By JOSHUA QUONG
’Tis the season for fishing in some of the best crappie lakes in the nation—all right here in north Mississippi
We in the ’Sip know about heat.
The oppression is real during the long humid days when the air inhaled feels hotter than the air exhaled, and we sit on porches swatting mosquitos wondering what happened to those milder temps.
This is when folks turn their attention to the water. The sweet relief of quick dips in the lake accompanied by watermelon and iced tea on piers and boat docks marks the beginning of summer. This is also about the time when most crappie fishermen put away their rods and reels, jig poles, and dreams, conceding the water to skiers and tubers.
But the spring spawn is just a precursor. There are still summer crappie to catch, and though Mississippi is blessed with a number of great inland fisheries, here are five of the heaviest hitters in the game that draw in tournament anglers, weekend warriors, and local fisherman alike!
The Fab Four
Crappie enthusiasts from all over know that at any given time of the year Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid, and Grenada Lakes are among the top ten crappie lakes in the nation. These lakes are located in the northcentral part of Mississippi along I-55 from Hernando to Grenada. After the Great Flood of 1927, these lakes were constructed mainly as flood control reservoirs. As a collateral effect, these new reservoirs provided fantastic habitat for gigantic crappie, which in turn has grown into a healthy and thriving outdoor economy for the state. In fact, people come from all over the US and abroad to catch trophy crappie in our lakes.
All four lakes profess prolific spring spawns as fish use river channels to make their way from the main lakes to shallow stands of backwater cypress trees. Here among the hanging Spanish moss, anglers wade with poles in hand and dance marabou jigs like marionettes to entice nesting fish. But once the spawn is over, these slab crappie head back out into the depths and suspend off points and underwater humps waiting for the right bait to swim by.
These four lakes are managed by the US Corps of Engineers and provide swim beaches, playgrounds, and numerous camping opportunities for primitive tent campers as well as those looking to take their travel trailers and RVs out for a few nights away.
The Jade Gem of the Delta
If the massive expanses of Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid, and Grenada Lakes seem a bit daunting, then there is a lake in the heart of the Mississippi Delta where massive slabs lurk in the depths of jade green waters.
Lake Washington is an old oxbow lake located in the southernmost portion of Washington County just a stone’s throw west of Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the “Fab Four,” this recurved pool was cut and formed by the Mighty Mississippi River hundreds of years ago. But like her big sisters, Lake Washington is also among the nation’s top ten crappie fisheries. The small communities of Glen Allan and Chatham are nestled on Lake Washington’s banks. The residents there refer to crappie as “white perch” and use jigs and minnows to catch the paper-mouthed fish while sculling through cypress knees in aluminum Jon boats or sitting atop five-gallon buckets from the bank.
Though there are no designated camping areas, visiting anglers can rent cabins and RV hook-ups through Roy’s Store, which has locations in both Chatham and Glen Allan.
In his story “When It’s Crappie You’re After,” Havilah Babcock recounts a time where all of his fishing know-how and tackle weren’t enough to help him catch a mess. He “espies” a woman sitting in a boat with a large stringer of crappie. She had caught them all right under her boat because fish like “dark, sinful places.” Babcock then employs the same technique, catches his mess, and tips the old lady for her advice.
There’s a lesson in this anecdote.
For those who are ready and willing to brave the heat at a chance to catch a Mississippi slab but still aren’t quite sure on where, when, or how, the best bang for your summertime buck is to hire a guide. These professionals have spent countless hours on the water figuring out as best as humanly and fishily as possible the optimum conditions where anglers can hook-up.
Aaron Barton, who owns and operates Barton Outfitters out of Oxford, Mississippi, notes that “spending thousands of hours now on these larger lakes where we guide, you gain an appreciation for all the nuances that you still haven’t figured out. Most of them relate to water levels, temperature, winds, and timing, but they can all have a major impact on your safety and success.”
And there are several methods to catch crappie as well. Longlining and crank baiting are common, but you can also live scope, spider rig, power troll, and single pole to catch crappie.
Allen “Torch” Tindle, who operates Torch’s Guide Service out of Cleveland, has tried them all. “I started fishing crappie tournaments in the late nineties and have been guiding twenty-eight years part time. I usually run eight B’n’M rods from eight to sixteen feet long on the rear of the boat. We use line counter reels to know how deep the crank baits are running, and we troll at about 1.8 miles per hour. When we run through a school of suspended fish, you can have a fish on each pole. It’s fast paced, and younger children really enjoy it.”
“I think crappie fishing is so popular because they are, in my opinion, the best tasting freshwater fish, and they are plentiful,” Tindle adds. And as far as timing? “Right now, the summer bite is on, and it’s one of my favorite times to fish. If you want to catch quantity and quality, now until November is a good time to book a trip!”
“Crappie fishing has always been a true passion of mine,” says B. J. Simmerman, a member of the Delta Valley Outdoors team and independent crappie guide operating out of Crowder, Mississippi. “Whether I’m scouting, guiding, or fishing tournaments, I love being on the water. It’s a passion I love sharing with others.”
Guide or no, nothing speaks more to summer in the South like a fish fry. Whether it be a plate full of fillets or stacks of whole fried fish for those more refined diners intent on “crunchin’ them fins,” the almighty white perch pleasures the palate like no other piscis.
So if you’re looking to satisfy your appetite for a crappie, slather on the sunblock, don a wide brim hat, and pack a cooler full of cold drinks because the summertime bite is as hot as the Mississippi sun.
To book a trip with a guide contact the following:
Aaron Barton of Barton Outfitters 469.763.1885 or Instagram @bartonoutfitters
B.J. Simmerman, crappie guide and Delta Valley Outdoors pro staffer 662.444.3137 or Instagram @bjsimmerman8
Allen “Torch” Tindle of Torch’s Guide Service 662.515.0175 or Facebook: Torch’s Guide Service