At least two generations of Deltans know little or nothing about fishing conditions in the Delta before the construction of the four huge reservoir lakes in north Mississippi that are known and envied nationwide.
Before the construction of Arkabutla Dam on the Coldwater River, Sardis Dam on the Tallahatchie River, Enid Dam on the Yocona River, and Grenada Dam on the Yalobusha River, Deltans made use of hundreds of small lakes and bayous scattered all over the region. They also had many lakes and blue holes between the levee and the Mississippi River. At about the same time as the dams were built, the U.S. Corps of Engineers made several cut-offs on the river, leaving wonderful lakes like Tunica Cutoff and Desoto.
Prior to all of this work, the many Delta lakes and bayous offered wonderful fishing. Almost all of them were then subject to flooding by the rivers that were dammed and were regularly re-supplied with fresh water and abundant fish.
In my own locale, most prominent and best were lakes like Grassy, Otter, Walnut, Alligator, Patterson, and Six-Mile and bayous like Tippo. They were all a fisherman could want.
My favorite was Grassy Lake, a fine body of water that covered several sections of timberland. The original rather-small lakebed was surrounded by button willows and big tupelo gum trees. The construction of several small levees surrounding the lakebed proper resulted in the creation of a much larger body of fishing water when nearby Tallahatchie made its almost annual flooding.
When the water receded, it left a virtual fish heaven of flooded hardwood timber and cypress. The hardwood area, about a third of the fishing water, was a terrific place for bass even though the water was quite shallow.
You could spend a whole day paddling around Grassy Lake with its flooded woodland. During very dry summers the water would become very shallow and the fish, especially bass, would seek out and find old bayou runs that were much deeper. The fish would congregate in those small areas in unbelievable numbers. This usually occurred in October and November. If you were lucky enough to run up on such a spot, you were destined to hook a bass on every cast.
After winter rains deepened the rest of the lake, these fish would scatter out over the entire area. A fisherman who knew the location of a couple of bream beds could sit in his boat and catch a 100 if he wanted that many.
The area where hardwood timber and cypress were dying from being almost constantly under water was known as the Deadening. It was famous with anglers who eased out into it just before sundown. As the shadows lengthened, the bass would begin rolling on top of the water, letting you know exactly where they were. We called this “fishing the rises.” We'd sit quietly in a boat until we saw one rise and then paddle quickly and silently to within casting range. Almost always the fish would hit the first cast of a topwater lure twitched along the surface to create a little disturbance that the bass took for something good to eat.
Most of those little bodies of water still exist, but without regular flooding, they are second rate fishing holes at best. I am reasonably certain that the four huge reservoirs offer much more and much better fishing to many more anglers. Nevertheless, I miss the quiet solitude that could be found on the little lakes where I could spend a whole day drifting and fishing without seeing or hearing another human being.
It was very nice indeed.