Has the time come in your bass-fishing life that you are ready to catch the one trophy fish to mount or have a replica mount made? Is there a space on your den wall that you are saving for the bass of a lifetime to fill so that it will remind you visually of that day when the hook held and the line didn't break?

You have caught your share of bass and more. Now you will narrow the hunt. You are after a behemoth bass.

Strategy No. 1? Fish where big ones live. If they aren't there, you won't catch them. So where are they?

Well, you can listen to bass banter at the coffee shop and try to separate fact from fiction. Or you can consult the experts who know - the guys and gals who set a king's table for growing bass and cater to their every need, and practically swim alongside every 14-pounder in the water armed with a tape measure, a thermometer and a stethoscope.

Listening to these folks, the skilled and dedicated fisheries biologists whose jobs require detailed knowledge of Mississippi's bass, is what we did to learn where the big ones live. Our goal was to provide you with a list of the top-three trophy bass waters in Mississippi.

But by seeking out the list, we learned a whole lot more about upcoming premier bass fisheries that every bass angler will want to note for planning trophy trips, and we learned some details of bass management that will make us all better anglers.

Catching a big bass is an exciting accomplishment in the realm of outdoor activities. Of course, "big" is a relative word that means trophy size in the eyes of the angler. And that could be a 3-pounder for a beginner or a 12-pounder for an old pro.

It is safe to say that a bass over 8 pounds is a trophy fish in most bass anglers' eyes. The excitement of the pursuit leads us to boast when we land one of those giants and to lament when we lose one. We want to share the experience with others - glory or grief. And so we talk about it.

Have you noticed that when a giant bass breaks us off and we moan about it, our listeners rarely sympathize? Of course those few who are fellow addicts will commiserate, unless their ego requires your failure to feed their sense of superiority. But the average Joe and Jane wonder why it is that fish that bass anglers seem to lose are always really big ones. It's BECAUSE they are big that they get away, people!

And so when we do manage to turn her away from that stump and run around the end of the boat to thwart the old "run-under-the-boat" trick and get a net under her, it's bragging time - it's camera and scales and measuring tape, front and center!

Bigger is better

Let's face it. We all want the boss bass of the lake. If you have worn out more than two bass rigs, every one of your casts is inspired in no small part by the desire to hook and land a lunker fish.

Here we will look at where the big ones are likely to grab our offerings and send us to the coffee shop with a fist full of photos.

If you cannot live without catching a largemouth over 8 pounds, where should you fish in your quest? The biologists who watch our lakes under a microscope and manage them and study them and fish them and record data on them have collectively provided us a listing.

Larry Pugh, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) in Tupelo, compiles bass data from tournaments held across the state. Data forms are completed and submitted by fishing clubs and other organizations. For 2006, the last year that compilations are complete, 25 organizations submitted data.

This program was started in 1998, and the results are published on the MDWFP website, mdwfp.com. Click on Fishing and Boating, and then on Fishing Facts and Forms. You will find more information on our lakes than you can absorb in one viewing. A visit to that site will have you sorting tackle and studying your calendar for the next day you are free to go fishing.

Using the data he compiled along with other extensive knowledge of our bass waters, Pugh identified two of our magic top-three trophy bass lakes as Barnett Reservoir and Bay Springs Lake. His choice for a third lunker lake was Davis Lake, a 200-acre impoundment managed by biologists with the U.S. Forest Service and located in the Tombigbee National Forest in Chickasaw County.

No tournament data is available from Davis Lake. Its small acreage doesn't fit typical tournament requirements. It is an old lake that has been restocked and is primed to become an all-star bass fishing destination.

Larry Clay and Rick Dillard, fisheries biologists with the Forest Service, are the primary managers of the Davis Lake comeback. These two bass experts agree with Pugh that the top-three trophy bass lakes in Mississippi are Barnett Reservoir, Bay Springs Lake and Davis Lake.

These three biologists realize that selecting the top-three bass fisheries requires assumptions that may not apply across the board to every trophy-seeking bass fisher. For example, an angler who might never fish in the winter months, or one who uses specific techniques such as only topwater lures, could possibly find lakes among the high producers that better suit their styles. Let's say one basser fishes with more confidence in gin-clear water. This angler might consider Kemper County Lake, where some trophy bass lurk.

More choices

For these reasons alone, arguments can be made for placing other great bass lakes in the top three. Our selections are based on numerous assumptions that appear reasonable but that address variable factors.

So picking the top three assumes numerous generalizations, and for this reason we don't list them here in an order of preference but simply alphabetically. Also, we are not considering the intensely managed fee lakes that are excellent fisheries but not available to all anglers due to high costs. Private ponds are excluded.

And the fantastic smallmouth waters of Pickwick Lake are not included because it is obviously the choice for that species.

Let's look at each of our top three. Barnett Reservoir consists of a dammed portion of the Pearl River, a historically productive water that provided sustenance to Native Americans before the arrival of European settlers. And to this day the Pearl offers excellent fishing for float trip and trotline anglers throughout its considerable length.

Centrally located just outside the capitol city of Jackson, Barnett offers handy bassing access to residents of Hinds, Madison, Rankin and Scott counties.

The 33,000-acre impoundment is a water source for Jackson and adjacent areas. It boasts 16 parks, five campgrounds and 22 boat launches. Five marinas exist on its shores. A detailed map and other information is easily found on the web by searching Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. Bass fishing guides are widely available, and almost any local business that supports the fishing industry can recommend guides. A list of guide services appears on line by adding the word "guide" to the Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi search.

Bay Springs Lake is in Northeast Mississippi and floods parts of Prentiss and Tishomingo counties. It is part of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, constructed and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Jamie Whitten lock and dam impounds 6,700 acres of water with 133 miles of shoreline. The lake is nine miles long, and there are nine boat ramps available.

The lake is southeast of Booneville on Highway 4. The Bay Springs Marina is located on the north side of the West Damsite Recreation Area. A corps-operated camping area has 139 Class A campsites (662-728-1134). Other campsites are available at Bay Springs Marina (662-728-2449). Guide information is available at the marina or on line by searching Bay Springs Lake Mississippi Guide. A detailed map is available from the same search.

For other information, contact the corps at the lake's visitor center on the east side of the lake by visiting the center or calling (662) 423-1287.

Big expectations

The lesser-known Davis Lake is an old U.S. Forest Service lake located in the Tombigbee National Forest, and is a sleeper that has awakened. Pugh landed a 7.7-pounder from Davis in December. He knows of an 11.5-pound bass taken from the lake already, just seven years after redesigning and restocking the lake with Florida-strain bass.

When Clay and Dillard took on the job of managing the comeback of Davis Lake, they knew they had a good foundation - a lake bottom of limestone, ideal for utilizing fertilizer to the maximum.

In 1999, a valve in Davis Lake had to be repaired, which required lowering the lake to some five to 10 acres. The valve had been in place since the lake was built in the late 1930s. This was the opportunity to restock and improve the lake for fishing. The two biologists began by considering the concept of structure in the designing process.

Structure is defined as change in elevation as opposed to cover, which can be plant growth, tree tops, artificial attractors, etc.

Over three miles of ditches were cut in the lake bottom in the 200-acre impoundment. Here is where these men's understanding of bass behavior set in motion a lake design that is of huge importance to bass anglers seeking fish in Davis Lake.

The ditch network provides emerging bass populations endless choices of places to hold. Because bass tend to orient themselves to structure, this means they can be anywhere in the extensive ditch system. The result is that anglers will be hard put to "load the boat" with bass that are ganged up. The fish will be generally scattered.

One result is that bass are being caught from Davis Lake that don't show signs of being previously caught and released. This has implications of less-pressured fish, a healthy population, survivability and probably other advantages.

So the ditch system means the fish are harder to find? Yes. And this impacts the population by allowing the fish to get age that translates to really big bass - the reason this lake interests big-bass fans.

The underwater ditch system in Davis Lake is roughly shaped like a tuning fork. Find the main intersection of the network, and you can intercept migrating bass.

Another piece of the big-bass puzzle that was addressed by Clay and Dillard at Davis Lake is the food source. Along with the behavioral aspects mentioned, managing the food chain for maximum bass growth was and continues to be an extremely complex science.

Simplified, these guys stocked the lake with threadfin shad instead of gizzard shad because the threadfins don't get too big for young bass to eat and thus become unavailable.

"You want the food sources to be like a buffet table. No limited portions," said Clay.

The unlimited forage fish caused early fast development. In the meantime, gizzard shad entered the lake, likely from an angler perhaps trying to introduce crappie, which can be inadvertently mixed with gizzard shad when small.

The gizzard shad has a plus at this stage of development of the older bass in Davis Lake. Because gizzard shad grow bigger, the large bass get "more for their bite," according to Clay.

The biggest bass to date at Davis weighed 13 pounds, and was taken in January of 2007.

"I won't be surprised to see bass of 15 or 16 pounds in 2008," noted Clay of this fine public fishery.

More recently stocked Mississippi waters that have potential to produce abundant oversize bass are Calling Panther Lake, Okissa Lake and Lake Bill Waller.

Stay tuned.