Sunday, September 4, 2011

Flood Spawns Not-So-Secret Fishing Hole

Sunday, September 4, 2011

While flooding has caused problems for many, it has meant great fishing for those who can get to flooded areas. WSJ's Cameron McWhirter visits one spot in Rosedale, in the Mississippi Delta.

ROSEDALE, Miss.—The Mississippi River flood means heartache for many. For others, it means great fishing.

The fish are teeming—and biting—in what is usually a dry, forested area along the road leading to the Port of Rosedale, which has been closed by the flooding. The shallow inlet formed by the rising water is open for business, though, and most of Rosedale seems to know about the fishing hole.

At least 60 people parked their cars on the side of the road in the humid afternoon Wednesday and headed to the water's edge to throw in their lines. They brought coolers, buckets and bug spray. Within minutes of putting worm to hook, locals were hauling out a freshwater bounty of catfish, drum, bream and carp.

Flood Fishing

Scott Olson/Getty Images

William Jefferson fished in the street near his flooded home in the King's Community neighborhood of Vicksburg, Miss., Wednesday.

Risk Levels

See the latest data from flood gauges throughout the Midwest and South.

Fishermen grew excited as the water started to rise a few weeks ago, because they knew it meant easy catching, said Brooks Jones, sitting on a cooler by the water with two poles, and earthworms in a spaghetti sauce can. They weren't worried about their homes, which haven't flooded. Rosedale—a town of about 2,200 roughly halfway between Vicksburg, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn.—is protected by levees.

Officials have banned people from going on top of levees and have prohibited recreational boating during the flood. So people desperate to fish are finding places like this to drop in their lines.

"People come out here, catch fish, then head on home to fry them up for dinner," said Mr. Jones, who spent much of Wednesday by the water.

The temperature was near 90, and Mr. Jones wore a washcloth over his head for part of the day for relief from the sun. The 44-year-old pulled in lots of bream, but by early afternoon, none of the larger catfish. Mr. Jones didn't mind: he had enough fish to feed his family of three for a second night in a row.

People are pan frying and broiling the fish; some are cleaning them and freezing them for later. Others are planning large fish fries this weekend for friends and family.

Pole fishing has been part of life along the Mississippi since long before Huckleberry Finn. It's particularly important here in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest areas of the U.S. For many struggling to make ends meet, fishing is a free source of food, said Peter Allen, a fisheries professor at Mississippi State University. "For a lot of people that don't have much, this makes up much of their protein," he said.

Several of those fishing this week were unemployed. Some were retired. Others held down several jobs, like bus drivers and security guards. Mr. Jones lives in Rosedale, his hometown, half the year and half the year in Nantucket, Mass., where he has seasonal work.

Fish along the Mississippi thrive during annual floods, said Mr. Allen, and so does fishing. Smaller species are pushed into shallower waters, where they are safe from predators, find many insects to eat, and can spawn safely.

Rodney Lewis, who is unemployed, spent two whole days this week on the road bank catching piles of catfish and bream. He sat on a cooler of bream as he threw his line in the water. Hundreds in Rosedale had heard this was the place to fish, he said. "As soon as they get off work, they're coming," he said.

But not everything coming out of the water is edible—or friendly. Snakes of all sizes swim up on the banks, and startled men and women periodically toss down their poles and run to their cars screaming when one slithers by.

Some have seen wild hogs coming out of the water onto the levees. Others caught an alligator recently close to a nearby road, Mr. Jones said.

Emma Wilson caught a huge Asian carp the other day. It frightened the 60-year-old retiree because she had never before seen the fish, an invasive species spreading through American waters. Once she landed it on the bank, it fought fiercely, she said. Still, she brought it home, and headed out again for more.

Wednesday, she had two catfish, two bass, two bream and a drum fish in three hours. They gasped and flopped in her cooler.

"Friends said the fish was biting out here, and so I thought I would give it a try," she said, smiling. "But I don't care if I caught nothing. Anytime I can get away from home and out on the bayou is good fishing."

Adults fishing outside their own property are supposed to have a state license, but a state Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks official said it would be up to an officer's discretion whether to write license citations during the flooding.

At the Port of Rosedale road, no one was worried about that. They were worried about bringing home a meal. "If the river does flood us out, at least we got something out of the deal," Mr. Jones joked.

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