By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
The fishing hasn’t been as good as Jerry Massa would like this year, but it hasn’t been all bad.
“Yesterday, I caught a really nice crappie,” the 70-year-old Belden resident said, while standing on the shores of Trace Lake. “I’ve had a lot of success out here in previous years. So far, not this year.”
Like any good fisherman, Massa is willing to be patient. He’s a habitual visitor to Trace State Park. Even if the fish remain standoffish, he’ll probably keep returning.
“My wife and I come out here every day. It’s so close, about 10 minutes away,” Massa said. “She walks seven or eight miles every day at the park.”
“Every day” was a slight exaggeration. Storm clouds were rolling in from the west, promising thunderstorms on a recent Monday. Massa made his regular fishing trip, but his wife stayed home on a relatively slow day at Trace State Park, located nine miles west of Tupelo just off Highway 6.
“Our busiest times are holidays and whenever school’s out,” said Donald Campbell, 48, park manager. “During spring break we filled up our overflow area and had to turn people away. They weren’t happy about that.”
Tombigbee Valley Water Authority began planning the park in the 1960s with a specific goal in mind. The lake provides flood control for the surrounding area.
“We still draw it down every year for the winter rains,” Campbell said. “We lower the levels three to five feet.”
That helps the fishing by forcing the lake’s bass, crappie, catfish and bream closer together.
“The bigger fish can feed off the smaller fish more easily, allowing them to get bigger,” Campbell said.
That’s good news for fishermen like Massa, but the park features other attractions.
There are 52 RV hookups, as well as primitive camping sites and rental cabins and cottages on the lake. Some 30 miles of trails serve hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers, as well as dirt bike and ATV riders. There’s also a disc golf course.
“We have 1,980 land acres and 565 lake acres,” Campbell said.
From the Parkway
The park draws a steady supply of visitors from the Natchez Trace Parkway, though there has been confusion over the years.
People tend to call it Natchez Trace State Park, and the lake has been known as Natchez Trace Lake.
But there’s a Natchez State Park in Natchez, so it’s Trace Lake at Trace State Park, if you please.
“Just drop the ‘Natchez’ from this park,” Campbell said.
John and Darla Eaton of Wilsonville, Ore., are traveling the country in their RV. He had two great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War, so he decided to include a trip along the Natchez Trace.
“We stopped at an information booth and met a couple. They said this is a great place, well maintained,” Eaton, 68, said. “They were right about that. We’re glad we stopped.”
The same storms that kept Massa’s wife at home kept the Eatons at the park for an extra day.
“He wanted to see the automobile museum in Tupelo,” Darla Eaton, 66, said.
Not that someone has to leave the park to go sight-seeing, especially if you enjoy wildlife.
“You can watch and see deer – four or six or eight at a time. It’s not just a single deer,” Massa said. “It’s a beautiful place.”
Last year, a pair of bald eagles mated and had an offspring. They nested above the park’s levee, Campbell said.
“They are fun to watch, especially when you’ve got ducks on the lake,” he said. “They dive after them. You can see all the ducks go under water. In a few seconds, here comes the eagle after them.”
There haven’t been any sightings of the eagles this year, but the park has foxes, raccoons and skunks that usually prowl around the place.
“Years ago, when I worked here as a ranger, we had a skunk that used to get in the women’s bathroom and used the trash can to sleep,” Campbell said. “We always had complaints. It never sprayed anyone, but it sure would scare the heck out of them.”
He was quick to mention that there haven’t been any recent skunk sightings in the ladies’ room.
An unexpected stop
Lynwood and Jannette Mercer of Oakland, Tenn., were heading home from Grenada and decided to wait out the storms at the park. It was their first visit, and he was impressed.
“This is the only place I’ve seen that allows you to back up your RV to the lake and still have a sewer hookup,” Mercer, 74, said.
His wife had other concerns and didn’t get the answer she was looking for.
“You’re the park guy,” Jannette Mercer, 69, said to Campbell.
“What kind of fish are they catching here?” she said.
“They’ve caught some bass,” he said.
“Oh, we don’t like bass. We like crappie,” she said.
Campbell should’ve had a little talk with Massa, who’d caught that crappie on the previous day.
The park manager could be forgiven for the oversight. There are plenty of other duties to keep Campbell and his staff busy, but it’s up to biologists from the Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery in Tupelo to take care of the lake and keep it stocked with fish.
Besides, Campbell isn’t as dedicated to fishing as Massa and the Mercers.
“If they’re biting good, I’ll be out there,” he said with a shake of his head. “If not, I haven’t got the patience for it.”
Plan Your Trip
TRACE STATE PARK is located nine miles west of Tupelo. Turn north off Highway 6 onto Faulkner Road and follow the brown signs.
• Cabin rentals range from $70 to $85 a night, depending on the day of the week. Reservations for any cabin, camping site or RV slot can be made up to two years in advance.
• The day-use entrance fee is $3 per vehicle up to six people, and fishing is $5 per person with a $2 discount for seniors and people with disabilities. Those younger than 16 fish for free.
• For more information, visit www.mdwfp.com or call (662) 489-2958.