With the expansion of competitive crappie fishing in southeastern United States the subject of Mississippi fishing keeps coming up.
Each year anglers catch huge fish in the waters of this state. The northwestern corner of Mississippi is called the Arc of Slabs due to it quality white and black crappie population. It consists of four lakes Arkabutla Lake (11,870-acres); Enid Lake (16,130-acres), Grenada Lake (35,820-acres) and Sardis Lake (32,100-acres) are famous for their crappie fishing.
Along the Mississippi River are numerous oxbows, marshes and other backwaters.
Unlike the northern portions of the river, here in the southern end of the river, there are no dams and floodgates to control the flow. As a result, the river floods in spring as it expands depositing soils on the shore which aids agriculture. It also floods back into the oxbows and marshes “stocking” them with fish from the main river. As the water recedes, it traps fish in these shallow waterways.
The fish that follow the flow of water in search of food in the form of insects, crustaceans and other small marine animals are stuck when the water recedes.
Anglers in small Jon boats, canoes and kayaks probe these waters. The smaller boats are necessary as access to these backwater situations is often off the beaten path. It becomes necessary to pull them through brush and across fields. The lighter craft are essential.
The same applies to tackle. Experienced anglers use light tackle and lures. If live bait is required then small coolers with air pumps are the ticket. Crappie anglers prefer worms or minnows in the live bait. They use small amounts of small jigs and other lures. It is best to be selective since a few ounces saved in physical weight are helpful.
First time visitors hire guides, question locals at the marinas, bait shops and local facilities in an effort to find the best locations to fish. Those anglers looking for trophy crappie seem to migrate to Mississippi.
By following a few guidelines, one can have a great day in the outdoors as a ground pounder.
Tip 1 No matter what the gear or the bait for that matter, the key to catching fish from shore is to find structure and vegetation in the water. Fish follow pathways along and around structure. They will follow one type of structure to another.
Tip 2 Seldom will fish cross large expanses of open water. It makes them vulnerable to predators. If an angler eliminates the large expanse of open water, he reduces the search area.
Tip 3 One good choice is an area where two or more kinds of structure meet. This could be where weeds meet each other, a fallen tree or rocky area. Areas around rocky points, dam faces, or jetties can also have vegetation near by that will attract fish. Other good locations can be where feeder streams or canals bring in warmer water, oxygenated water, and wash in insects from flooded areas upstream. Creek channels provide pathways between structures. Fish often use old creek channels when they move from weeds to brush or shallow water to deep water.
Tip 4 Deep water drop offs are popular with fish. It allows them the security of deep water and yet the opportunity to move up into the warmer water of the flats to feed.
Tip 5 More good locations along the shore are partially submerged trees or those that have fallen into the water. Stump fields, logs and broken tree branches that have fallen into the water will attract fish. Vegetation such as willows, cattails, weeds, and lily pads provide food, shelter and a place of safety to fish.
Tip 6 Bait can be a major factor in shore fishing. For smaller species, such as bluegill and crappie, live bait is best. The bait can be small minnows, and pieces of night crawler. The amino acids in live bait are an attractant to fish coming out of a long winter of minimal activity. They also will be feeding on zooplankton and insects found in or near vegetation.
Tip 7 For the larger predator fish, such as bass, an artificial lures are popular. When working a lure through and area it is important to work it through. Fan cast a dozen or so times. Retrieve the lure at different speeds and work it in different depths.
Tip 8 Be flexible and portable. If a given location is not producing in 15 minutes, it is time to try another one. Go where the fish go.
Pulling into the state park 12 miles west of Lebanon, MO, all appears normal. Then the amount of vegetation in the stream appears excessive. There is the sound of an outboard motor. It is an unusual situation because the Missouri Department of Conservation does not allow boats in the trout fishing area. This is going to be a strange day of trout fishing.
The Department of Conservation releases Rainbow Trout into the stream daily during the months of March through October and anglers flock to take part in the excellent opportunity to catch good sized fish. Today the anglers are leaving as they meet in the parking lot and discuss the situation.
The stream divides into three zones for fishing. Zone 1 runs from the Hatchery Dam upstream to the end of the trout fishing area. Anglers who are fishing with flys only are permitted in this zone. Zone 2 runs from the Hatchery Dam downstream to the Whistle Bridge. Only flys and artificial lures are allowed in this zone. Zone 3 runs from Whistle Bridge downstream to the Niangua River. Only unscented soft plastic baits and natural and scented bait is permitted in this section of the stream. All flys and artificial lures are not permitted in Zone 3 even if natural or scent is added.
The normally pristine stream is choked with what appears to be coontail. It is great cover for trout but a mess for the angler. And what about that outboard motor? It only takes a few casts before anglers give up and head for the lodge for lunch and some explanation.
On the way to the lodge parking lot the answer to some of the problem is on display for all to see at the dam and below it.
The Department of Conservation employee was going back and forth across the stream on a small boat equipped with a cutting blade on the front, below the water. The rig was chopping up the vegetation which then washed over the dam. The noise of an outboard on the back of the boat was stirring up any fish in the water. Below the dam anglers were also giving up as the vegetation washing toward them was getting entangled in their lines.
The water that is clear of vegetation is a different shade of green but does not amount to a lot of fishing area at this time. Later after lunch more area is open and the fishing picks up. The work done by the Department of Conservation has kind of ruined the fishing for today. But, there will be others.
As the sun sets it is time to pack up and head for St. Louis.
At first glance, launching a boat from a trailer looks like a simple procedure. But, anyone who has tried it knows full well that it takes some practice to back up to the ramp, drop the boat in the water and them scramble to get out of the way of the next guy.
There are three phases. With practice you can easily master the pre-launch, launching and retrieving a boat but it does not come automatically.
Boat trailers come in a variety of configurations. They do have some things in common. There is a winch post and winch. Most have fenders over the tires, and most have submergible taillights. If the taillights are not submergible disconnect them prior to backing into the water and reconnect when taken out.
At the ramp, before you actually launch, it is a good idea to pull off to the side. Transfer gear such as coolers, fishing tackle and safety equipment to the boat. Make sure you have at least one Personal Floatation Device (PFD) for each person in the boat. Later make sure everyone wears them. Install and/or tighten drain plugs. Check batteries. If necessary hook up and pressurize fuel lines with a couple of pumps of the primer blub.
Next check the ramp itself. Look at how steep it is and how deep the water. Is the ramp slick or dry? Is there a dock where you can tie up? Or will you have to beach the boat after launching?
Returning to the boat, remove the tie downs. Be sure to keep the bow winch line attached to the bow hook. Make sure there is at least one docking line attached so that the boat is controllable once it is afloat. Two lines are better as they afford better control over the boat once it is in the water.
Before launching, raise the motor so that the prop and lower unit will have ample clearance as you back down the ramp.
Phase two is the actual launch. It is best to allow the most experienced person in your group to back the trailer down the ramp. It can avoid damage to the boat and/or trailer from unseen obstacles. On a multilane ramp, be sure to remain in your lane.
Backing up is easy if you just place one hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and look in your mirrors. Then as you back you move your hand (and the wheel) in the direction you want the trailer to travel.
Back down until the front of your trailer fender is even with the surface of the water. On very flat ramps you may need to back it in further on steep ramps not so far. The type of boat can also make a difference on how far you need to back into the water.
Once in position, set the parking brake on your vehicle. Grasp the winch handle before you release the ratchet mechanism. You may need to give the boat a push. If it still will not move out into the water, then re-lock the winch and back up the trailer a little further. Then repeat the procedure.
Some boaters can use the motor to power the boat off the trailer. If you do so make sure there is enough clearance for the prop to clear the bottom of the water. The intakes of the motor must be below the surface to avoid damage.
Once the boat is afloat tie it off to the dock. Remove your vehicle and trailer to the parking area immediately.
The final phase is the retrieval of the boat at the end of the day. It is common courtesy to tie your boat to the dock or circle on the water until your trailer is in place on the ramp.
As you drive your boat onto the trailer, be sure to center it. Drive up to whining a few inches of the winch stand. Attach the winch strap to the bow eye and take in any slack. Tilt your outboard motor up and be sure the winch strap is secure before driving up the ramp. Otherwise you might find your boat does not follow you up the ramp.
Once up the ramp pull back into the parking area so as to be out of the way of others. Once there secure your tie downs and pull the drain plug. Transfer gear back into your vehicle and dispose of accumulated trash in proper receptacles. Secure any gear left in the boat to avoid not losing it on the road going home.
It is a good idea to stop at a car wash to pressure wash the boat and trailer on the way home or before another launch. Invasive species and vegetation are a problem when boats are launched in more than one body of water. Cleaning the hull will go a long way toward avoiding transfer from one lake to another.
The season for Missouri trout park fishing opens in early spring. River banks are wall to wall anglers for the first few days. Then the crowds of opening day gradually disappear. Still fishing for these little torpedoes remains excellent.
Classic trout fishermen typically throw very small flys. The reason they can do that is that the fish’s vision is very acute. Certain environmental conditions call for the use of certain flys. Trout are sight feeders.
Using dry flys is not the only way. Their eyes are mid-range. That means they are comfortable looking up for food as well as down. They are multi-directional feeders.
Simple is good when trout fishing. Try natural bait. It is never too big. Trout have an amazing ability to consume large baits when it comes to natural ones. They are little Billy goats. If they are hungry they are going to eat it. They do often prefer only very tiny offerings but it they are hungry they will take almost anything in the tackle box.
Trout in the wild moving water in the 40 to 55-degree range with a rocky bottom. They can survive in pond water but on a more limited basis.
On rivers where water levels change during the day, they survive through adaptation. When the current is fast, they move near the edges of the river system. As water levels lower and current decreases they go more toward the middle or anywhere. They will range most of the river system relating to structure to conserve energy and preserve calories.
Trout have a lateral line like all fish. He will respond to movement, vibration and sound. The lateral allows him to pinpoint a direction from which those things emanate. They move toward that sound and use their sight to zero in on it.
Trout have tiny scales because they live often in a moving water environment. This coupled with their slime coat allows them to go nose into the current with less energy. They are also very slippery to handle while landing them.
Southern Missouri has rainbow and brown trout. Rainbows are the prominent stocking fish. That is because they are the easiest trout to grow. They take to the food, they take to the overcrowding and they take any polluted water a little bit better than a brown trout.
Taken from a hatchery and placed in any body of water there are two things to remember about trout. Where did that truck back up to? And what do you have a lot of in your tackle box? For about 3 days trout are stupid. They spend some time where they are released trying to get acclimated. They will bite anything. They do not have the instincts and intuition of a wild trout because they have never had to do anything for their meals.
Stocked lakes do not usually have a trout kill. Anglers remove most of the trout. Every once in a while someone catches a whopper in a lake where they have been stocking them for a number of years.
Spin tackle is the main mid-western tackle for trout fishing. Out west there is more fly fishing.
Use a relatively light rod to match to your style of fishing. Light to medium-light action is best because it is very soft and very limber. You can throw very small lures with it. The reason you might like the open spinning reel for trout is that you can use lighter line. It works well with 4 to 6 pound test line.
Most of the time trout are going to respond to lures of 1 1/2 inch or less. In stained water you might want to use something a little larger.
You can also get away with a little bigger line of 6 to 8-pound test in camo-green. You might use the bigger line with a 2 foot leader of 4-pound monofilament.
For lures use anything from micro jigs up. Rainbow trout and the color pink seem to go together. Red, brown and orange are good colors for brown trout. You can dress a jig by putting a bobber six or eight feet above it. It is not as much as a strike indicator but to give the line weight for casting. In clear water a clear bobber is best. If you need to cast a long way you can put some water in the bobber or add split shot.
If you are getting short strikes because the fish is attacking the feather portion of the jig presentation, trim the tail a little making the whole presentation shorter and closer to the hook.
Adjust the bobber according to the water depth you are wanting to fish.
Spinners catch more fish than any other class of lure. It is basically a piece of metal that goes round and round. It creates a visual flash and a good deal of vibration. Fish pick up the vibration through the lateral line and come from a long way away. In clear water the flash is a big advertisement.
The best way to handle a trout if you plan to release it is to grab the lure without touching the fish and with the fish still in the water. If you use a net, get one that is very fine mesh. Large mess will damage the fish. Dunk the net before using it to hold the fish. Leave the net in the water as you remove the lure. Forceps are best for removing the lure.
Fishing boat docks is a good early spring technique that also works at other times of the year. It is a post-spawn pattern. Joe Thomas, professional bass angler is an expert with the pattern. Sitting on a dock at Lake Fork in Texas, he explained the following.
The Ohio based Thomas offered this advice to those wanting to fish manmade structures. “There are two primary dock structures: floating docks for lakes and rivers where water fluctuates and the permanent platform docks that have permanent piers,” explains Thomas. “Both are productive but that they require different fishing methods to catch fish.”
Beginning with floating docks, Joe sees two thing happening. In deep cool lakes, especially those with spotted bass, many of the fish will hold on the structures under the dock. These are cables and weights that actually secure the dock in place. In that situation his favorite technique is to take a small jig or shaking worm (a glass bead and a little finesse worm) and shake it up under the dock. He throws it up under the dock along the side of the floating dock. When it comes through and across the cables during the retrieve, spotted bass will position to attack it. His other pattern for catching fish on floating docks is when the fish are in that spawn to post-spawn mode. They will suspend, largemouth especially, right under the floats of the dock. Joe then takes a lure that dives 12 to 18 inches and works the perimeter of the floats.
The bass will position themselves in the shade and come out to attack the bait. In this situation, his favorite bait is a jerkbait. Joe recommends using a minnow imitating color and jerking the bait along the perimeter of the dock trying to get the bass to come out. If the fish are not active, Thomas recommends trying a wacky worm, or floating worm. He works that around the perimeters of the docks. “A lot of times they will follow the bait out from under the dock,” says Joe. He is quick to point out that they will not eat it. If it is stopped and allowed to fall, fish will go down and get it.
When it comes to stationary platforms, Thomas likes to stay more with a flipping method. He prefers to use a jig, Texas-rigged plastic worm or crawfish bait. He tries to get up to the actual structures of the pier. Thomas explains that, “most piers have concrete on the bottom and they can vary in depth from 10 to 15 feet in depth.” To Joe the key is to find the depth where the fish are located. Once you locate that depth, you can then locate all the docks that are in that depth ranger and fish them all.
Joe explains that many people just fish docks and they do not think about the depth those poles are in and where to locate the fish. He believes that if you find the fish are in 3 foot of water you can run the wake and work that pattern in 3 foot of water. The key is to find where the fish are and then use a subtle presentation. He recommends pitching or flipping and heavy enough tackle so that when a fish is hooked and he tries to get out the backside of the pier you can haul in the fish.
Concrete docks are unique according to Thomas. The vertical concrete is usually in reservoirs and consists of such structures as pump houses, docks and bridge pilings. They are not as good at harboring bass but at certain times, they are worth exploring. When the shad hang around the bass will follow them to the concrete structures.
Thomas believes that it is a good winter structure because it is vertical. In winter many lakes are drawn down, the fish will gravitate to vertical structure because they can move straight up and down with the bait and they do not have to travel great distances. That is when concrete is effective. Thomas catches bass with a jerk bait or spoon at this time. His key is to find the depth of the baitfish and then to key on it.
Every dock is different and has its own personality according to Thomas. Joe tries to develop a pattern within a pattern on docks. His theory is that if you realize that the majority of fish are coming on the first two to three docks in a cove, that is something you should register. Within that pattern, you want to know; are they under the catwalks, inside poles or outside poles? Is the dock and isolated dock? Are there groups of docks? More often than not Joe gravitates toward isolated docks because he has less to fish. The fish in that area are going to gravitate toward that one dock. He has found that day in and day out the isolated docks are going to be more productive.
Joe likes wooden ladders that go down into the water. The bass will hold on them and you can step a jig down the steps just as you would ledges. He has also found that people throw brush off catwalks and it attracts fish. On the docks them selves, he looks for rod holders and lights indicating that people fish there.
It is important to not only fish docks but also the structure that property holders place in the water along side of them.
Clear water with shoreline weeds and an abundance of submerged wood makes for a blue gill factory. Devils Kitchen Lake is well known for its magnificent scenery and lack of fishing pressure. As the water warms, anglers find this southern Illinois lake teaming with bluegills moving into the shallow coves at the south end.
By casting into the woody areas in about two or three feet of water fishermen find plenty of action. This member of the sunfish family is a sucker for crickets on a small wire hook. Later on we have to plumb the water as deep as 18 feet.
The number three most popular fish in Illinois is the bluegill. It is surpassed only by largemouth bass and channel catfish. In fact the bluegill is the official state fish.
Bluegills do best in lakes or ponds containing clear water with some submerged vegetation. This lake has all that in abundance.
They prefer lakes with simple fish populations. Lakes with shad and carp populations tend to have small bluegill populations. Devils Kitchen is basically a bass, shell cracker (redear sunfish), bluegill, crappie and trout lake. Each of these species tends to move into their own habitat during the year and do not conflict with one another.
The closest competition is between the shell crackers (redear sunfish) and bluegills. They can be found in the same water but will be relating differently to the structure. Bluegills relate to vertical structure and shell crackers to horizontal.
Early in the year, shell crackers will be feeding on the bottom of shallow coves. The bluegill will be slightly deeper and seeking food in the weeds or along vertical tree trunks. Later, they can both be found on the same submerged tree. Bluegills will relate to the vertical trunk and the shell cracker on the outstretched limbs.
Some good locations for early season gills are area “17″ in the southeast portion of the lake. Another is the Panther’s Den area at the south end of the lake. It has tall bluffs and deep water.
This lake contains lots of bass. The hungry bass eat enough to control the numbers of bluegills. With controlled numbers in place the forage is not over utilized. The control of bluegill populations also means a population of healthy bluegills.
Due to the unusual water clarity light clear line is advisable. If using a float, one that is small and light is preferable to the traditional large bobber. Lightweight wire hooks come in handy as they can be pulled loose from submerged wood. It is important to periodically check the point of the hook as they dull or break from time to time. The hooks should be the size appropriate to trout fishing, a number 10 or 12 hook works well.
Natural bait is best for bluegill fishing. Crickets or one inch piece of nightcrawler works well.
Bluegill fishing this time of year involves finding the beds. During the May and August spawns, Bluegills tend to give a kind of moderate effort at reproduction. During the June and July spawns they make a strong effort. The spawn in each of these months consists of those five days on either side of the full moon.
A good way to pattern the spawning beds before actually fishing them is to scour the shore making notes of the locations of beds in eight feet of water or deeper. The clarity of the water makes this a simple task. It is best done between 9:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Polarized sunglasses and a baseball style cap make seeing the beds easier on the eyes.
Once a half dozen beds are located, return to the first one and begin fishing it. As the fish move off a bed, move to the next one. By the time all the beds have been fished it is okay to begin the cycle over again.