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Star of Mississippi's Delta region, Lake Washington is an emblem of the 'old' South. Lake Washington is an oxbow lake, formed when the mighty Mississippi changed its course around 1300 AD. Shaped like a double crescent, Lake Washington stretches long and narrow from north to south. The northwestern tip of the lake is only a mile from the Mississippi's current course, while the southern end is several miles from the river. Lakes like Lake Washington, the adjoining bayous, and the often-changing river are what create the Delta itself, with all of its diverse wildlife and interesting ecology. But what creates the most interest in Lake Washington today for visitors is the excellent fishing.
Surveys show that a large portion of Lake Washington's avid anglers come from over 100 miles to fish one of the best crappie holes in the state. Although crappie usually steal the show, bream, channel catfish and largemouth bass all play a supporting role. Sporting articles often feature an item about another huge catch of crappies or another successful tournament or fishing trip; nine-pound crappies are not that unusual here. Fishing is enhanced by the addition of artificial fish structures, natural drop-offs and channels. So popular is the lake among anglers that additional enforcement of fishing regulations has been necessary in recent years to police the overly-enthusiastic. A fishing license and careful attention to all regulations are important.
Besides fishing, the lake is used for water-skiing, swimming, tubing, paddling and pontooning. Several flooded cypress swamps attract paddlers to view wildlife, including the occasional alligator. Unique Delta features such as John Henry Slough and a wetland locally just called 'the swamp' grace the western shoreline, inviting waterfowl, birds and a variety of reptiles and amphibians. Much of the lakeshore is private, and about 300 homes are located along the shoreline. Most the shoreline is still heavily vegetated, and many homes sit back from the water due to the marshy lakeshore.
There is plenty of public access and many private, fee boat launch facilities. A public dock operated by Washington County is located in the village of Glen Allan along the southeast shore. Another ramp, also operated by Washington County, is found on Washington Bayou in Paul Love Jr. Park, south along the lake's outlet stream. A few campsites are rented here also. The rest of the ramps are operated by commercial establishments which also rent campsites, RV spaces and cabins, sell bait, provide restaurants, sell fishing licenses and tackle, and offer such amenities as coin laundry facilities, game rooms and pool halls. Most of these facilities have been in existence for many years and offer a laid-back, southern Delta charm to the excitement of the catch.
The small village of Glen Allan doesn't have much in the way of visitors facilities but provides a small grocery store to augment the convenience stores around the lake. The village's largest claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of blues guitarist/singer/songwriter Robert Lee "Smokey" Wilson. Lake Washington is set in a rural agricultural area, and population in the vicinity is rather sparse. Several small villages are located within a few miles of Lake Washington, but the nearest city of any size is Greenville, 30 miles to the north.
Lake Washington lies just west of historic Highway 1, a Scenic Route in its own right. Near the highway, two aging plantation-style homes can be seen, but both are in private hands despite the efforts of preservationists to attempt restoration. At the south end of the lake near Glen Allan, sightseers can view the ruins of one of the first churches in the Delta. Saint John's Episcopal Church was built in the 1830s, and during the Civil War the lead was melted from its original stained glass windows to make mini ball ammunition. The Church fell into ruin after being hit by a tornado early in the 20th century.
Wildlife abounds around Lake Washington, in the adjoining bayous and nearby in Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. The oldest designated national wildlife refuge in the state of Mississippi, the 12,941-acre refuge was designated in 1936 and allows protected areas for several rare species. The refuge has a healthy population of alligators, and some of the alligator nesting areas are easily viewed by the public. All regulations and suggestions by refuge personnel should be obeyed to avoid injury as the females guard the eggs until they hatch and can be very protective. Other wildlife inhabiting the refuge include raccoon, nutria, opossum, swamp rabbit, beaver, muskrat, mink, bobcat, white-tailed deer and a variety of small reptiles and amphibians such as salamander, spring peeper, bullfrog, Fowlers toad, American alligator, common snapping turtle, midland smooth soft shell turtle, broad-banded water snake, timber rattlesnake, and eastern cottonmouth. The latter snakes are poisonous, so all wildlife should be kept at a safe distance. Waterfowl, ducks and all types of song birds enjoy the refuge, a favorite of bird watchers. During hunting season, certain areas of the refuge are open to hunting: many sportsmen vacation here annually to take advantage of the hunting and fishing.
Estimates of Lake Washington's actual size vary widely. Average depth is just six feet. Some sources describe the lake as 5,000+ acres, while other sources cite 2,965 acres. The larger acreage may include adjacent wetlands and bayou waters. It is sometimes difficult to determine where the lake's waters end and the land begins, since wet weather floods nearby wetlands and makes the lake temporarily larger. A couple of small inlets bring water into Lake Washington, including a small stream from Lake Jackson which is another small oxbow to the west. Most of the water in the lake appears to come from precipitation and run-off from the local area. The run-off is thought to be a contributing factor in recently degraded water quality due to sedimentation. This is the common life cycle of oxbow lakes: they gradually fill with sediment over hundreds of years. No one wants to lose Lake Washington, even to Mother Nature, so efforts are underway to find a method of preventing sediments from entering the lake.
If a laid-back southern lakefront vacation sounds like the kind of thing your heart calls out for, pay a visit to Lake Washington. Cabins are available for rent, and real estate is occasionally offered for sale. Most owners like it here and are reluctant to sell and leave. But visitors can catch their limit of crappies and a stringer of bass.
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