Some of my recent columns have mentioned Moon Lake, a large ox-bow in Coahoma County, Miss., that has had a very interesting history.
For many, many years this lake was to be one of the very finest bodies of water in the South. Besides offering wonderful fishing for every species of game fish, it was (and still is) a lovely lake to look at and an ideal spot for a summer home for anyone able to own such a luxury.
Fortunately, my Uncle Mabry Dorr was one of the lucky ones. I spent many wonderful days and nights at his cottage and found the fishing to always be better than average for crappie, bream, bass and channel cat.
One August when we were staying there a few days, we ran some trot-lines between long poles that some good soul had driven just for that purpose. At the time, catalpa worms were on a rampage, and there was a long row of the trees right along the road to the lake as it left the little town of Coahoma. You could easily rake up a bucketful of these caterpillar-type worms. I can say without reservation that they were prime bait, especially for catfish.
We ran several lines baited with these worms. I well recall that one line with 17 hooks caught us 13 channel cats between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. We spent much of our time running the lines and finding people that would accept some of the surplus fish we caught (not a real hard job back then when times were pretty tough economically). The many tenant farmers along the lake welcomed these fish that added a great deal to their daily diet.
For a number of reasons, however, the quality of the fishing began to deteriorate, and a group of local people immediately decided that the problem was that some commercial fishing was being done. To their way of thinking, this was ruining the sport fishing for the rest of us.
Consequently, the people who carried a lot of political weight had the state legislature pass a local and private act that prohibited commercial fishing — with the exception that the state game and fish commission could authorize periods of seining for “rough” fish by designated individuals. As a result, seining was done at certain times.
I have in hand a letter from W.D. “Doc” Griffin, who now resides in Grenada, Miss.. Back when the ban was put in place he was teaching at a school near the lake. As Doc remembers it, a Mr. Carpenter, who was the local game warden, was in charge of this seining. He invited Griffin and his students to see the results of one seining.
To quote Doc, “We were amazed at the size and numbers of the fish caught! There was a pile of fish as tall as my head and I am 6 feet and 2 inches tall. They were loading these fish on a stake body truck, and there were so many fish that lots of them just fell off and were ignored.
“Most of them were rough fish, especially spoonbill cat. I am sure that there were several tons of fish in this pile. I asked what they were going to do with the fish and was told that they would be on the menus of several cafes in Memphis in a few days and served as “game fish.” I have no way of knowing whether or not this was true.”
I recall that this went on for quite some time, and instead of improving fishing, it seemed to be doing more harm than good and eventually was discontinued.
Of course, all of us who fished Moon Lake had our own pet theories as to why fishing became so poor. I finally came to believe that it was caused mostly by siltation from Phillips Bayou that emptied into the lake from the north, where most of the timber had been cut and the run-off was from cropland.
Also, the U.S. Corps of Engineers had done a “cut-off” on a Coldwater River bend where Yazoo Pass that ran from Moon Lake emptied into the river. This cut-off caused the Pass to no longer send floodwater up it into the lake. The result was that the lake no longer received a big shot of fresh water, and it became more and more polluted from several sources.
Most of this pollution has been stopped. Moon Lake is now improving yearly and has become again a fine lake for fishing and swimming, boating and other popular water sports. The lake is now a very prestigious place for a summer house, and believe me, they are quite plentiful, especially on the eastern side.