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Local anglers give tips to beginners for MDWFP’s free fishing weekend

Henry Smith fishes off of the pier in the lake Saturday morning at the Natchez State Park. Smith caught a white perch earlier in the morning. This weekend is free fishing weekend in Mississippi. Anglers can fish on public waters without owning a license or paying a fee. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Henry Smith woke up early Saturday morning to head to one of his favorite fishing holes to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes and hopefully bring home some dinner to his wife Jessie.

Smith was casting for white perch from the pier at the Natchez State Park, and by 8:30 a.m. he had one white perch in his ice chest and was hoping for at least one more.

“I just wanted to go fishing,” Smith said about his trip to the state park Saturday morning.

Smith was one of several anglers at Natchez State Park Saturday, and local anglers might have noticed a few more people than normal on their favorite fishing spots Saturday.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks designated this weekend as a free fishing weekend. Anglers were allowed to fish for free, without licenses or permits, on any state fishing lake or state park lake.

One of the main goals of the free fishing weekend is to get new anglers, especially children, out on the water in hopes that they will become avid anglers, MDWFP’s Larry Pugh said.

Local anglers will be able to fish without a license or fees through today.

Smith said he has been fishing all his life and for several years at Natchez State Park. He said he would advise new visitors to the state park to fish from the pier for white perch and use the trees to catch bream.

“To get white perch I fish off the pier,” Smith said. “I’ll catch maybe four or five, but they are huge. That’s where I usually come to catch white perch, and for bream I go out in my boat.”

Smith said patience is key for all anglers, especially beginners.

“I catch quite a bit, at least on some days,” he said. “Some days I do pretty good. Some days I don’t catch any, and some days I catch a lot.”

Smith will often go fishing with his wife at the state park, and he said they enjoy catching and eating the fish together.

Local fishing expert Eddie Roberts said Natchez State Park is a great place for anglers to go for bank fishing.

“It has a clean bank,” Roberts said. “So for people that don’t have a boat, Natchez State Park is excellent. They have a public fishing pier and good clean banks.”

Roberts said Natchez State Park has a decent bass population, but it is not close to what it used to be.

Roberts recalled one trip to the state park years ago when he caught twin 9.3-pound bass on consecutive casts.

He said he also remembers fishing close to a man who set the hook on a big bass and the fish took off and broke the man’s rod. The man’s guides soon started popping off, and he was left holding just the line. The fish eventually got away, along with the man’s gear.

“It completely destroyed the man’s equipment,” Roberts said.

Ferriday-native Ronnie Gillespie said he also has fond memories of fishing at the state park.

“I like fishing reservoirs, and that was the first reservoir we had, so naturally I started over there a lot,” Gillespie said.

Now Roberts and Gillespie both recommend Lake Okhissa in the Homochitto National Forest.

“I’ve caught numbers (on Lake Okhissa),” Gillespie said. “Sometimes on every throw.”

Roberts said Lake Okhissa provides fish for almost every angler.

“It has a really good population of bream,” he said. “It’s basically a bream, bass and catfish lake.”

Longtime Natchez fisherman Glenn Mizell recommended Lake Okhissa for first-time anglers heading out for free fishing weekend as well.

Mizell said he recommends anglers start shallow for bass with buzz bait or a finesse worm early in the morning. He said when the fish start biting, it’s important to stay consistent.

“I used to fish trees and banks for years, but now there are tops everywhere,” he said. “I don’t know what it is (that attracts the fish). It’s different stuff, but I’ve learned if you catch a fish somewhere, it wasn’t by chance. Something is holding him there, and you mark that place in your mind.”

Henry Butler, who works in the fishing department at Sports Center, said top water baits, like crank baits and spinner baits, work best when fishing for bass under an overcast sky. For deeper water, Butler recommended creature baits. Butler said Lew’s reels have really taken off over the past year, but in the end fishing is all about keeping things simple.

“Just chunk and wind,” he said. “Throw it by a tree, and if it’s not there try the next one. Sooner or later you will get one.”

The MDWFP designates the first weekend of National Fishing and Boating week as its free fishing weekend. The weeklong celebration of fishing and boating began June 2 and will run through June 10.

The week is not just for anglers, however, and MDWFP encourages pleasure boat lovers to hit the waters this week as well.

Lake Okhissa is open to pleasure boating as well as fishing.

Grady Boykin is a salesman at Bryan’s Marine in Vidalia, and he said the most popular pleasure boat for his customers has been Bennington Pontoon Boats.

“We can get the whole family on there and (intertube), wake board and fish,” Boykin said.

Boykin said a 20-foot boat generally costs approximately $23,000.

Boykin said he recommends Phoenix as one of the top bass-boat brands.

Eddie’s Marine in Vidalia currently sells used pontoon boats, and is awaiting approval to begin selling Suzuki and Apex pleasure boats.

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