Curt Owen caught a seven-pound bass, proudly got this picture taken, then, as a true sportsman, threw it back. That’s the kind of day it was for the reopening of the lake at the Trace State Park.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) officially opened the Old Natchez Trace Lake at Trace State Park in eastern Pontotoc County on Wednesday. People were lined up in the wee hours to be the first to put a hook in the water.
By 10 a.m. Charles Wright from Tupelo had caught his limit of bream. His stringer was heavy, so he started catching and releasing.
“This is my favorite lake,” said Wright, who fished the lake prior to its closing in 2017. “When it shut down, I about cried. I’m glad it’s open. Everything looks real good,” Wright said.
Wright cast with only a jig, and he pulled in bream as fast as he could unhook them. He had a can of crickets, and another of worms, but the fish were hitting anything he threw out, Wright said.
Trace State Lake was closed for almost four years while crews repaired a broken levee on the southeastern sector, the area used for skiing. The facilities for hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails remained open, along with RV camping sites and day-use areas. Crews finished repairs on the levee in December 2019, but it took time and a lot of rain to refill the 600 acre lake. The reopening was also delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mississippi Director of Fisheries Larry Pugh was one of 20 rangers on duty Wednesday to make sure things went smoothly.
“Most of our staff have reopened lakes and parks before, like at Lake Monroe, so they know what they’re doing,” said Pugh. “We anticipated as many as 100 boats.”
By 10:30 a.m., the boat count stood at about 50.
“Following guidelines from the Department of Environmental Quality, we had to drain the lake, then let it refill, and let the fish population mature,” said Pugh. “We repaired three fishing piers, and built a new pier at the boat ramp. We ask people to be patient while we work to get the limits back up to where they were.”
Fishing limits for now remain 14-22 inch slot length on largemouth bass, with each angler allowed 10 bass per day. Only one bass can be larger than 22 inches. Each angler may take 20 crappie per day, with no size limit. The same goes for bream, both bluegill and redear sunfish. Each angler may take 10 catfish per day, with no size limit.
David Docher and Mekyle Miller came from Attala County to fish. They baited their hooks at 8:30 a.m.
“This is our first time here, but I’m impressed with what I see so far,” said Docher. “The place looks real good.”
Willie Cummings drove from the Dry Creek Community in Tippah County. He started fishing from the bank on the western side of the lake at about 6:15 a.m. By 9 a.m. he had eight keeping-size bream.
“It looks real good out here,” said Cummings, who fishes all over northeast Mississippi, including Lake Lamar Bruce. “It’s nice to a have good lake close to home.”
Jermaine Cowley and his wife Danielle drove from Memphis.
“You can’t beat this, a perfect day,” said Jermaine, as he helped Danielle bait her hook. “This is fun.”
By 9 a.m. Jason George from Verona had five bream, but he was just glad to be outdoors, in the fresh air, amid the Coronavirus hysteria.
“People are about going crazy, so having plenty of healthy, open space like this is great,” said George.
Fisheries biologist Dustin Rodgers held a clipboard and sat on the tailgate of his truck. He talked to boaters as they came and went.
“The fish are spread out and not concentrated in one particular area,” said Rodgers. “We’re seeing a lot of small bass and big bream brought in. It’s just going to take time to get things to where we’d like to see them.”
Jarrod Elliott of Ashland and his son, Jerry put in about 6:30 a.m. They called it a day at 10:15. They kept three good-sized bass.
“The fishing is real good here, and I like what I see,” said Jarrod, as Jerry put the foot under the motor, pulled the bilge plug to let the water drain, and secured trailer. “It was worth the trip,” Jarrod said.
Maryanna Shell and her three boys, Dan, William, and Andrew, drove from Oxford and put it about 11 a.m. They were all smiles.
“This is a great lake, and we’re glad to be back,” said Dan Shell, as he transferred the cooler and life jackets from the SUV into the boat. The Shells fish all over northeast Mississippi, including in Tippah County, Sardis, and Lake Enid, Dan said. Trace Lake is close and fun.
“We’re fishing for bream and bass, and we’re ready to start,” Dan said.
Owen caught the huge bass on crank bait. He and his fishing buddy, Roger Raines, caught fish nonstop since 6:30 a m. They were catching and releasing, just fishing for fun.
“We could have kept at least 10 good ones apiece,” said Owen, adding that he’d be back soon, and might be lucky enough to catch the seven-pound monster—technically 6.8 pounds--again. “The willow trees, all the spots are in great shape,” Owen said. “We were wearing it out, man. We had a good day.”