Mississippi bass anglers have a lot of options, with more than 40 lakes around the state under intense management as part of either the State Fishing Lake System or the state park system.

While these reservoirs range only from 50 to 700 acres in size, that allows state fisheries biologists to maximize their work and grow healthy fish populations.

"We put a little more effort into these lakes," Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks biologist John Skains said.

Added to that are Mississippi River oxbows and some big lakes like Ross Barnett and the Tenn-Tom Waterway pools.

The result is a profusion of choices, so Mississippi Woods & Waters interviewed managers across the state to help readers narrow down their choices.

Here are the top waters in each MDWFP district.

District 1-Northeast

This area of Mississippi offers a wide range of choices, with several State Fishing Lakes and pools of the Tenn-Tom Waterway being contained within its 14 counties.

However, Tippah County Lake near Ripley would be on the top of district biologist Larry Pugh's list of hot bass-fishing destinations.

"In terms of population structure and size (of fish), Tippah would be hard to beat," Pugh said.

The 165-acre lake showed its strength more than 15 years ago when it produced a 14.42-pound bass, which stood as the state record until beaten in 1991 by an 18.15-pounder taken from Natchez State Park Lake.

"Tippah has the history, and our creel data and electrofishing show that it is going as strong as ever," Pugh said.

The little lake offers a variety of technique options, he said.

"It offers the bank beater shallow pockets and shorelines with abundant brushpiles and laydowns," Pugh said. "Also, those who can utilize their electronics can go find good brush on deeper points, and there's an old road bed and two really good creeks."

Riprap on the dam rounds out the options, he said.

"You can catch bass just about any way you want to - topwater, pitching plastics off of sharp shoreline dropoffs, whatever," Pugh explained.

And the lake is primarily targeted by perch jerkers, so bass-fishing pressure is pretty low.

"You're not going to show up at the lake and find 50 boats with everybody targeting bass," Pugh said. "About a third of the anglers bass fish."

However, the average bass weighs more than 1½ pounds, and the average angler can catch more than one fish per hour.

"That's extremely good," he said. "Anything over ½ bass per hour is considered good fishing."

The lake is stained because of a vibrant fertilization program, but visibility remains 24 to 30 inches.

The only regulation on bass fishing is the 10-fish-per-day state creel limit.

Just to the southeast is Trace State Park Lake, on which Pugh spends a lot of time.

"It's 12 minutes from my house," he chuckled.

While he has no creel data on the lake because it's not within the State Fishing Lake System, he said his office does perform electrofishing surveys. Combined with his personal experience, Pugh said it's a lake no bass angler should overlook.

"It's got points, creek channels and standing timber," he said. "There is vegetation in the backs of pockets in the form of najas (a native submerged aquatic sometimes called naiad) and lily pads, and main-lake points are abundant."

Pugh likes to target the three major creek channels to keep up with the fish.

"Bass use these ditches and channels to migrate," he explained. "If you find a point that has that creek channel up against it, it's likely to hold fish."

Visibility is 2 to 4 feet despite a fertilization program, but the fish are more than cooperative.

"It's fairly easy to go and catch numbers in the 11- to 13-inch range," Pugh said. "They're extremely abundant."

But that's not to say it's strictly a small-fish reservoir.

"There are probably more fish in the 4- to 7-pound range (in Trace) than in any of (District 1's) State Fishing Lakes," he said.

Any list of the district's great bass-fishing waters almost has to include a discussion of the Tenn-Tom Waterway because it is so popular among the tournament crowd.

Pugh pointed to Pickwick Lake and Aberdeen as two of the best bets.

"The last three years, Pickwick, in my mind based on tournaments, creel surveys and electrofishing, has been one of the best lakes in the state for sheer numbers," he said.

The key has been the expansion of hydrilla in the portion of Pickwick that snakes into Mississippi.

"Hydrilla showed up about eight years ago, and it has really spread in the last three years," Pugh said. "The largemouth population has just exploded."

Fish in the 1 ½- to 3-pound range seem to be anywhere there is vegetation.

"Our last survey shows it's nothing to go catch between 30 and 60 bass a day," Pugh said. "The hydrilla has concentrated them and made them easier to catch.

"People who know nothing about Pickwick can now go and catch fish."

Tournaments on the lake routinely require five-fish limits surpassing 16 ½ pounds of winners.

Aberdeen, which seems to cycle up and down in terms of the quality of the fishery, has been on the upswing in the past couple of years.

"All of these lakes are cyclical," he said of the Tenn-Tom's various pools. "Its just Aberdeen's time."

Surveys show anglers average .6 bass per hour, with 16 ½-pound stringers being common at tournament weigh-ins.

"Lunkers are about 6 pounds on average," Pugh said.

Pressure is relatively light, with only 35 to 40 percent of those on the water targeting bass.

However, it is more turbid than many other Mississippi lakes, so anglers have to adjust to these conditions.

District 2-Northwest

Two Mississippi River oxbows top the charts on this area of the state, biologist Keith Meals said.

The 5,000-acre Tunica Cutoff, however, is probably the best bet, he said.

"It ranked second or third statewide based on the bass-tournament criteria," he said. "It's extremely productive."

The lake provides hungry bass with a huge amount of forage in the form of gizzard and threadfin shad, but don't look for much bottom contour.

"There's none of your reservoir-type structure," Meals said. "You're basically fishing shoreline structure. Most of your fishing is going on in 12 feet of water or less."

That's because it's not a natural oxbow, having been dug in the 1940s. That left its sloping banks barren.

"It's basically a long, skinny bowl," Meals said. "Most fishing is done on sandy slopes."

But that fishing can be exciting because of the thick cypress and willows growing in the shallows.

"Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics are very effective," Meals said.

Water is very clear, but a green phytoplankton stain is not uncommon.

The average first-place stringer in tournaments totals 17.36 pounds, with the average big bass tipping the scales at 5.8 pounds.

"You get some 25-pound tournament weights," he said.

That means the Tunica Trace bass are chunky.

"Fish average 2 to 4 pounds," Meals said. "A 7- to 8-pound fish is a big fish in the lake, but they're those thick, chunky oxbow kind of fish. They're extremely healthy, hard-fighting fish."

The best fishing comes when the Mississippi River, to which Tunica Cutoff is connected, is between 10 and 15 feet on the Memphis gauge.

Next up is Flower Lake, a 1,000-acre natural oxbow that actually connects to Tunica Cutoff when the Mississippi River reaches 28 feet on the Memphis gauge, Meals said.

"It's a shallow, weedy oxbow with extensive lotus fields," he said. "There's a jillion places to fish, so you hardly know where to fish."

A barrow pit and one other area known as the "Blue Hole" provide the only fairly deep water, but most of the fishing focuses on the vegetation.

"Rats, floating frogs and those kinds of baits are great fished over the vegetation," Meals said. "You're not going to be fishing a lot of crankbaits unless you want to stay hung up all day."

Despite a decided lack of depth, the lake houses a good population of fish.

"It's a very well-structured population," Meals said. "It's got small fish, big fish and everything in between."

Again, the heaviest bass one would expect to catch would be the rare 7- to 8-pounder, but the fish are anything but small.

"There are plenty of 2- to 5-pound fish to keep you happy," he said.

Surprisingly, there is almost no pressure.

"Most of the time you won't see another bass fisherman on the lake," Meals said. "It's one of those well-kept secrets."

Again, it is only accessible from Tunica Cutoff when the river reaches 28 feet in Memphis, but Meals said there is one fee ramp on the lake.

District 3-Westcentral

Choosing one lake over another is tough in and around Greenville.

"One of the good things about living in Greenville is that you have 10 good lakes within an hour," Big River Guide Service's Terry Bates said.

However, he said his guiding and work as an organizer of the Media Bass and Team Trail tournament circuits proved that Washington and Ferguson lakes should be right on the top of the rankings.

Ferguson would rank the highest, with 18- to 24-pound stringers being common requirements to win tournaments, Bates said.

"I won a tournament there last year with five fish that went 26 pounds," he said. "There was an 8-pounder in there."

The clear-water oxbow is full of cypress trees, and still connects to the Mississippi River at the lower end. It is used by barging companies, so it has some good, deep water in the center.

District biologist Garry Lucas said the connection to the river is key to the lake's productivity.

"Fish from all over the Mississippi River are hauled there and released during tournaments," he said. "It's on a big-bass stocking program."

Bates said this is true, but contended that the lake's masses of flooded cypress trees also play a big role.

"It can be frustrating to fish," he said. "It looks like they should be everywhere, but the bass tend to concentrate in certain areas."

The best bet is to fish through the trees quickly until fish are located.

"I fish fast until I catch a good fish," Bates said. "I see what depth the trees are in, and then I make a circle in a 50- to 60-yard area to see if there are more fish there."

He said many anglers just see cypress trees everywhere, but they can narrow their search by knowing which trees are most likely to hold bass.

"I like two or three trees close together, or those that are too thick to get your boat through - anywhere bass have a good ambush point where they can sit and wait for food to be washed by," he said.

He likes to use 10-inch Berkley Power Worms around the trees, but he also will be found throwing Carolina rigs and deep-diving crankbaits like Norman DD22s where rocks have been placed to maintain the connection to the river's navigation channel.

"This is about the only river lake I know of that's got an abundance of rock structure you can fish in deep water," Bates said.

While water levels fluctuate with the rise and fall of the river, Bates said there's still 30 feet or more of water during mid-summer low-water periods.

"This is an extremely good deep-diving crankbait lake," he said.

Lucas said the lake also has an advantage in that bass are protected in one area during low-water periods.

"The upper lake basically becomes a refuge because the chute (leading to it) gets very shallow," he said.

Unfortunately, there are no creel surveys conducted on the lake, and the department hasn't conducted electrofishing surveys on the oxbow in years, Lucas said.

Washington Lake is an extremely old oxbow of the Mississippi River. Some even believe it could have been formed by the Ohio River eons ago when the two rivers met near Vicksburg, Lucas said.

While that is speculation, what isn't questioned is that it is now fairly shallow at an average of about 6 feet deep, but still productive for anglers in the know.

"Washington is slap full of fish," Bates said. "You can just have a lot of fun."

Lucas said the lake maintains a phytoplankton bloom throughout the summer, producing fairly low visibility of 12 to 14 inches.

"The lake is green," he said.

Rains also can turn the lake muddy.

"The water shed is very rich," he said. "The water quality there is very extreme."

Creel surveys last spring showed only 800 fish were harvested, but they averaged 1 ½ pounds, Lucas said.

Bates said the low harvest simply reflects the fact that bass anglers normally only spend a couple of months a year on the lake.

"From July through September, there's not much bass fishing on the lake because everybody is fishing the river," he said.

That's partly because water temperatures soar in the shallow lake, but it also testifies to the incredible fishing on the river during the summer.

But even when bass fishing is great during the spring, many bass anglers stay away.

"It's got a lot of crappie and catfish in it," Bates said. "About mid March through mid April, you can't hardly get out of the ramp because there are so many people fishing crappie."

Bates said it's worth fighting the crowds, though, because his experience shows that the 1½-pound average weight revealed during creel surveys might be a little low.

"The fish we catch average 2½ pounds, but it's chock full of 3½- to 4-pounders also. I can't tell you how many 6-pounders I've caught there."

He said spinnerbaits are great beginning lures to discover if bass are active among the 2,500-acre lake's cypress fields.

"I always start with a spinnerbait and go down to something slower if I don't get any bites," Bates said. "Berkley Gulp Sinking Minnows are great baits in Washington."

District 4 - Eastcentral

Ross Barnett Reservoir at 33,000 acres is the largest lake wholly inside Mississippi, and it offers area anglers the best odds of success, district biologist Larry Bull said.

"You've got various habitat: deep-water areas, shallow areas, aquatic vegetation, riverine habitat above Highway 43," Bull said. "And the forage base is very good."

Catch rates average between .6 and .7 bass per hour, with an average weight of harvested fish being 2.6 pounds.

"The 15-inch minimum regulation on the lake obviously makes that average weight higher," Bull said.

The lake is too large to fertilize, so waters stay fairly clear with as much as 24- to 30-inch visibility during the fall.

One of the keys to Ross Barnett's success is, ironically, its relatively low productivity.

"We don't have an overabundance of productivity," Bull said. "Some of our lakes get overcrowded, but that's not a problem at Ross Barnett. We have enough productivity to sustain the population, we have a good forage base, good growth rates and lower mortality."

That's a positive in a lake that experiences very little harvest.

"Ninety-five percent of the anglers release their catches," Bull said.

Ross Barnett proved its quality fishery by ranking No. 1 on the state Fish Index in 2005 in terms of where anglers caught big fish, with plenty of 5-pounders landed there, Bull said.

However, it also provides plenty of action with smaller fish.

"Our catch rates for the two sizes are fairly equal," Bull said. "Roughly half are above the 15-inch minimum and half are below the minimum."

Vegetation probably covers only about 10 percent of the lake, with most of that being upriver. Hydrilla has a very small presence; more prevalent are lotus, alligator weed and coontail.

"Folks will go upriver where there are mats of vegetation, and they'll punch them with heavy weights," he said.

There also are cypress trees and laydowns in the Pearl River backwaters north of the main reservoir, Bull said.

Summertime fishing provides good Carolina-rigging opportunities along the old river channel snaking through the main lake, however.

"There's a lot of elevation changes in and around the old channel," he said.

Creel limits are set at seven fish per angler per day on Ross Barnett.

Kemper County Lake north of Meridian landed in the No. 2 spot in the district, Bull said.

The 650-acre lake is a clear-water reservoir with visibility ranging between 3 and 8 feet.

But it's showing potential to be a big-bass lake, in large part thanks to the 14- to 18-inch slot limit, Bull said.

"We're seeing more and more big fish coming out of it," he said. "Over time, we've seen a change in the structure of the population: We're getting a lot more fish in the slot and over the slot."

However, the addition of gizzard shad in the forage base also has played a big part.

"Historically, bream was the forage base, but gizzard shad have started showing up in the lake," Bull said.

Catch rates average .8 to .9 fish per hour, well above the .5 fish per hour that state managers consider indicative of great fishing.

In fact, creel surveys show that the number of slot fish caught almost reaches that threshold.

"They're catching about .3 to .4 slot fish per hour," Bull said. "Over 18 inches, which is about a 3-pound fish, they're catching one fish per 10 hours of angling."

Average weight of fish harvested was only about a pound, but Bull said an 11-pounder was landed during a tournament last year.

Permit sales reveal about 3,000 angler trips are made annually, which isn't too bad, Bull said.

"That's five trips per acre," he said.

Vegetation is found on the upper-lake flats, with lilies, lotus and some coontail also present. However, submerged vegetation is relatively sparse.

"We found some hydrilla and got worried, and put in (triploid grass) carp," he said.

More common is deep water, falling to depths of 35 to 40 feet, Bull said.

"You've got some steep dropoffs that you can fish," he said.

Because shad is fast becoming the predominant forage, matching lures to that color are effective.

Bull added that the clear water mandates smaller lures and lighter line.

The slot regulations include a 10 fish per day creel limit, with only one topping the 18 inches.

District 5-Southwest

District biologist John Skains said the no-brainer choice for his region was Calling Panther, a 500-acre reservoir near Crystal Springs that opened for the first time a year ago.

"Catch rates started off extremely high," Skains said.

The average size of bass logged during creel surveys in the spring of 2006 was 1 ½ pounds, but he said that was an artificially low number because of the 16- to 22-inch slot limit on the lake.

"In our electrofishing, we saw high numbers of young-of-the-year fish," he said.

That's largely due to a two-year stocking program that began in 2004 during which Florida bass were poured into the new reservoir, and that means anglers can expect lots of action.

But he also said there are some giants swimming in the relatively small water body.

"We had two 9-pounders in the opening week," Skains said. "In the late fall and winter, we've had a couple of 11-pounders come out of there, that we know about."

And that's on a lake that until the 2004 had no bass in it.

"The growth rates there are amazing," Skains said. "It's new-lake growth. These little bass have more than they can eat, and if you can get these little fish to jump (to large sizes) right off the bat, they just continue to grow."

That could make for some very interesting fishing this year, he said.

"I'm looking for some 13- to 14-pounders to come out of there in 2007," Skains said. "I'm truly expecting a new state record to come out of Calling Panther."

Topping the current 18.10-pound record caught in nearby Natchez State Park Lake would really put Calling Panther on the map.

One of the keys to this early success stems from the tons of standing timber left when the lake's dam was constructed in 2000.

"Natchez State Park and Bill Waller have produced some really big fish," Skains said. "We looked at them, and the only thing those two lakes had in common was standing timber."

Trees 14 inches in diameter and larger were taken out when work first began in 1998, but Skains said many of the trees left surpassed the 14-inch mark before the lake filled up.

"It's very dense, but it's starting to open up now," he said. "There's still just so much structure."

The lake also is very deep compared to other Mississippi lakes.

"We have some 43-feet-deep water," Skains said. "It's 35 feet deep at the dam."

That combination of standing timber and deep water provides anglers with a plethora of choices.

"It's just a series of cove after cove," he said. "There are some deep drains coming into the lake. The choices are unlimited: Whatever you want to fish, you can find."

However, most of the bigger fish have been caught as they suspended around standing timber in at least 20 feet of water.

Water clarity is clear, with visibility extending to 12 feet despite work to change that.

"We have fertilized it, but haven't been able to get a bloom on it," Skains said.

Pressure is pretty high, although exact numbers for 2006 had not been formulated in late January.

"I can tell you that in the first four days after it opened, there were 1,200 anglers on the lake," he said. "It maintained that level of pressure into the summer.

"The proximity to Jackson means it is heavily pressured"

And 80 percent of those anglers were bass fishermen.

However, the standing timber allows anglers to fish close together without interfering with each other too much. It also helps shelter the fish from the pressure.

"There are some areas (anglers) can't even get to," Skains said. "Those areas are acting as a refuge, so there will be some fish that grow old and never see a bait."

The lake is managed with a 16- to 22-inch slot, with a daily creel of seven bass. Only one bass can be longer than 22 inches.

Skains said he is encouraging anglers to keep bass shorter than the slot to help maintain the fishery.

"Any population where bass are not harvested will eventually start to stunt, and the fishery's condition will decline," he explained. "We want to maintain growth rates and keep a dynamic population in there."

Skains also said tiny Jeff Davis (a District 6 lake managed by District 5 biologists) would be another great choice, even though it's not well known as a bass-fishing destination.

"Historically, it's been known as a bream lake," he said. "It has a fairly crowded bass population, and in 2005 it was No. 2 in the state Fish Index for bass."

That might be a surprise to some fishermen, but Skains said it shouldn't be.

"The number of really big fish isn't there, but it's fast action," he said.

The average fish weighs about 1½ pounds, with anglers averaging one bass per hour.

"That's a really high catch rate," he said. "This lake has been open since the '70s, and it has maintained that productivity."

There is no standing timber to speak of, but three major creeks provide great fishing among stumps lining the channels, and there are several good deep points, Skains said.

The best bass fishing, however, seems to be in the stump fields along the creeks, he said.

Water depths average 6 to 7 feet, with the deepest areas being 25 feet deep. Water clarity is clear, but fertilization yields year-round phytoplankton blooms.

And the best thing for bass anglers is that there is little competition.

"The primary users of the lake are bream fishermen," Skains said. "We interviewed only 18 bass fishermen during last spring's creel survey."

That means anglers targeting bass can catch fish that haven't been educated, making it the perfect place to teach kids the joy of the sport.

"You can go there and have a big time," Skains said. "And you can catch some good bluegill, too. So you can definitely go there and catch something."

There is no slot limit, and the daily creel is set at 10 per angler per day.

District 6-Southeast

The lakes in this coastal region are in pretty good shape, with two standing out from the crowd and a third being prepared to become the state's flagship trophy reservoir, district biologist Jimmy Rayburn said.

Arguably the top current big-bass lake managed by regional biologists (it's actually inside the confines of District 5) is Lake Columbia within the Marion County Wildlife Management Area just southeast of Columbia.

"The lake record is 11 ¾ pounds," Rayburn said. "There were some larger fish that came out of there, but we didn't weigh them."

But Rayburn knows for a fact that the 85-acre reservoir can produce much heavier fish.

"A few years ago during electro-fishing, we sampled a 15-pounder," he said.

One of the real keys for such big-bass potential is the forage base.

"It's historically had lake chub suckers," Rayburn said. "We have noticed over the years that if (lakes) have lake chub suckers the bass do really well and grow really well."

That forage fish is backed up with a healthy bluegill population.

"Bluegill is a great forage species because they're multiple spawners," he explained. "They spawn several times during the summer, basically every full moon."

So food availability provides bass with plenty to eat, but a controlled bass population also plays a role in the lake's production of big fish.

"Columbia typically doesn't produce numbers of bass," Rayburn said. "You're not going to catch 30 or 40 fish; you're going to go there and catch 10.

"But the condition of the fish is really good."

The lake was drawn down, renovated and reopened in 2000, which also helped revitalize the fishing.

A 14- to 18-inch slot limit also is in place, with a creel of seven fish (only one of which can be longer than the slot), and that's another factor of its success.

"I think it's achieved the objective in that all the age classes are represented in the fishery," Rayburn said.

Fishing pressure is relatively low, providing anglers with quality experiences, he said. Average harvested bass for the last year available (2005) weighed 1.45 pounds, which is pretty good for a lake regulated with a slot limit.

The lake is relatively shallow, with the majority of the bed being covered with no more than 12 feet of water, and that's resulted in one problem - an abundance of vegetation (coontail and lilies), which can clog the lake and limit fishing area as the year ages.

"A program is in place to try and kill some of the pads and open up some water," he said. "We plan to put some grass carp in to control the coontail."

However, he quickly added that managers understand that vegetation also plays a part in the lake's productivity.

"Obviously, our goal is to try to reach a happy medium," Rayburn said. "We really don't want more than 20 to 30 percent coverage."

Fertilization is used to add color to the water, cutting off sunlight penetration that helps aquatics flourish, but Rayburn said the lake definitely will be clear enough to sight fish during the productive spawning season.

"During the spring, I'd probably focus on soft plastics," he said.

Outside of that period, Rayburn said he would be watching his depth finder.

"I'd try to find breaks on the arms of the lake," he said. "In the northeast arm, there's a defined channel."

Rat-L-Traps and suspending lures are perfect for dragging bass out of the grass before it mats, but by the summer, most fishing is limited to the waters surrounding the creek channels, he said.

"Back out into the channels and fish points with crankbaits, slow-rolled spinnerbaits and Carolina rigs," Rayburn said.

Lake Perry might be small at only 125 acres, but it holds its own as a great bass-fishing destination. There's no slot regulation, and each angler can harvest 10 bass per day.

Without a slot limit, which protects many fish in the 2- to 3-pound range, the average harvested bass ran a little heavier than on Columbia at 1.68 pounds, Rayburn said.

"It's got a larger percentage of deeper water than Columbia," he explained. "There's a lot of 9- to 12-foot water."

Therefore, vegetation isn't as much of an issue here, but that doesn't mean fishing options are limited.

"There are big points in deep water," he said. "You can get 50 to 60 feet off the bank and be in 12 to 15 feet of water."

Laydowns and tree tops also litter the bottom, and the combination of wood structure and points can be deadly.

"Look on the break and on the points and find that structure," Rayburn advised. "It's a heavy-line lake: With 10-pound test, you're not going to get a 5-pounder out of a tree top."

Liming and fertilization help maintain productivity, and that has produced a fishery that provides the potential to catch numbers along with some big fish.

"It produces fairly decent numbers of bass, but it does produce big fish," he said. "There was a 13.4-pounder caught in the summer of 1997, and a couple of 12-pound fish were caught last year in March and May."

Catches can come on a variety of lures, but Rayburn said soft-plastic anglers have a definite advantage.

"Historically, the bigger fish come on soft-plastic lures," he said.

However, fall can provide great crankbaiting. That's actually when Rayburn said he prefers to fish the lake because hunting draws many anglers to the woods.

"The pressure sort of falls off," he said. "You can go there and fish and do pretty good."

A lake that promises to be the state's premier trophy fishery is Bill Waller, which is scheduled to reopen in the fall after being renovated.

"Our goal is to manage it differently than any of our other state lakes," Rayburn said.

The 200-acre lake, another District 5 reservoir managed by District 6 personnel, is only about a mile from Lake Columbia. However, it's a world apart in terms of habitat.

"There's tons of standing timber," Rayburn said. "You're not going to open up your boat on Bill Waller."

The lake record stands at 15 pounds, 14 ounces, but Rayburn said there were rumors of even heavier bass coming from its waters.

"There's been reports of fish over 16 pounds out of that lake," he said.

There is some vegetation, but there's also a lot of deeper water, setting up a great variety of productive fishing techniques.

As with Columbia, lake chub suckers make up a large portion of the forage base.

"That's one of the keys," he said.

Exact management still was being formulated in late January, but a big slot limit was almost a certainty, Rayburn said. He also noted that managers likely will institute limits on the number of boats that can be on the water at any given time.

"We're probably looking at a lottery or draw-type system, particularly during certain times of the year," he said. "In other lakes that reopen after renovation, people go in and catch big fish like crazy, and then three months later, they're not catching anything.

"This will help maintain the trophy status."

The limited access along with the masses of standing timber should provide plenty of protection for the bass.

"It's more difficult to fish it efficiently," he said.