I love to talk about crappie fishing. I’ll talk to a wall if you can convince me it likes to fish for crappie. I love learning about new lakes and different techniques. I love each of the big crappie lakes in Mississippi (and a few of the smaller, lesser-known ones) and those lakes in our surrounding states, but none more than the Ross Barnett Reservoir. I’m glad they named the lake after a man. If I spoke a woman’s name as often, my wife would think I’m having an affair. The lake might as well be my mistress, I run off to it every time my wife turns her back.
Over the years, this infatuation has led to countless conversations with other fisherman about the lake and fishing in general. I don’t know exactly when Adam Calcote and I started chatting, and I can’t say how many times we have mentioned that we would hit the lake together somewhere amongst the hundreds of reports and vast amounts information we shared with each other. The stars aligned, I guess, and maybe my pedestal base breaking and dumping me in the lake was my last penance to be paid, but we both had the same day free
and jumped on the opportunity.
To say we got along like peas and carrots, other than it being an incredibly cliche and well-worn phrase, wouldn’t quite paint the right picture. I don’t think peas nor carrots could sit with each other and listen to 6 and a half hours of the Grateful Dead and still want one more of Garcia’s guitar solos. We talked for 8 hours on the water and then stood around the parking lot, sunburnt and tired and still rambling. We could have struck out and still had a famous time, but we didn’t. We caught ‘em. We busted ‘em. I mean we hit them right in the mouth! And not just any ole crappie. Yeah, we caught them too, the 1.5 lb Barnett specials are thick, but we found some flat out Donkeys, including my all time personal best (a speck on Barnett, nonetheless)! We are going to call it a 3.06 lbs (3.08 at the ramp), but that was on a handheld Rapala scale known for being a few tenths short.
So let’s paint the scene: It was an overcast morning with a fairly high chance of thunderstorms, the sky was carpeted in a heavy tapestry of different shades of gray. Some light and hopeful, some dense and heavy, and a few darker, more angry colors on the fringes. All of it spoke of precipitation. The wind was up a bit early in the morning. Just enough to counteract the current. This lake, like most in the South, has seen a lot of rainfall this year. This coupled with Pearl River Valley trying to maintain the extra-low winter drawdown level as they fight the Giant Salvinia invasion on Pelahatchie Bay has led them to shooting all of the water straight out through the spillway to keep the lake level down. This plan has put a lot of extra current through the lake. Current and Barnett can be tricky, a couple of days of moderate current and the fish can shut off. Closing the gates quickly and stopping the current can mess up your pattern, too, but hard current over several days does some great things for the fisherman. Ask anyone who has been in the Welfare Hole when the current has ripped down the lake all week. Local anglers have all heard the legends of Welfare when the current stacks the shad in and crappie stage on the edge of the big eddy.
Barnett has offered up some great boxes of fish to the guys who have braved the weather over the past several weeks. Tuesday morning, however, they started closing the gates again, and by the time Adam and I idled his Ranger 620 out of the harbor at Tommy’s on Wednesday morning, a quick check of the “current tails” on the channel markers told us the current was fairly well slack. When you have been fishing recently but don’t know exactly what to do, sometimes your best bet is to start where they were and then work out from there. Crappie are always following the bait. Adam had recently been on a better class of fish than I, so we started from his spot and began to whittle away. We eased the throttle back at an old lake bed down the lake. These old holes lined with standing timber and steep ledges will act as really efficient current breaks during high current periods. It gives the bait protection from being swept down the lake and offers great ambush points for crappie. Adam had the Terrova in the water and on course as we unrolled the 14’ Wally Marshall Signature Series rods. Our weapon for the day was going to be a Capps and Coleman-style rig with bare Mad Crappie jig heads on the bottom and Jerry Gross’s “Meatgetter Jigs”( Jerry Gross) unweighted minnow hook on top anchored by 3/4oz Wally Marshall Bullet Weights in the middle. The slack current did as expected, it spread and irritated the fish. The bite was subtle. I am the guy who will swing on a fish as soon as I see the strike, but many times today they would hit it and drop it, then come back around and pick it up and slowly swim away with it. We missed a few before we adjusted to their attitude
The fish came in flurries. Two here, three there. If your partner hooked a fish, then it paid well to keep an eye on your tips as you acted as net man. A couple of times, Adam would trespass on my side to hook one, only for me to have to reach under and stick one on his side. This led to some amusing games of Crappie Twister. We drifted out of the timber into some nearby open water over the old lake bed when Adam stuck a bruiser. A 2.5 lb speck came over the gunwale. My outside rod ticked, and then the tip raised up as the fish picked the bait upwards. I swung the rod and drove the hook. I hit ‘er like Babe Ruth. The rod arched over as the load spread throughout its length. Then, the Crappie refused to be moved. The rod took up the load but the fish didn’t budge. This fish was big and not happy about the Mad Crappie Jighead( Jerry LeBlanc) lodged into the hard cartilage of its upper lip. She raged and wasn’t planning to go quietly into that good net. It looked like a hubcap boiled on the surface when she rolled. Adam, still in the back of the boat topping off the chemicals in the live well, made it to the bow in about two giant steps just as I maneuvered the fish into the net. I think that was the first moment of silence the boat had seen since we left the ramp. It was the biggest crappie I had ever laid eyes on, and like most fish that morning, it was a Black Crappie. Adam had it hanging from the scales in a flash, and I could tell by the look on his face that we had broken that coveted mark. We sat down and got everything back under control just in time for Adam to stick a 2.98lb speck a few feet away, and I didn’t skip out on my net duties. If it were tournament day, I would have put our seven biggest against any team in the country. I don’t think one of the seven would have been under 2.4/2.5. All in all, I couldn’t tell you how many fish surrendered to the flow that day. After sticking two fish of a lifetime in two moments, we coasted the rest of the day. Then sun came out just before lunch and the bite changed. It was many more throwbacks mixed in but we didn’t miss a beat.
My time on Barnett has yielded many 2.5s, 2.7s, even a 2.89/2.9. Fish so close to that sacred 3lb mark that every fiber of your being wants to call them a 3lb’er. Only good character and a healthy respect for the game and your other fisherman keeps you honest enough to say ALMOST a three. Not anymore. I can finally say that I passed the mark. Not on Grenada, not on Washington, nor Arkabutla, or Enid. I have fished most of them many times, but it happened here on my dear ole Ross Barnett. For Adam, it was his third in two weeks. If the Welfare Hole was the Motherload then we were on the Grand-mother load!
I broke a personal record and made a good friend in the process. We barely deserve days that fine!