not a newcomer to the fishing world, but its introduction has happened over a long-enough period of time that the long-term effect of the fish can be seen. To dispel a misconception, the coppernose is a specific subspecies common to Florida that’s able to thrive in many Mississippi waters. Once introduced, the coppernose will reproduce and even hybridize with native bluegills and green sunfish.
Sellers of bulk fish for stocking in private ponds and lakes offer coppernose as well as several other bream varieties. The basic bluegill and redear sunfish remain the most popular.
All bream prefer a bottom of sand or pea gravel for spawning. Males make the nest, attract the females and then protect the eggs and fry until they leave the nest. Crawfish, bigger fish, frogs and wading birds all take their share of the little ones. The sheer numbers of eggs is the greatest defense the bream have, that and the fact they can spawn monthly.
Insects are far and away the best live bait for bream success. There was a time when earthworms were the top seller, but a quick survey of local bait shops indicates crickets have leaped ahead of worms. Both get the job done with equal ability; crickets are just a little easier to handle — and chase around the boat.
Catalpa worms, aka catawba worms, are an excellent bait and a very durable alternative to earthworms and crickets. Finding these green and black leaf eaters can prove to be a challenge, and they usually fetch a pretty penny when you locate them. Roaches were a big ticket item in the middle of the last century, not the big, long cockroaches we find so disgusting, but smaller wingless models with little ridges on their back. Bream love ’em; fishermen, not so much.
So many good bream lakes exist in Mississippi that an entire magazine could be dedicated to that subject. The number of creeks, small rivers and farm ponds and their panfish offerings is beyond calculation.
“Proximity is a key factor in my choice to bream fish,” said Donnie Stuart of Pelahatchie, a Baptist minister and retired school teacher. “If I just want to catch a mess for supper, I’ll stay close to home, going to a local pond or maybe Shadow Lake at Roosevelt State Park. If I have the time to travel, I’ll include a friend and we’ll take a day trip to a lake such as Lake Mary Crawford or perhaps Lake Prentiss Walker.”
Tackle Troubles? Nah
Being a country boy reared on a Rankin County chicken farm, Stuart didn’t have access to the big box stores for tackle. He was limited to the offerings on the wall at Pep Gray’s country store: “ready rigs” that required just a pole, an offering of loose hooks, simple floats and a split-shot box that admonished the buyer to “Take a kid fishing.” All a boy needed to go bream fishing was a dollar and the time to go.
“Early on, I developed a strong attraction to fly-fishing, partially because of reading magazines at the barber shop,” Stuart said. “So my fly rod became my go-to pole for all fish. In recent decades, ultralight tackle and crappie poles with underslung reels have taken the spotlight, but I still love to use a fly rod for bream.”
Baits for bream were never a problem for Stuart; farm products or by-products, as the case may be, supplied an endless supply of earthworms, gall worms, beetles, grasshoppers and crickets. Roaches were and remain a favorite food of bream, but very few bait shops bother to stock them. Tadpoles are another good bream offering but are difficult to catch and keep. Excellent bait listings must include catalpa worms. They can be home grown, and a few shops offer them on a limited basis. Snip off the head and turn the worm inside-out on a long-shank, No. 6 bait-guard hook. It should be good for multiple catches before it’s necessary to bait up again.
“There are hundreds of excellent bream flies on the market, and few of them are anything new, just showing a different paint job or a different display card,” Stuart said. “Breambugs.com has the best off I’ve seen and at reasonable prices. They offer the old Bar-Nun patterns Mississippi anglers loved.”
Scott Sheppard of Brandon is another avid bream fisherman who has a few likes and dislikes. He offers these observations from years of fishing.
“Bream hooks need to be dark, not gold or silver, but black or blued. And the split shot needs to be small and well up the line from the bait,” Sheppard said. “The other thing is the size and contrast of the bobber. No bobber, just a tight line, is good for bedding bream, Males on the nest are looking for danger from above, and when a large object lands in the water overhead, they become beware.”
Sheppard uses natural floats and quills that resemble floating debris and make less disturbance when they move; a quill makes for less splash than a red/white, hard-plastic float.
Kids are Quick Studies
Kids today fish with a different passion; instead of procuring tackle, they have big box stores and an almost limitless choice of tackle. Few, if any, will have to secure a pole and use black electrical tape to attach a line, and don’t even ask them about a “ready rig.” But the passion for fishing remains, sparked by those times when catching is good and the promise of more days to come is a good bet.
Lilly Hawkins is an 11-year-old from Brandon who responds immediately to the call of the water. Statically, as many girls are fishing as are boys; she just seems a little more dedicated than her sisters. She removes her own fish, baits her own hook and helps clean the catch — not to mention, she is good at skinning frogs. When strangers approach and ask how to catch big stringers, she has a simple answer. “Fish like a girl.”