Although he didn't know it at the time, Roger Stegall got a glimpse into the future while he frantically tried to find a fifth fish to finish a limit during a Red Man tournament back in 1991.

After launching at Bay Springs that morning, the Iuka-based professional bass angler ran up to Pickwick Lake to catch most of his fish.

That effort left him one fish short.

He made the 35-mile run back to Bay Springs hoping he could catch just one more bass.

The fifth fish finally bit, but it wasn't a largemouth; it wasn't even a smallmouth.

No, Stegall's fifth fish that tournament was a 5-pound spotted bass that anchored his winning bag.

Over 20 years later, Bay Springs Lake has transformed into one of the best spotted bass fisheries in all the South.

And a 5-pound spot has become nothing out of the ordinary according to Stegall, who has been guiding at Bay Springs and Pickwick Lakes for 200 to 225 days a year over the past 26 years.

"There have been some 7 to 7 ½-pound spots caught at Bay Springs," he pointed out. "So the size of the spots is good, and there are a lot of them."

If you're not familiar with Bay Springs Lake, it is the first lake after leaving Pickwick Lake headed down the Tombigbee River. Stegall said it covers about 23,000 to 25,000 acres, and that it is a highland lake with lots of clear water.

"For this part of the country it's a really clear lake," Stegall explained. "Anybody who has ever fished Lake Lanier in Georgia - it's very similar to that lake, with lots of deep, 25- to 30-foot water and lots of deep clay points."

Because of its combination of deep, clear water, clay points and its location close to the highest point in the state of Mississippi, Stegall labeled Bay Springs Lake a highland lake.

With their deep, clear water, sharply dropping banks and a conspicuous lack of cover, highland lakes intimidate many visiting anglers who aren't used to searching for bass in those kinds of conditions.

To quote David Hart in a March 2008 tip, "Highland reservoirs don't make very good first impressions."

However, whereas true highland reservoirs are typically lined with rock walls, the banks of Bay Springs Lake are lined with enough clay to turn the clearest water the color of chocolate milk.

But it doesn't.

"It's amazing how clear it stays with all the clay points," Stegall noted. "But the lake doesn't have any agricultural runoff to muddy up the lake.

"There aren't any boat docks, either. Only one marina on (the lake) with a few docks there, but most of the fishing is around the underwater points, old stump fields and what structure has been put in it by the fishermen in the form of brush piles."

When it was first opened 30 years ago, Bay Springs Lake was a really good largemouth bass lake. Stegall credits the good largemouth fishing to the original stocking of the lake.

But something happened over the years.

To his knowledge, Stegall doesn't know of any spotted bass stocking that took place in Bay Springs, so he attributes the rise of the spotted bass fishing to a natural population that may have come in from the Tombigbee - or to anglers bringing them in from as far away as western Alabama for tournament weigh-ins.

"There's also a 35-mile long canal that connects Bay Springs with Pickwick Lake, and (Pickwick is) just full of spotted bass," Stegall said. "So they could have moved into the lake through there, too."

Having many of the same characteristics as a highland reservoir, Bay Springs became more of a spotted bass fishery because that species is more adept at thriving in deep, clear lakes than largemouth bass.

And to hear Stegall tell it, there's no better time to try for Bay Springs spotted bass than October, when spots start feeding up for the winter.

"The fish are all over this time of year," Stegall said. "You can find some fish shallow back in the pockets, and you can catch them out in 20 to 25 feet

"We start getting some really cool nights - 45 to 50 degrees - during October, and that turns them on."

Stegall suggested starting out shallow with fast-moving baits like the Strike King Red Eye Shad lipless crankbait, and then working out deeper on the clay points with a double-willow spinnerbait.

"You can really cover a lot of water fast with the Red Eye Shad," he explained, "but I wouldn't stay up there shallow very long. If you don't get bit quick, back out to the deeper clay points and start crawling a double-willow Strike King spinnerbait.

"The spinnerbait pattern works especially well if there's some wind blowing."

From the spinnerbait bite on the deep clay points, Stegall finally backs out to where he feels most confident, and drags a shaky-head worm through the deeper brush piles.

Although it may seem there are more spots out on the deep piles than there are in shallow water, Stegall believes perception has more to do with the fact that spots often like to stack up more thickly around deepwater structure than they do in shallow water.

"I find more of them in deep water, but you can still hit them pretty good in shallow water," he explained. "During October, they'll follow the minnows up shallow, but make sure to check your electronics for brush piles as you move in there, and then fish them on your way back out."

And these kinds of spots are literally all over the lake, from one end to the other: It's not like any one place is better than the other.

However, there are a few spots to which anglers should pay particularly close attention.

There is an old road bed - old Highway 4 - that crosses right by the dam that is 20 to 30 feet deep on top. There are also many old levees and submerged lakes that anglers can spot fairly easily with today's modern electronics.

"But if you're having trouble finding a spot to fish, head up in the creeks and look for spots where road asphalt runs off into the lake," Stegall recommended. "Those spots lead out to flooded roads that run on out in the lake, and most of them are loaded with brush on top."

And anybody has just as good a chance of catching a big spotted bass as Stegall does, as long as he threads a green pumpkin finesse worm onto a shaky-head jighead.

Stegall loves fishing a Strike King KVD finesse worm on a 1/8-, 3/16- or 1/4-ounce Strike King shaky head, with the exact weight dependent upon how much the wind is blowing, but he advised anglers not to take the shaky head name too literally.

"I rig the worm on the shaky head by sticking the hook back in the worm kind of like a Texas rig so it doesn't hang as badly," Stegall explained. "And rather than shake the heck out of it, all you want to do is just barely crawl it through the cover.

"Don't move it too much: Slow is the main thing about a shaky head."

In fact, Stegall said he always tells people the old adage about if you're fishing a shaky head, and you think you're fishing it slowly, slow down some more. He may shake it every now and then just to get some attention, but not much.

To get the best feel possible while finesse fishing the bottom of Bay Springs Lake, Stegall gears up with a 7-foot G-Loomis spinning rod with a Shimano Sahara spinning reel spooled up with 6- to 8-pound-test Vicious Fishing fluorocarbon line.

Stegall's approach of fishing Bay Springs Lake with the Red Eye Shad shallow, the spinnerbait off the deep ends of the clay points and the shaky head in the deep brush is a great way of catching upwards of 20 or 30 fish during a good day, with a good chance of landing a 4- or 5-pound spot.

For Bay Springs Lake, the future Stegall glimpsed over 20 years ago is here.

And as long as he keeps catching spotted bass like he has since 1991, he knows there's no reason to ever want to go back.

Stegall can be reached at 662-423-3869.