Crappie, catfish both holding tight to woody cover at Ross Barnett

Brad Chappell, a fishing guide from Ridgeland, Miss., shows off a crappie he caught while using jigs tipped with soft-plastic trailers on a stormy day at Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, Miss. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

As summer approaches, anglers fishing Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, Miss. might need to search harder for their crappie.

The crappie spawn peaks from mid-March to mid-April. Although some fish might spawn in June, most already spawned by mid-May. After the arduous spawning process, crappie seek deeper waters to rest and recuperate. Some of the best fishing occurs in the Pelahatchie Creek area.

“Crappie are in post-spawn and heading deeper,” said Brad Chappell with Brad Chappell Guide Service (601-317-6681, in Ridgeland. “They’re starting to really gravitate towards structure on ledges next to deeper water, but fairly close to the shallows.”

Tickle their noses

Anglers found post-spawn crappie holding extremely tight to sunken trees, brush piles, stumps and other bottom cover in eight to 12 feet of water. While recuperating, crappie won’t move much and eat very little. They won’t chase baits far or fast. Anglers almost need to tickle their noses to make crappie bite.

Clay Blair, a fishing guide from Senatobia, Miss., shows off a crappie he caught while using Crappie Magnet jigs tipped with soft-plastic trailers at Ross Barnett Reservoir. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“Crappie are not out roaming in open water,” said Clay Blair with Clay Blair Fishing (662-501-0302, Facebook) of Senatobia, who normally guides on the Big Four lakes, but recently fished Ross Barnett. “We use forward-facing sonar to find stumps and brush tops. The fish reacted better to Crappie Magnets baits in ‘dude’ color, a darkish color with red specks in it, than anything else. We reeled baits very slowly over the brush tops to get reaction strikes. Frequently, we had to pass a fish multiple times before we got it to react.”

With Garmin LiveScope technology and other forward-facing sonar systems, anglers can pick out individual fish to target. When done correctly, an angler can put a bait right over a fish’s head. Some anglers cast small jigs and others use long poles to vertically drop temptations on fish burrowed deep in woody structures.

“I love casting to crappie while using forward-facing sonar,” Chappell said. “I use a 1/32-ounce jighead and a 1/16-ounce jighead tied 10 to 12 inches apart.

“Sometimes, I use two 1/16-ounce jigheads or a 1/16-ounce jighead in front and a 1/24-ounce behind. One of my favorite post-spawn baits is a Bobby Garland Itty Bit. Keep trying different colors.”

Blue and channel cats

While using FFS around stumps and other woody cover in eight to 10 feet of water, many crappie anglers also caught small blue and channel catfish holding tight to the structures. Blue and channel cats typically begin to spawn in May. Spawning could last into August.

“Catfish are starting to go shallow,” said Joey Pounders, a professional catfish angler from Caledonia. “Most flatheads and blues spawn from about May 15 to June 15. They’re trying to find the structure where they’re going to bed.”

Joey Pounders (left) and Josh Welch, both professional catfish anglers from Caledonia, Miss., admire a channel catfish and a blue catfish they caught in upper Ross Barnett Reservoir. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

Pounders usually fishes for giant whiskerfish, particularly flatheads. He once held the Mississippi state record with a 77-pound flathead. However, people who want some smaller channel and blue catfish to eat can drop natural baits around stumps or fish the flats along the channel edges.

“Blue catfish roam around looking for baitfish,” Pounders said. “I fish a lot of cut fish baits for blue cats. Ross Barnett is full of channel catfish. A 5-pound channel catfish’s mouth is much smaller than a 5-pound flathead, so it can’t handle giant baits. Smaller baits, fish chunks about two inches thick, would be ideal for channel catfish. Most channel cats run in the 2- to 10-pound range. Use baits proportionate to that size fish.”

Crappie will soon overcome their post-spawn lethargy and begin feeding heavily upon shad to replace their energy. In coming weeks, look for baitfish schools. As catfish prepare for their spawning season, they will also eat more to build up strength.

About John N. Felsher 59 Articles
An avid sportsman, John N. Felsher is a full-time professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 3,300 bylines in more than 160 different magazines. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at or through Facebook.

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