Neshoba County has a storied past: It has been the setting for murder mysteries, real and fictional, and is home to the famous annual Neshoba County Fair.

Just southeast of the county seat of Philadelphia is Neshoba County Lake. An unassuming 138-acre impoundment, the lake offers no great mysteries, just the facts - it is becoming one of the best bass lakes in all of Mississippi.

Neshoba County Lake is small by many standards, with a curious shape and bottom contour. It is a shallow lake, with some areas being difficult to reach. Mats of heavy vegetation cover several acres of the lake's surface.

Yet, big bass seem to abound there, with a 14-pounder holding the current lake record. And that record that has been tied once and threatened several times by 13-plus-pound behemoths that likely would have been record breakers, had they been caught prior to the spawn.

For Sterling Jones, a day of fishing Neshoba starts right out of the ramp.

"When surface temperatures start to rise, bass seek shade and the thermoclines, where the best water is," Jones said. "The fishing pier near the lake office and boat ramp offers two things that will hold bass: good cover and shade. Christmas trees and brush piles are all around the pier. These places hold the small bream and crappie that big bass like.

"There is a point between the pier and the ramp, and sometimes I've pulled a few good bass off that point."

Jones works plastics close to the pilings, using a pitch-and-flip technique to get the bait as far under the pier as possible.

He varies the speed of the retrieve of his Texas-rigged worm on successive casts to ensure that he works the whole water column. His favorite worm colors are pumpkin seed and watermelon.

But he says just about any color will do when the bass are biting.

"If the spillway has a good flow, it's a good place to make a few casts," Jones said. "Go right to the wall and back to the deeper water. Some grass and trash may collect against the wall - fish as close to that as you can. Try a blue/black jig along here with a curly-tail trailer."

On down the dam Jones said the stickups and brush are worthy of few casts.

"I keep working the water from the rip-rap to the stickups - this is about the deepest water in the lake, but the bass won't be on the bottom," he said. "This is the barrow pit created when the dam was made. At the far end of the dam is a shallower area with some pads and weeds. This is when I start to use topwater baits.

"As I move around the lake, I have the deeper ditches and creek channels logged into my GPS. Back when the lake was drained and renovated, numerous ditches were make with track hoes. It was while the lake was drained that a lot of buck brush (southern wax myrtle) became prolific. Much of the buck brush has fallen and is decayed, but the ditches are there and hold the bigger bass."

According to Jones, those ditches connect the flats with the barrow pit along the main dam. Jones said bass use the ditches as a means of moving from the flats to the deeper water near the dam or to connecting creek channels.

"I have to say this about summer fishing at Neshoba: My favorite time is to be there at daylight and fish until they stop hitting," Jones said. "When they stop, you might as well load the boat and head to the house.

"Depending on the day, that may be 7, or it may be 9 a.m."

On one outing, Jones used a "Hoot Gibson Frog" to boat a 12.1-pound bass.

Jones was fishing with Hoot Gibson, who said he was going to throw Jones out of the boat for catching such a big bass, but it was Jones' boat.

The "Hoot Gibson Frog" is actually the local name for a fluorescent yellow Scum Frog. Gibson, who has been a bass fisherman for 45 years, has used the frog to win tournaments.

"I just love to fish (Neshoba) lake," said Gibson, who lives and works in nearby Philadelphia. "There are some fine bass in that lake, and the key to getting them to bite is staying on top of the vegetation.

"A floating worm or frog is just the ticket for doing that."

Chuck Hazelwood is the manager at Neshoba County Lake and has seen the lake grow into its own as a bass destination. He is also an angler who tosses baits when he has the opportunity.

"I have an unfair advantage since I'm here every day and see the lake as a living, evolving entity," Hazelwood said. "As the summer heat bears its full brunt against the water, the bass will naturally seek a thermocline where the water is to their liking."

Hazelwood points to the deep water along the main dam as a good place for anglers to start looking for mid-summer bass.

"The main creek, which comes around a long earthen mole and extends to the spillway, is where the deepest water is" Hazelwood said. "I use crankbaits that suspend to locate the bass along the dam. If the bass don't want to come up to get the crankbait, I switch to a Carolina-rigged worm or crawdad to entice a bite.

"There is another deep hole on the western side of a small island located on the western edge of the flats. This is another place where I always get bitten."

However, he disagreed with Jones on the best time of day to fish the diminutive water body.

"While big bass have been taken at every time of day, the lake has always been better in the afternoon," Hazlewood said. "As the summer heat increases, I never get on the water until the shadows become long in the afternoon."

He said a trip can be extremely productive, especially since the catch-and-release ethic is strong among the lake's regulars.

"The lake is loaded with bass in the 3- to 8-pound range, and most that are caught are immediately released," Hazlewood said.

Hazlewood said best lure choices really are up to the angler.

"People always ask what the bass are hitting on, and I have a standard pat answer, 'Bait,'" he said. "All joking aside, I've seen trophy bass caught on just about every kind of bait, from the venerable old black-and-silver Rapala to the most recent introductions of scented soft plastics.

"The one thing that amazed me this year was a youth, Joseph Alford of Union, who caught a 13-pound bass with a 6-inch fire-and-ice worm threaded onto a No. 2 bream hook. The kid was using a Zebco 33, which he said was going to be retired and never used again."

Hazelwood pointed out that a depth map of the lake can be found at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Web site, www.mdwfp.com.

If your summer plans include a trip to the fabled Neshoba County Fair, plan a side trip to Neshoba County Lake. In addition to a big time with harness races, top-name entertainment and great food, you might just add a trophy bass to your memories of Neshoba County.