USDA Forest Service to reopen Okhissa Lake

Published 2:06 pm Monday, March 13, 2023

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MEADVILLE — The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced today that on Wednesday, March 15, it will reopen Okhissa Lake, the popular site for fishing, boating and swimming in the Homochitto Ranger District.

“We’re happy to be able to reopen this wonderful recreational resource to the local community,” said Homochitto District Ranger Shaun Williamson. “We had hoped to have a higher water level when we reopened it, but current levels will help this year’s fish spawn. We’ll be asking that boaters navigate at idle speed in order to ensure safety for recreational users until water levels rise to a safer level for faster boat traffic in the coming weeks and months.”

Okhissa Lake has been closed since November 15, 2021, as part of a major effort to improve the quality of the fishery, reduce the biological and recreational impacts of an invasive species, and improve the overall recreation experience for visitors.

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Over the last decade, the overall health of the lake had been in a state of decline for several reasons, including the increase of non-native aquatic weeds, such as Giant Salvinia, lesser quality fish, and an overall poor fertility of the lake. “Fishing opportunities have greatly improved. Visitors are going to find it a better place to visit overall,” Williamson said.

Okhissa Lake, which is about 1,100 acres in size with a 47-mile shoreline, is unique for southwest Mississippi as it is less fertile, clearer, and deeper than most lakes in the area. These attributes create a unique style of management of the lake and allows anglers a variety of fishing experiences. During initial construction, agricultural lime was applied across the dry lake bottom to meet minimum total alkalinity needed to increase the efficiency of the fertilizer applied. Since that time, the overall health and number of fish declined as the effectiveness of the initial liming and fertilizer dissipated.

The extended drawdown, developed in consultation with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, stimulated a positive response from fish populations. Vegetation was able to become established on the exposed lake bottom and provide added nutrients to the water as the lake refills.  The drawdown also provided an opportunity for the Forest Service to more aggressively treat infestations from Giant Salvinia, an invasive weed that blocks sunlight, stagnates water, increases mortality, and degrades the overall fishery.

In addition, the Forest Service extended the existing boat ramp so future drawdowns will not affect accessibility, increased stocking of panfish and catfish, introduced Gizzard Shad as a new bait fish, updated the picnic area on the North end, and added new sand to the beach area to name a few.