Sardis Lake (located on the Little Tallahatchie River) is a 98,520-acre water resource development project occupying parts of three North Mississippi counties. The dam site is nine miles southeast of the town of Sardis and is approximately an hour drive from Memphis, Tennessee. It is 15,300 feet long and has an average height of 97 feet.
Sardis Dam was the first of the Yazoo Headwaters Projects to be built. Authorization for the project came when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Flood Control Act of 1936. Construction took four years and required thousands of men to clear fourteen miles (21 km) along the Little Tallahatchie River, which was characterized by dense woods and undergrowth, and meandering sloughs.
The most distinctive aspect of the dam’s construction was the use of “hydraulic fill” techniques. This required that soil be dredged from the river below the dam site and pumped up to provide the earth fill that forms the major portion of the dam. To facilitate this, the Corps built and operated the “Pontotoc,” a special dredge powered by two 3,000 hp electric motors. The 425-acre “Lower Lake” on the downstream side of Sardis Dam created by the dredging operation, today boasts the project’s most dense concentration of recreational facilities.
Sardis Lake has a maximum storage capacity of 1,512,000 acre feet of water. During the fall and winter months the lake is gradually drawn down to a “conservation pool” of 9,800 acres. This allows for storage of spring rains from the 1,545-square-mile drainage area above the dam. Sardis Lake has performed its flood control mission admirably well. Since it became operational, the dam’s emergency spillway has only been overtopped three times by unprecedented high water in 1973, 1983 and 1991. The lake’s normal “recreation pool” is 32,500 acres. Many visitors to Sardis Lake do not know of the project’s role in flood control. To them, Sardis Lake is a place to play. Annual visitation tops 5 million people. The lake is popular with anglers and has a reputation for its abundant bass and crappie. Other recreation activities include hunting, camping, boating, skiing, swimming and picnicking. Its proximity to the University of Mississippi makes it popular with students.
Giant white crappies swim in Sardis, although the lake’s somewhat unique for the state of Mississippi, in that crappies school up and suspend predictably in late fall. The catches can be epic and anglers travel hundreds of miles to fish the bite, but due to this intense and growing pressure, state officials stepped in to protect the crappie population after successive disappointing spawns. Boats now have a total limit. If three or more anglers are fishing from the same boat, the daily limit for the boat is 50 crappies.