- Published on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 22:20
- Written by editor
When we asked Susan Snapp of Down Right Scuba in Columbus, MS about what the Hospitality State has to offer divers, she was fairly direct. “Most of the diving available in Mississippi is on the coast but if a diver wants to venture inland and be a little creative and adventurous, North Mississippi can offer a few dive sites. A diver really needs a reason to dive up here and there are only a few reasons and it is not to see pretty, colorful fish or unique structure.”
Avid local divers need to be motivated to get wet! In certain areas a diver might get lucky and have 5-6 ft. visibility in the more northern freshwater lakes. So why dive? Craig Cameron, Secretary of Scuba Dawgs dive club at Mississippi State University has ventured to the far north to Bay Springs Lake to spearfish for catfish. It is legal in Mississippi to use a pole spear and take non-game fish in fresh water.
Sometimes, divers will come across a lake that has a rock or clay bottom offering 15- 20 ft. plus visibility in the middle of a farmers corn field. Snapp has found one such lake and is in the process of setting it up for her students to dive. Fish structure, submerged decks at 15’, spear fishing targets and a boat will be put into the lake this year to make it ready for her students in the spring and summer. Right now the lake is not open for the public, it is by invite only. There are rumors that other lakes do exist in the area.
Right across the Mississippi line in Tennessee there is Pickwick Lake that offer limited diving opportunities for divers that are interested in finding treasure! Treasure being objects dripped from boats in gathering areas. Good area for divers with metal detectors or even searching by hand for lost treasure.
A little more creative diving for the more advanced, zero visibility divers would be searching the local rivers and tributaries for fossils and metal objects which could have been left by (what the locals call) “the War of Northern Aggression”. The U.S.S Cairo was found in the Yazoo River and in 1956 divers began retrieving the parts of the ship and personal items of the sailors which are now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Steam ships travelled on many of our rivers other than the mighty Mississippi. With the proper equipment and training a diver could find a treasure that was once another man’s trash he threw overboard. DNN strongly encourages divers to check Mississippi’s artifacts laws and follow them.
There is a strong diving community in North Mississippi due to many of the area’s colleges offering SCUBA diving as part of the curriculum. Instructors in our area usually will put together a dive trip to the coast and other areas out of the state to keep divers interested in diving. North Mississippi Divers is a group on facebook where a few of North Mississippi divers and Instructors will keep each other informed when and where they are diving so others can find a dive buddy.
67 artificial reefs near shore and next to fishing piers have been established in MS, but divers may have to go out more than 2 miles before the depth reaches 15ft. This makes it almost impossible to descend near shore and have any visibility. Far from shore, the visibility is clearly better.
Jerry Atkinson of The Dive Shop in D’Iberville says once divers are out 30-40 miles, the visibility may pick up to 40-100 ft. or more. So when you are diving an oilrig, the top may have a layer of suspended silt particles. The bottom may have silt sediment, but the middle column of water may be a horizontal artificial reef sweet spot with great visibility and with lots to look at. Out from shore, oilrigs are known as vertical reefs in an oasis of empty substrate. Keep in mind when the shrimp boats are dragging their nets during shrimp season, the vis may go down, but it will eventually improve again. July to September is the best time of year for visibility.
So why isn’t everyone jumping onboard boats to go out for a dive? Well, it turns out there are few charters that go out to the rigs and other dive sites. Also divers have to pay a little more for the trip and gas because the sites are so far out, and the journey could take the entire day from 8am until 4pm. So when divers look at the expense for diving out here in the gulf compared to traveling out of state to dive, at first glance the out of state trip looks like a better deal.
Teddy Craven from Adventure Charters at Moss Point says there are better reasons to dive in MS. Wrecks off Florida are dove at least twice a week, while some of the wrecks off MS are dove only twice a year. So what a diver can see on an Ole Miss dive are artificial reefs full of life in virtually pristine virgin condition. He thinks the reefs are diamonds in the rough as well as the uninhabited islands divers pass by on the way out to the sites. Teddy has been diving since the eighties. He is a former SSI and Handicapped Association Diving Instructor and operates the boat “Sea Angel”. On his web site you see a picture of a brightly painted yellow wheelchair facing the ocean. After a brief conversation with Teddy, we understand the wheel chair displayed on the website is purely a device to get someone to the ocean, but not a device to hold anyone back from exploring the ocean.
So now you know that the dives sites in Miss are a diamond in the rough, but that’s just part of the story. It turns out that the 67 inshore artificial reefs have much to do with why local fishing is so good, but little to do with why diving in old Miss is a diamond in the rough. Off shore, the Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks, Inc " MGFB" has been working with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources "MDMR" to form 14 numbered off shore fish habitats. The fish habitat "FH" sites cover thousands of acres of formerly barren underwater substrate and contain, tugboats, shrimp boats, barges cement culverts, and reef balls, among other objects. FH sites 8-10 are actually inshore of the outer islands while FH7 is miles and miles out by itself. So what actually is out at these sites? Here is a brief short list: FH-1 has reef balls, culverts, Ole Faithful shrimp boat at 68ft deep, the 50ft long Elsie landing craft at 58ft deep, and a 180ft long barge. FH-2 has culverts and the 70ft long St. Elmo shrimp boat at 58ft deep. FH-3 has the 48ft long Chevron Vessel down at 45ft. FH-6 has reef balls, FH-7 the Rowan oilrig crew quarters down at 128ft, and the nearby 400ft long Jumbo Barge. FH-8-10 have reef balls and culverts. FH-12 has the 195ft long hopper barge Mathews at 42ft and the 45ft long shrimp boat Frank Taylor (Lucky Jimmy). FH-13 has the mother lode of culverts, concrete catch basins and manholes, the “BRT” Big Round Thing, which is a hydrogen accumulator tank at 85ft deep, the 80ft long Southern Star shrimp boat, The Tiger Shark shrimp boat down at 88ft, the 175ft long Great Wicomico (Pogey Boat) at 88ft, the St. Johns shrimp boat down at 84ft, the Linda Susan (Gerald Corcoran) river tug, the 70ft long Four Boys at 66ft of depth, and the Kay Eckstein tub boat at 80ft. FH-14 has the MyWifeII shrimp boat. At these sites expect to see tons of fish and critters including red snapper, triggerfish tomtate, drum, cigar minnows, cobia, tuna, butterfly fish, sheep head wrasse, spadefish, grouper, arrow crab, shrimps, and soft coral.
Now if all of this isn’t enough, George Burton of Dixie Marine in Biloxi and with his boat the “Scuby Do”, likes go to the east end of Dauphin Island to dive around the working Rig 925 or the Apache Rig. A mile from these rigs, and for years before Hurricane Katrina, the wreck of the 65ft long Blue Wing at 70ft had a resident nurse shark and a sea turtle. George also likes the diving around the Horse Shoe Rigs 60miles out from shore. South of FH-13 you can also find the rig VK68, the V-Rig Air Force Tower, and the Fox Tug.
A determined diver can find weather, currents, river, and commercial shrimping activity can affect the visibility dramatically, but when divers do dive Ole Miss, they can see pronounced activity and unusual opportunities to dive, as well as a strong community of avid active divers. Divers may feel like the first to ever visit one of these remote dive destinations, but don’t miss the amazing reefs and of course the amazing network of dive shops.