Lots of hardcore crappie fisherman are also hardcore hunters. A winter visit to the
Mississippi Delta can put folks smackdab in the best of both worlds.
Mississippi Delta – A Recipe to Cast & Blast
by Richard Simms
When the Editor of CrappieNOW Magazine (me) visits the Mississippi Delta, one would surely suspect he is there in search of a Bucket List 3-pound crappie on one of the best and most famous crappie lakes in the world.
However, at this particular instant I was focused intently on four mallards circling just above the cypress trees on Beaver Dam Lake. To my left Lamar Boyd spoke gently into a call, singing them sweet mallard music.
“Next pass,” someone in the blind whispered.
Sure enough, it was an accurate prediction as the ducks circled back, cupped their wings and begin to helicopter down toward the enticing decoys. Before they got there, I heard gun safeties “click” into the off position just as Lamar exclaimed, “Now!” Twelve-gauge thunder echoed through the cypress swamp and all four ducks splashed down, feet waving a final goodbye to the sky.
It couldn’t get much better than that – unless, that is, the next day you indeed were going in search of that 3-pound crappie – which I was.
It is a unique honor to visit Beaver Dam Lake, once the stomping grounds of Nash Buckingham, one of the greatest outdoor writers to ever put pen to paper. Buckingham, outdoor writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal in the early 1900’s, routinely hopped a train in Memphis, then coerced the conductor into dropping him off in the wilds of the Mississippi Delta where he could bushwhack his way to Beaver Dam Lake. This lake, his legendary shotgun affectionately named “Bo Whoop,” along with many other outdoor adventures were featured in Buckingham’s nine books and hundreds of articles that regularly appeared in such magazines as Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and Sports Afield. He is perhaps most famous for writing a collection of short stories entitled “De Shootinest Gent’man,“ published in 1934.
But I digress. Prior to departing for the Magnolia State, I dropped a not-so-subtle hint to Jones that, since I was going to be in the Delta anyway, a stone’s throw from the best crappie lakes in the world, I wouldn’t mind chasing my Bucket List 3-pound crappie while I was there. Jones pointed me toward Barton Outfitters.
Visit their website and the first big, bold words you see are, “We Are Outdoor People.” Truer words may never have been spoken. Capt. Aaron Barton said he would be happy to drag himself away from his deer stand, where he was waiting on a Mississippi monster whitetail, to crappie fish Enid Lake with me.
“Winter fishing can be a double-edged sword,” said Capt. Aaron Barton. “Cold conditions that have fish lethargic can also concentrate them in remaining structure where they will hold tight but for brief feeding periods. If you can find them you can catch good numbers. Look for sunny, relatively low wind days. I like three-plus-day warming trends when we haven’t had a big rain in a week or so.”
That was NOT going to be the case for us. Massive thunderstorms dumped about two inches of rain on Enid Lake the night before. That, however, did not deter Capt. Barton and his partner, Capt. Brannon Kirby, from pulling out all the stops.
Motoring away from the McCurdy Point boat ramp, in Capt. Kirby’s brand, spanking new War Eagle boat, he said he has been an “outdoor person” since he could walk. Two years ago, he retired after a 25-year career with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), got his U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license and started guiding.
“I just love to fish,” he said with a big, wide grin. “I grew up doing it with my Dad. It’s in my heart, it’s in my soul and I couldn’t do without it. I can’t believe I haven’t been doing this all my life. I should have quit working as an air traffic controller years ago.”
Looking up at a sky still thick with clouds, Capt. Kirby said, “We’ve had so much rain. We’ve had feet of rain in the last two weeks and (the crappie) have really turned off.”
Indeed, Enid Lake was stingy. But the Barton Outfitter boys still produced crappie. Back in my East Tennessee home, I would have been bragging to my buddies about the “13-inch crappie.” In the Mississippi Delta, where incredibly fertile soils and waterways produce amazing growth rates, a 13-inch crappie is just run-of-the-mill. Most of their fishing season Capt. Kirby said 15-crappie limits weighing 20-pounds-plus are the norm.
Capt. Kirby, who has several 3-pound-plus crappie to his credit, said, “We routinely catch crappie here that would be the fish of a lifetime anywhere else. I guess I’m spoiled by it but it never gets old.”
If your “cast & blast” preference doesn’t include duck hunting, Barton Outfitters can arrange a deer hunt combined with crappie fishing, or an action-packed quail hunt, also guided by Capt. Kirby.
“We partner with Little Q Ranch to offer cast and blast excursions,” said Capt. Barton. “The cost for a fully guided quail hunt, meal and lodging is $300/gun.”
“That’s more fun than you can shake a stick at,” said Capt. Kirby. “Going and shooting a bunch of quail in the morning and crappie fishing in the afternoon. And with the preserve season you can do that from Oct. 1 to March 31.”
Fishing – “It’s in my heart, it’s in my soul and I couldn’t do without it.”
~ Capt. Brannon Kirby, Barton Outfitters Guide
“We also have very healthy populations of woodcock that can be found in many of the low-lying areas,” added Capt. Barton. “They hold really well on point, and make great table fare.”
“Hunting and fishing in Mississippi is just part of the lifestyle,” said Jones. “History and music are the soul and heartbeat of the Magnolia State. But now people are really recognizing the importance of hunters and fishermen, hiking, camping – there’s really been a push to try and build our resources even further, helping people get into the outdoors.”
If you want the “blast” portion of a Mississippi adventure to include a duck hunt with Beaver Dam Hunting Services, it is already too late for this season. Owner Mike Boyd says they routinely book up all available dates far in advance.
“Actually, due to the number of repeat clients we get, about 60 percent of our dates for next year will already be taken when this season ends,” said Mike.
But with good planning, the hunting opportunities, coupled with the world’s best lakes for trophy-sized crappie await sportsmen in the Mississippi Delta. Go here to start your planning now.
Capt. Richard Simms is the Editor of CrappieNOW magazine as well as a “semi-retired,” fishing guide on the Tennessee River and owner of Scenic City Fishing Charters. Formerly he was a game warden for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency before becoming a photographer and PR guy for TWRA. That lead to a 30-year career as a broadcast journalist and freelance outdoor writer. Check out his book, “An Outdoor State of Mind.“