REGIONALS: South

Gobblers look good in North Carolina, Red snappers in Alabama and largemouhs in Florida.

The northwestern mountains along the Tennessee and Virginia borders hold the highest turkey populations in North Carolina, and a handful of small public hunting lands in the region offer sportsmen great opportunities for spring gobblers.

The Cherokee and Three-Top Mountain game lands cover about 3,000 acres in northwestern Ashe County; the Thurmond Chatham game lands cover 6,231 acres in Wilkes and Alleghany counties; and the Elk Knob game lands cover 1,095 acres in Watauga County along the Tennessee state line. The Elk Knob harvest has been the best among the four game lands in recent seasons.

Traditionally, North Carolina’s spring season opens on the second Saturday in April. When that date falls relatively late on the calendar, as it does this year, the heaviest harvest is in the first week to 10 days of the season, matching one of the peaks of the gobbling cycle.

You’ll often find birds in lower elevations during spring, especially around the edges of pastures or near the bottoms of hollows. Owling at first light can coax a shock gobble from an unsuspecting turkey. Hunting is permitted all day in North Carolina, so hunt during the late afternoon to try to intercept gobblers on their way back to the roost.

Contact: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (919-733-7291). -Dan Kibler

Mississippi In a 1998 competition, Pickwick Lake guide Roger Stegall caught a five-fish limit of smallmouth bass weighing over 26 pounds from the tri-state lake. “I found the fish holding on a drop from six to eight feet near a spawning area,” he says. “The males were already shallow on the beds and I found the females in the nearest deep water. I caught every one of them on a slow-rolled one-ounce spinnerbait.” Other popular lures are lizards, red lipless crankbaits and tube jigs.

“Pickwick smallmouths will stay shallow through April, bedding in two to three feet on gravel bars and holding in five to eight feet,” Stegall says. By mid-May, the smallies start moving deep and get on the summer pattern of holding on the humps and submerged islands along the river channel.

An impoundment of the Tennessee River, Pickwick Lake provides smallmouth bass with an optimum growing season. Biologists say the lake is just far enough south to give the smallies a warm-water habitat at least 10 months of the year-and April is the best month for hooking a big, fat female. Mississippi’s state-record smallmouth of 7 pounds, 15 ounces was caught at Pickwick in January 1987.

Contact: Roger Stegall (662-423-3869; www. fishpickwick.com). -Bobby Cleveland

“I apologize for calling so much, but it was a windy morning and I wanted to make sure they heard me,” says Jim Bedwell as we head back to Bent Creek Lodge. I glance at him and then peer over my shoulder into the bed of the pickup where my 19-pound gobbler lies. I look at its 10-inch beard and 13/8-inch spurs. I don’t figure the Alabama guide has much to be sorry for this April morning.

Bedwell had worked his box call exactly seven times, starting with the first hen’s hello to a tom’s sunup gobble. The last yelps came just before I pulled the shotgun’s trigger in my hiding place on the edge of the field where the bird strutted. I told Bedwell that he seemed to me to be somewhat frugal with the box. He replied that he enticed gobblers the way the famous call-maker M.L. Lynch had recommended to him: softly, seductively and sparingly. Bedwell doesn’t call much, but he does call well.

It probably doesn’t hurt his batting average that there are 34,000 acres of prime turkey woods surrounding Bent Creek Lodge, located in southwestern Alabama. Here, gobblers that see little hunting pressure are inclined to give good callers the benefit of the doubt, regardless of how many calls they make.

Alabama’s spring turkey season is open now and wilclose April 30. Contact: Johnny Lanier or Leo Allen, Bent Creek Lodge (205-398-3040). -Colin Moore

——— GEORGIA
Tobesofkee Crappies: Troll with minnows and jigs near Sandy Beach Park and Arrowhead Park on Lake Tobesofkee for the best slab action. The spillway below the Tobesofkee Dam also is a crappie hot spot, with access through Flintrock Park. Contact: Georgia DNR (770-918-6416).

Lake Russell Timber Bass: Lake Russell, northeastern Georgia’s stellar bass reservoir on the Savannah River, turns on in the flooded timber during April and May. Use weedless, Carolina-rigged plastic worms to score on two- to five-pound largemouths. Isolated timber patches in Beaverdam Creek are choice bass spots receiving light fishing pressure. Contact: Georgia DNR (770-918-6416).

Reef Sheepshead: On a good day, a boat of anglers will catch up to 100 sheepshead, with many fish weighing 3 to 5 pounds, some occasionally weighing to 10 pounds. The best action is 6 to 15 miles offshore over wrecks, man-made reefs and natural ledges. Contact: Georgia DNR (912-264-7218); Capt. Greg Hildreth (912-261-1763).

Top Spots for Public Toms: Turkey season in Georgia runs March 23 to May 15, and you have a wealth of quality public hunting areas in which to collect your three-tom limit. Many WMAs, however, require special quota hunt permits. But there still are choice WMAs open to the public for spring turkeys. Among the best non-permit WMAs for turkeys are Yuchi, Beaverdam, Blanton Creek, Bullard Creek, Di-Lane, Horse Creek and Ocmulgee. Contact: Georgia DNR (770-918-6416).

Trout Record Broken: The 34-year-old Georgia brown trout record was broken November 12 when angler Charlie Ford of Rome landed an 18-pound, 6.72-ouncer from the Chattahoochee River. The outsize brown had a 22-inch girth and a length of 32 inches. The old Georgia record was an 18-pound, 2-ounce fish caught from Rock Creek on May 6, 1967.

Record Black Bears: On November 3, deer hunter Kevin Frazee of Elijay shot what has been confirmed as the new state-record black bear. It took seven men and an ATV to haul the 560-pound bruin out of the woods. It betters the previous Georgia record bruin, which weighed 540 pounds. Bowhunter Tim Lamb took the state’s third heaviest bear to date on September 15 from the Shallow Creek WMA. That 530-pound bear is the new archery state record.

KENTUCKY Kentucky Lake Crappies: When water levels rise in spring, flooded stake beds offer great habitat to crappies and can be fished easily with jigs, minnows, small crankbaits and spinners. When water temperatures climb between 59 and 62 degrees, crappies begin moving up to spawn. Fish live minnows under a cork, tube jigs or minnow imitations on a leadhead jig or a small in-line spinner. Once you locate the crappies, work the area thoroughly. If the bite is slow, troll along the banks 5 to 10 feet out and adjust your offering to find the right depth. Contact: Kentucky DFWR (800-858-1549).

Land Between the Lakes Gobblers: Of the 23,000 turkeys harvested last season, 16,122 of them sported beards of at least seven inches. A beard of that length indicates a bird at least 21/2 years old, so the state population obviously is healthy. The Land Between the Lakes offers outstanding hunting, with more than 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline along Kentucky and Barkley lakes that is teeming with gobblers. You’ll need a $20 LBL permit. Contact: Environmental Stewardship Department (270-924-2065).

Muskies on the Run: Hit Cave Run Lake’s standing timber and shoreline structure in spring for a shot at a monster muskie. Heavy spinnerbaits in bright colors and big topwater stickbaits are favored lures. Contact: Cave Run Muskie Guide Service (606-768-2319).

Key Dates
April 5-7: Spring Fishing Unlimited Tournament, Jamestown. Contact: 800-325-1709.
April 13-14: Kentucky Klassic traditional archery festival, Somerset. Contact: 606-636-6886.

** LOUISIANA**

Bug-Busting Bayou Bluegills: Bluegills spawn when water temperatures reach about 75 degrees. Small floating popping bugs make deadly enticements for bedding bluegills. The Tangipahoa River and its tributaries near Ponchatoula swarm with bluegills. Some honey holes include Bedico Creek, Black Bayou, Middle Bayou and Long Canal. Contact: LDWF, Freshwater Fisheries (225-765-2343).

Delacroix Trout: In April, speckled trout gather near bayou mouths during falling tides to ambush any morsels that flow to them. Tempt them with plastic grubs or minnows on quarter-ounce jigs bounced with the tidal flow. Hot colors include purple and chartreuse, avocado and chartreuse and black and white. For big specks, fish topwater baits around the islands in Black Bay, Lake Robin, Lake Coquille and Lake Calabasse. Contact: LDWF, Saltwater Fisheries (225-765-2889).

Sneaking Up on Tripletails: South of Cameron, buoys stretch for 25 miles into the Gulf of Mexico to guide ships into the Calcasieu Ship Channel leading to Lake Charles. Tripletails hang around these buoys, floating debris or grass lines to ambush passing baitfish. Sight-fish for them by looking for dark splotches under floating objects and approach slowly, letting the wind or tide push the boat the final leg. Tempt them with fresh shrimp, mullet chunks or jigs tipped with plastic minnows. Contact: LDWF, Saltwater Fisheries (225-765-2889).

Key Dates
April 14: Turkey season closes in Area B.
April 15-20: B.A.S.S Federation Championship on the Red River in Shreveport.
Contact: B.A.S.S. (334-272-9530).
April 21: Turkey season closes in Area A.

MISSISSIPPI

Crappie Corridor: The lakes along I-55, known to some as the “crappie corridor,” all hit the peak of the spawn during April. Starting at the bottom, there’s Barnett Reservoir near Jackson. Heading north, there’s Grenada Lake about 70 miles north of Jackson, Enid Lake 20 miles north of Grenada, Sardis Lake 30 miles north of Enid and Arkabutla 40 miles north of Sardis. The spawn starts at Barnett and Enid first, often kicking off the last week in March but peaking early- to mid-April. Grenada and Sardis peak in mid- to late-April, followed by Arkabutla in late April and early May. Contact: Mississippi DWFP (601-432-2400).

Improved Web Site: The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’s home page (www.mdwfp.com) has been upgraded to include many new features, such as commentaries by biologists with an emphasis on deer and wild turkeys. You also can order licenses, find basic maps of state parks and WMAs, check season dates and hunting and fishing regulations and participate in surveys that help determine future wildlife1709.
April 13-14: Kentucky Klassic traditional archery festival, Somerset. Contact: 606-636-6886.

** LOUISIANA**

Bug-Busting Bayou Bluegills: Bluegills spawn when water temperatures reach about 75 degrees. Small floating popping bugs make deadly enticements for bedding bluegills. The Tangipahoa River and its tributaries near Ponchatoula swarm with bluegills. Some honey holes include Bedico Creek, Black Bayou, Middle Bayou and Long Canal. Contact: LDWF, Freshwater Fisheries (225-765-2343).

Delacroix Trout: In April, speckled trout gather near bayou mouths during falling tides to ambush any morsels that flow to them. Tempt them with plastic grubs or minnows on quarter-ounce jigs bounced with the tidal flow. Hot colors include purple and chartreuse, avocado and chartreuse and black and white. For big specks, fish topwater baits around the islands in Black Bay, Lake Robin, Lake Coquille and Lake Calabasse. Contact: LDWF, Saltwater Fisheries (225-765-2889).

Sneaking Up on Tripletails: South of Cameron, buoys stretch for 25 miles into the Gulf of Mexico to guide ships into the Calcasieu Ship Channel leading to Lake Charles. Tripletails hang around these buoys, floating debris or grass lines to ambush passing baitfish. Sight-fish for them by looking for dark splotches under floating objects and approach slowly, letting the wind or tide push the boat the final leg. Tempt them with fresh shrimp, mullet chunks or jigs tipped with plastic minnows. Contact: LDWF, Saltwater Fisheries (225-765-2889).

Key Dates
April 14: Turkey season closes in Area B.
April 15-20: B.A.S.S Federation Championship on the Red River in Shreveport.
Contact: B.A.S.S. (334-272-9530).
April 21: Turkey season closes in Area A.

MISSISSIPPI

Crappie Corridor: The lakes along I-55, known to some as the “crappie corridor,” all hit the peak of the spawn during April. Starting at the bottom, there’s Barnett Reservoir near Jackson. Heading north, there’s Grenada Lake about 70 miles north of Jackson, Enid Lake 20 miles north of Grenada, Sardis Lake 30 miles north of Enid and Arkabutla 40 miles north of Sardis. The spawn starts at Barnett and Enid first, often kicking off the last week in March but peaking early- to mid-April. Grenada and Sardis peak in mid- to late-April, followed by Arkabutla in late April and early May. Contact: Mississippi DWFP (601-432-2400).

Improved Web Site: The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’s home page (www.mdwfp.com) has been upgraded to include many new features, such as commentaries by biologists with an emphasis on deer and wild turkeys. You also can order licenses, find basic maps of state parks and WMAs, check season dates and hunting and fishing regulations and participate in surveys that help determine future wildlife