There aren’t many “lakes’” that have more land than they do water, but you might say that about Arkabutla Lake in northern Mississippi. It is one of four major flood protection reservoirs in the region, with the others being Sardis, Enid and Grenada lakes. The Arkabutla project covers 57,250 total acres, but because the lake is a flood control area, the actual “recreation pool” of water is normally between 12,000 and 18,000 acres of water. In times of high water in the winter or early spring, that can quickly double. But no matter the water level, these waters offer fishing opportunities for skilled and novice anglers alike. It’s popularity is documented by the fact that annual visitation to the lake exceeds two million people. The lake is located just a few miles southwest of Hernando and west of Highway I-55.
The main fish that live in the lake are largemouth bass, spotted bass, white and black crappie, blue catfish, bluegill, reader sunfish and white bass. The key to successful fishing on the lake is to know where the fish are going to head under different conditions. When the water is high, the fish spread out into the shallower reaches of the lake. In the later spring months, they gather on points and brush piles along contours in the lake’s bottom. One of the best times to catch fish consistently is in the fall, when the drawdown brings the lake down below summer pool and the fish feed frantically getting ready for the winter slowdown. As the lake falls, fish head down submerged river and creek channels toward the “new” deeper water. You’ll get an argument from some anglers, but crappie is king on this lake. There are large numbers of the fish and when the water is low, it concentrates them over and around available structure. As with most other lakes, the crappie follow schools of baitfish. The lake’s wide-open areas give crappie anglers who like to pull crank baits or slow troll jigs with big minnows a lot of good areas to fish. In the spring, the fish go shallow to spawn, then gather up on structure close to the spawning grounds. As the water falls out, they go out in 10-14 foot areas and submerge over structure. Good electronics can help anglers pinpoint where the crappie area. You won’t find a ton of trophy fish on this lake, but it does hold the state record for black crappie at four pounds, four ounces. It’s more known for numbers than slabs, but there are plenty of prize crappie and bass caught each year. White bass fishing is good over humps like Hernando Point and around bends in creek beds. Fish sandy points and rocky points as well to locate schools of the white bass. At Arkabutla there are no striped or hybrid stripers in the lake. Largemouth bass cover is excellent and although the water is often muddy in the spring, catches are good all year, but especially in the spring and fall. Fish move shallow early, then hang out in 5-10 feet of water where they can find cover in the summer. The many secondary points, coves and rock points all hold fish. Anglers fish topwater and spinners early and late and go to plastic worms and jigs later in the day. This lake also has a lot of anglers that go for catfish. Catfishing is especially good when there is running water from rain when the fish gather up just off the current to catch moving baitfish. Stink baits and large cold worms work well. Bream fishing is also good in the spring and summer using crickets, worms or small spinners. Both bluegill and redear sunfish grow large here. The fish take cover on creek and river channel edges, flooded vegetation, rock or rip-rap, or when the water is up, along old submerged road beds.
Popular landmarks and fishing areas on the lake include Panther Creek, Wolf Creek, the Pleasant Hill area, Cane Creek, Sunfish Bay and Hickahala Creek. It’s an unusual characteristic, but at Arkabutla, the dam is near the middle of the lake on the West side and backs up water into low areas to the north and southeast. This reservoirs’ remote location makes it the perfect place for people wanting to get away from crowds. There are three swimming beaches, lots of campsites and an 18-hole disc golf course. If you go fishing here during hunting seasons, you can also take advantage of more than 30,000 acres of public hunting ground. Make sure you check license and restrictions for both hunting and fishing on this lake as they may vary from other lakes. Like other flood control lakes in this region, there are numerous websites that give up to date water level information that anglers should check before planning a trip here to ensure you develop a good plan and know which facilities are open and accessible.