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Anglers offer rave reviews of Okhissa

MEADVILLE – Several years of waiting paid off for anglersWednesday when hundreds bagged their limit within hours followingthe opening of Franklin County’s Lake Okhissa.

“People are catching their limit and then catching and releasingjust for fun,” said Kim Smith, a U.S. Forest Service ranger broughtin from DeSoto National Forest to assist with the lake’s openingrush. “It’s a once in lifetime experience.”

Robert Morris, an angler from West Monroe, La., said in theearly afternoon that he and a friend put their boat in the waterabout 6:20 a.m. and were now trying to catch larger fish.

“We had our limit in about an hour and a half. We’re stilllooking for the really big ones right now. We’ve caught 76,” hesaid, adding that many of those were released.

Morris and Bo Leparti, also of West Monroe, said they had caughtseveral 4.5 lb. bass. They were not fishing for other varieties offish.

More than 120 boaters were allowed to stage at the lake Tuesdaynight so they could put their boats early Wednesday morning.

“It was quite an event early. We launched 71 boats in just overan hour,” said Gary Bufkin, a U.S. Forest Service ranger brought infrom Bienville National Forest for the first week.

A boat wasn’t necessary to have a good day, though, according toseveral anglers fishing from the bank near the northern boatslip.

J.D. Brown, of Meadville, said he had kept nine catfish, rangingin size up to 6 lbs., and six bream on worms within two hours. Thelimit on catfish is 10.

“That’s not bad,” he said. “Where I’ve been going I wasn’tcatching nothing. You can’t hardly wet a line here without pullingone in.”

Christine Williams, of Magnolia, said she quickly caught herlimit on catfish and switched to bream. She was also enjoying thecool weather and the picturesque view, but was getting tired andhoped to rest today.

“It’s beautiful. I love it, but I hope my husband won’t make mecome back tomorrow,” she said Wednesday. “He likes to fish, too.When he sees these he’ll want to come back tomorrow.”

Smith said she was surprised by the number of people who came tothe lake on opening day. Although hundreds of anglers dropped hooksin the water, the turnout was lower than expected.

“We thought we might meet capacity, but we have not done that,”she said. “It’s a great time for people to come out.”

Ricky Gray, of Brookhaven, said he was pleasantly surprised theturnout was lower than expected.

When he decided to avoid the cold morning chill and sleep in, hewas afraid he had given up his opportunity to fish on the lake onopening day. However, when he called to see if he could still getin around 11:30 a.m. he was told to “come on,” so he checked hisson John out of school and was putting his boat in the water by1:30 p.m.

“This is the best thing to happen out here in a long time,” hesaid. “This is going to be special. It’s a historical day and Iwanted John to be a part of it. It’s something he’ll alwaysremember.”

More than 70 U.S. Forest Service, Department of Wildlife,Fisheries and Parks and Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol officerswere brought to the lake to help enforce fishing and boatingregulations and control traffic, Smith said. She added there werefar more people driving through the park to see it thanfishing.

All of the fish caught Wednesday and through the week are beingmonitored at the Creel Survey by wildlife officials, Smithsaid.

The Creel Survey monitors the number, species and size of fishtaken from the lake in order to give officials an idea of the sizeand distribution of fish species in the lake, said Jeff Gainey, aU.S. Forest Service ranger supervising the survey.

The largest fish recorded being taken from the lake by 3:30 p.m.Wednesday was a 6.6 lb. bass and several catfish weighing more than6 lbs.

Ed Foster, of McCall Creek, proudly showed the monitors a breamhe had caught.

“That’s the largest bream I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.”I wish it was cooked because I could eat it right now.”

Although the monitors were surveying the fish for scientificreasons, Gainey said two tickets had been issued for anglerscatching fish over the limit.

Local support for the lake project goes back more than 50 years,but federal approval was only gained in November 1999. The lake, aBill Dance signature lake, is entirely manmade and filled fromnatural streams that flow into the basin.

The 1,075-acre lake near Bude on Highway 98 provides 39 miles ofshoreline.