Tunica experience not just slots, it's also slabs

By James K. Joslin Published July 19, 2009 at 3:43 a.m.
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James K. Joslin / Contributing Photographer

Much of the fishing in Tunica Lake, particularly for crappie, centers on willow trees like these.

— Flowing along the eastern border of The Natural State is the Mississippi River. The river has many nicknames. The Father of Waters, The Big Muddy, Big River, Old Man River, Body of a Nation, The Mighty Mississippi, The Muddy Mississippi and Old Blue are just a few of them. Even more numerous than its nicknames, though, are the fishing opportunities offered by the river and its backwaters.

One place that is among the more notable fishing spots along the Mississippi was the channel of the river until the 1940s. This is Tunica Lake, also known as Tunica Cut-Off to some.

The funny thing is that you can fish the lake legally with an Arkansas fishing license because the border dividing Arkansas and Mississippi goes right down the middle of what was formerly the navigation channel of the Mississippi River. But, you can't get there by vehicle without driving across the river into Mississippi and then turning back west toward the lake.

Here's how that part of the story goes.

The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to straighten and streamline the navigation channel along this stretch of the river for barge traffic.So t he crews fa shioned a new channel and dynamited it open. With that, the old channel began to silt in and cut Tunica Lake off from the main river. But, the Arkansas-Mississippi border remained unchanged. (You will find simila r circu mst a nces a ll along the river because of its meandering nature.)

Now, this lake is a willowlined oxbow roughly 15 miles in length. There are about 34 miles of shoreline and tons ofgamefish in Tunica's waters - including a very healthy population of crappie.

If anyone can tell you about the crappie fishing at Tunica Lake, it would be Ed "Dawg" Weldon. Weldon runs Fishing Adventures Guide Ser vice, providing guided trips for both crappie and bream at Tunica and some other nearby waters.

At Tunica, Weldon consistently catches good numbers of crappie in the spring, summer and winter. Plus, he often pulls crappie pushing 2 pounds or more out of these fertile river-bottom waters.

"April, May and June are pretty good times to fish Tunica for crappie, but, of course, September, October and November are pretty good, too," said Weldon, who has guided on Tunica for more than two decades. "In the spring, I fish in 3 to 4 feet of water, in the summer 5 to 12 feet and in the fall up to 24 feet."

Also, Weldon said that he begins each spring by focusing on the northern end of the lake - where the waters warm more quickly - and t hen sh i f t i ng tow a rd t he southern end of the lake in the summer.

The reasons for Weldon's pattern changes include more than just the passing of the seasons, though. The lake is still connected to the Mississippi River at the south end via a small intake chute. So lake levels will fluctuate in similar fashion to the river itself - higher water usually in winter and spring, lower water in summer and fall.

When water levels are sufficient, Weldon targets a certain kind of willow tree in looking for crappie.

"I look for trees that lay down with the root ball exposed," he said, explaining that these trees will providemore cover for the fish.

But, that is not his only time-tested method for catching crappie in Tunica's willows.

"I also try to go with the flow when the water is falling. If it is rising, I fish the outside timber, and when the water is stable, I fish almost anywhere."

As the water supply from winter snows and spring rains wanes, Weldon turns aroundin his boat and begins to look for cover in deeper water.

That cover can be dropoffs, creek channels or the edge of the old river channel itself. But it can also be manmade cover - something that Weldon knows of intimately.

"I'm excited about the 100 (Bill Dance's Fish) Porcupines that I put out," he said, noting that he had also placed 250 mats in Tunica Cut-Off and another 75 in Old Town Lake - a Mississippi River oxbow on the Arkansas side of the river south of Helena-West Helena.

Weldon keeps track of the deep-water locations with his GPS. That way, he can put clients on fish even when the water leaves some of the willows high and dry.

While chasing crappie dominates Weldon's time on the water, he also knows a thing or two about fishing for bream.In fact, he began guiding for bream before he began guiding for crappie.

Weldon generally looks for Tunica's bluegill - sometimes 1.5 pounds or more - in roughly 3 to 6 feet of water during the summer. Plus, he uses a combination of artificial and live bait in this quest, tipping ablack marabou or hair jig with a cricket.

For more information on Tunica L ake and/or Fishing Adventures Guide Serv ice, call Weldon at (662) 363-2903, e-mail him at crappieWeldon@hughes.net or check out his Web Site, www.tunicalake.com.

GEAR AND GADGETS BOX "Weldon" Weldon's pre

ferred tackle for crappie and

bluegill◊B'n'M Crappie Poles

- Poles used for vertical

presentations of jigs, live bait

or a combo to both crappie

and bream, rigged with bob

bers or without (tightlining)◊No-Knot Fas-Snap

- Smaller and lighter than

swivels, these snaps provide

a quick and easy way to

switch lures without having to

cut the line and retie◊Southern Pro Crappie

Specialists lures - Jigs and

tube bodies attract crappie,

bream and other gamefish,

with red/white, red/char

treuse and black/chartreuse

being among Weldon's favor

ite colors

Zoned Editions Editor James K. Joslin can be reached at 501-399-3693 or jjoslin@arkansasonline.com.