Fish restocked, healthy as Lake Okhissa opens Wednesday
Published 5:08 pm Monday, March 13, 2023
MEADVILLE — Nearly 18 months after closing, Lake Okhissa will reopen on March 15 fully stocked and ready for fishing.
The United States Forest Service announced the reopening Monday. The USFS, in consultation with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, closed the lake for a drawdown on November 15, 2021.
The project addressed a decline in fish health and decline of vegetation on the lake bottom due to the initial lime and fertilizer treatments dissipating. USFS announced that since the drawdown and treatment, a noticeable change has been seen in fish populations and vegetation growth in the 1,100-acre lake.
Homochitto District Ranger Shaun Williamson explained Lake Okhissa is an oligotrophic lake, which means it has problems with fertility. Oligotrophic lakes typically have water visibility of 20 feet or greater in the water column and lacks the plankton blooms and fertility most lakes in Southwest Mississippi have. USFS is not able to fertilize and lime the lake each year because it would come at a cost of $900,000.
“We had to think outside of the box. We sat down two years ago and tried to figure out the best way to bring up production of our fisheries,” Williamson said. “If you bring it down 20 feet, it would allow vegetation to grow. Once it grows, water will cover up the vegetation and as those plants die and break down, they naturally fertilize the lake. That is what we did.”
Williamson said the lake is the most fertile it has ever been, and managers will likely have to do small drawdowns in the future to maintain it. Those drawdowns would just be between six to eight feet, he said.
USFS was also able to treat infestations of the aggressive Giant Salvinia, an invasive weed which blocks sunlight and stagnates water thus increasing fish mortality and degrading the fishery. Gizzard Shad, a new baitfish for the lake; 400,000 panfish; and 50,000 catfish were stocked for the reopening. The lake was not in need of any more bass according to their surveys.
Williamson said Gizzard Shad will help the health of largemouth bass and should not overpopulate the lake.
One of the goals with enhancing the fishery at Lake Okhissa was to increase the size of bass. Many of the bass caught before the drawdown were long and skinny.
“There might be some gar brought here by waterfowl but our main thing is red-ear bluegills, crappie and bass,” Williamson said. “During our electrical shocking survey, we actually found black-nose crappie. It is the first time we found them in the lake since they were put in when it was built. We have never caught any or seen any so it was a big deal.”
Other upgrades included extending the existing boat ramp so any future drawdowns will not affect accessibility. A picnic area on the north end of the lake was updated and new sand was added to the beach area.
Lake Okhissa’s overlook was cleaned up and prescribed fires opened up bank fishing opportunities near the boat launch on the south side of the lake, Williamson said. The burn will also naturally lime the lake. In the next year, they hope to have a children’s fishing area near Scenic River Development’s Alliance property on the lake.
“It will have easier access and we will net it and stock it with fish for the kids,” Williamson said. “Only kids and their families would be able to fish there. We want them to have the experience of catching fish.”
Lake Okhissa is open from sunrise to sunset and the lake is at idle speed for boats until they reach normal pool levels. They are five feet below normal pool levels, Williamson said.
Cars and Trucks are $5.00 per vehicle. School buses, bicycles, walk-ins are $1.00 per person. Senior Pass and Access Pass are $2.50 per vehicle. Annual Pass and MS Adventure Pass are free.