Illinois Outdoors at PrairiestateOutdoors.com
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Jeff Lampe
Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

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Scattershooting

A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois Outdoors

Pickwick Lake a smallmouth haven

May 11, 2008 at 08:03 AM

Pickwick Lake series

This is the first of a series of Scattershooting entries on Jeff Lampe’s recent trip to Pickwick Lake and northeastern Mississippi.
Monday — Get the lowdown on Mississippi’s world-class crappie lakes (Grenada, Sardis, Pickwick and Arkabutla) from guide Roger Gant.
Tuesday — Watch a video of fishing at Pickwick Lake and learn Roger Stegall’s top five smallmouth bass lures.
Wednesday — Do you think many bass pictures you see in magazines look staged? See your hunch proven correct. Plus, learn about the hybrid stripers below the dam at Pickwick.
Thursday — Learn about new bass baits from Strike King Lure Company of Memphis.

IUKA, MS.—Roger Stegall (pictured above) has caught thousands of smallmouth bass in Pickwick Lake.
But when he reeled in a chunky, 4.5-pound bronzeback last Monday, Stegall hooted and hollered as though he’d won a prize.

“They still get me excited,” the well-known Mississippi bass guide said. “I’m as crazy about catching smallmouths as any of them.”

That Stegall, 51, catches his smallies in a truly scenic setting explains why so many other anglers regularly come south to join in the experience. Impounded in the 1930s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, Pickwick’s 47,000 acres straddle the state lines of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

But this tree-lined lake with rocky shores and abundant gravel bars could easily fit in up north. So could Pickwick’s huge smallmouth. Stegall and other local anglers have stories about huge fish that got away and — more importantly — about huge fish that did not.

“I had a man and his son who came down for three days and we just didn’t catch nothing,” said Stegall, who can be reached at fishpickwick.com or at (662) 423-3869. “So I told them, if you’ll come back for three days next year I’ll give you a day. Well, the first morning we went out, by 1 p.m. we had four smallmouth that weighed 25 pounds on the money. One was 7-4, one was 7-0, one was 5-12 and one weighed 5.

“They were tickled to death and the guy looked at me and said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do the next two days.’”

Pictures of that memorable trip and several others grace the lobby in the hotel at J.P. Coleman State Park east of Iuka.

After admiring the huge brown bass, one thing you’ll note about those pictures is that there are no leaves on the trees. That’s no accident. Prime time for smallies at Pickwick is March and April when fish are preparing to spawn and females are full of eggs. The next best time is late October when smallies are feeding up to get ready for winter.

But big smallmouth are present year-round. After the spawn, fish move off the gravel shoreline to rocky bars and ledges on the main lake (like these two fish pictured below and held by Stegall in early May). When the conditions are right, those big fish will bite all spring and summer.
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“My biggest weighed 8 pounds and I caught it on May 18 in 1999,” Stegall said. “That fish was long and poor looking and it still weighed 8 pounds. If it had eggs in it it would have weighed 10 pounds easy.”

With that in mind, many point to Pickwick as the lake most likely to top David Hayes’ world record smallmouth — an 11-pound, 15-ounce fish caught at Dale Hollow Lake in 1955. While that hasn’t happened yet, Stegall believes smallmouth are on the upswing at Pickwick.

“We had a few years after 2002 where we weren’t catching as many big fish. But I think our smallmouth are on the way up again,” Stegall said. “We’ve caught a lot more 4- to 6-pound smallouth this year than we have in the last five years.”

One of those fish came last week off a gravel bar within sight of the harbor at J.P. Coleman State Park. After warning me the spot was a traditional post-spawn hangout for big smallies, Stegall cast a Strike King Shad-A-Licious swim bait. Then he started hollering when a bronzeback exploded from the water with the bait in its mouth.

Moments later Stegall cradled the fish and smiled broadly for pictures in front of a backdrop of pine trees and white gravel.

“Did you see that thing jump? It must have come four feet out of the water,” Stegall said. “You just can’t beat the brown fish.”

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