Pearl River winds its way from Lake Ross Barnett north and east of Jackson, Mississippi, to the border along Mississippi on the way down to The Rigolets near Slidell.
It is a beast of a river to fish. This river resembles a five-headed monster with five distinct sections: West Pearl, West Middle Pearl, Middle Pearl, East Middle Pearl and East Pearl. Crawford’s Landing on the west and the Green Bridge on U.S. 90 back down at the Louisiana state line are two access points to the maze of rivers, bayous and cuts of the Pearl system.
The Pearl is a beast to slay, but with an understanding of each arm’s current flow and landscape, it’s prime spot for a variety of panfish.
West Pearl is always flowing. Often the river is too high and muddy to fish. If heavy rains hit the Jackson, Mississippi, area, the gates of Ross Barnett swing open and release water into the Pearl River. Ross Barnett is the old river that has been flooded by a dam. Anglers should check the Pearl River, Louisiana gauge to determine if the river is fishable. Levels below 10 feet on the gauge means the water is withdrawing from the woods and makes many backwater areas cleaner. At seven feet, the action is about as good as it will get.
Even with a strong current, goggle eye, crappie, and other sunfish survive along the trees and logs of the river. It takes a strong trolling motor to buck the current, but fishing with the bow pointed into the current and drifting backward with the current is always an option for anglers. It takes some practice to control the drift of the boat as the big motor is now the bow as the boat drifts south in the West Pearl current. The current does make it easier to locate the fish. Any eddy or protected section, usually behind a big tree or cut in the bank, is a possible bite. Points, drains, big or small, and curves of the river slow the flow enough to hold fish.
West Pearl Crappie fishing takes a unique tactic. Anglers who fish the West know a tube jig with the hook protected via a weed guard over the hook will prevent the angler from hanging snags in the strong current. An example of a tube with a hook protector is a Bass Pro Snagless Super Squirt. Jigheads in the one-eighth ounce size get to the strike zone in the current to hunt fish among the many cypress kneads and roots. The technique for fishing small jigs in such hard current is similar to fishing a shaky head. But by protecting the hook point, the lure can bounce along the bottom looking for fish. Often bites are distinct taps but fish feel like a snag and hang-ups are common.
West Middle River has a current section, because of Friday’s Ditch that cuts through the woods from the West and pushes current down the lower section of the river. Above Friday’s Ditch on the West Middle finds current influenced by West Pearl levels and tidal flow. Above the ditch is a maze of bayous, ditches and sloughs that hold a treasure of cover for panfish to hide. If the gauge is above 10 feet, the water will spill over to this section and the rest of the river system in the form of cold, muddy water. Traditional fixed corks and tubes are basic tactics for catching fish against the bank, around laydowns, and trees. Below Friday’s, the river turns to marsh quickly but lily pads fields and drains hold tasty panfish, too.
Middle River is another head of the monster that has river influence and tidal influence. Again, levels about 10 feet spill over and turn a stain river into a muddy river. Tide influences all the arms of the river but as anglers travel to the east, the tidal flow has more impact of fishing tactics. The middle has several large arms like Steam Boat which hold goggle-eye and crappie during the spring and summer when the river falls below 10 feet. A bottle of Gulp Crickets and a good waggler cork is great for flipping trees along the banks.
East Middle begins around the Middle as it turns to marsh. The lack of trees means a different strategy is employed for finding fish. Grass beds, shoreline vegetation and pads are common along the shorter section known as East Middle. However, with numerous bayous, such as Buck, Jug, and Fawn, the area is not void of panfish. Beetle spins, road runners, or just a fixed cork and jig are good options for ledges, drains, and grass beds of the East Middle.
East Pearl completes the five-headed dragon. It is the biggest section available for anglers to attack. With places like Bull Frog Bayou, English Bayou, and Waste House, it may take a few trips to grasp the size of the fishery. Anglers who launch off U.S. 90 (Green Bridge, Ed Scogin Memorial Boat Launch) turn north and head up river to fish. The East quickly turns from marsh to tree studded banks. Drains are top priority if the tide is falling. If not, fishing can be as simple as moving from tree to tree dropping jigs or crickets around the wood cover. Like other sections of the Pearl, the magic 10-foot mark on the Pearl River, Louisiana gauge means the West will spill over through the woods and muddy the East. Unless a Mississippi license is in hand, any bayou to the right is within the Mississippi jurisdiction.
A side note is anything U.S. Highway 90 and on the Mississippi side requires both a fresh and saltwater license.
Indeed, the Pearl River is a beast of a river to fish. However, the belly of the beast is loaded with panfish, bass and, very often, saltwater species. A quick check of the river stage helps determine which section will be the best option for anglers. From jigs a foot under a fixed cork to bouncing tube jigs with hook protectors in ten feet of water, the river has many styles of fishing to keep an angler entertained. Like over rivers along the I-10/I-12 corridor, it is a close trip from Baton Rouge. With less pressure and a vast area to fish, the five-headed monster is easy to tame with time and experience.