I recall my wife forcing me to go to a wedding that I didn't want to attend. My position was that they were her old high-school friends, and since I didn't really know any of them, I wasn't going to waste my day.

The couch wasn't all that uncomfortable that night, but the wedding the next weekend was. Man, I was miserable. It wasn't that it was a bad wedding; it was just that I wasn't in a wedding kind of mood.

I would have much rather been doing something - anything - else than standing in line waiting for a piece of the fruitiest-looking groom's cake I had ever seen. It was chocolate, but it had these sugar-coated grapes on top that didn't look very masculine at all.

"Nice cake," I quipped to the groom as I mechanically took my piece. "I don't know you very well, but I figured you would have had a more manly hobby than candy-coated grapes. Fishing? Hunting? Anything that might be more interesting?"

I wound up making a life-long fishing partner that night. Turns out, he wanted a groom's cake with a big, green bass jumping right out of the middle of it. His mother-in-law got her way, though, and he wound up with a cake better suited for a Victoria's Secret window display than a manly representation of his favorite hobby.

In hindsight, it really was a great wedding as far as weddings go, and the cake was fabulous. Had I not gone because I wasn't in a wedding mood, I never would have discovered that there was something more to that wedding than what I expected - a groom that was just like me.

Come to think of it, there's not much difference between that wedding and Lake Tom Bailey in Lauderdale County just 8 miles east of Meridian. Think that's too much of a stretch? Think again. This popular bream lake has a lot more to offer than big bream - namely, big bass.

"I had a man come by not too long ago who had been out bream fishing, and he came by to tell me that there wasn't any use trying to catch bream," said Lake Tom Bailey Manager Charles Vaughn. "He went on to tell me he caught 25 bass on his crickets."

According to Vaughn and the scores of anglers he talks to on a daily basis, there are a lot of bass in this bream lake. In fact, the push to make this a trophy bream lake is what is driving the exploding bass population, and except for a few caveats, there's no reason to believe the bass fishing will slow up any time soon.

"Tom Bailey has historically been a trophy bream lake," said Central State Lakes Conservation Supervisor Clay Ready. "That was years before I came on, though, which has been about 10 years ago. Then for some reason we started seeing gizzard shad, and the size of the bream decreased - kind of like they were overpopulating a little bit."

Since then, the lake has been drained and restocked, and the management plan for the future of Tom Bailey is for it to be a trophy bream fishery again. According to Ready, the basis of the plan is to get bass anglers to practice catch and release in order to create what the MDWFP calls a "bass crowded" situation.

Larry Bull is the District 4 fisheries biologist who was instrumental in coming up with the management plan for Tom Bailey since it's renovation. He says the restriction that anglers can't keep any bass shorter than 15 inches is in place in effect to help the bream grow larger. The nice side effect is that it creates a lot of bass for anglers to catch.

"When we get bass crowded, all these small fish act as predators on the small bream," Bull said. "That reduces the number of bluegill and leaves only those that survive to grow large enough not to be eaten by the bass. The bream get large in size because the competition for their food is reduced because there are fewer of them trying to eat the same stuff."

The key to getting these big bream is to have lots of smaller bass in the lake. Big bass aren't that important in terms of predation pressure on the bluegills. That's why anglers are forced to throw the smaller bass back. The future impact will be that there will be lots of small bass to be caught in the lake.

Small bass aren't the case right now, though. According to Vaughn, anglers have been whacking some really big bass for the past several months.

"All you've got to do to catch bass right now is get in the boat," he quipped. "One fellow recently caught 16 bass one evening up to 10 pounds - all caught on a green lizard.

"We shocked the lake back around December of last year, and I've never seen so many bass in all my life. They were from 2 inches to 12 pounds."

Vaughn went on to say he didn't believe many local anglers really realize what they've got at Tom Bailey. Having the reputation of being a bream lake, many shun it in favor of perceived better bass waters. The lake may eventually be full of small bass that have to be tossed back, but for now it's full of tackle-busting brutes that fight like jacked-up junkyard dogs.

One of the reasons for the excellent bass fishing right now is that Tom Bailey is a relatively newly stocked lake, which makes the catchability of the bass pretty high. These Florida bass haven't been around long enough to get as wise as some of the fish in neighboring lakes.

However, while they haven't had time to get too smart, they have had plenty of time to get big.

"It doesn't surprise me that Tom Bailey has big bass right now," said Bull. "Generally, when we restock and reopen a lake, the first year of offspring tends to grow fast and large. It's more a function of age, though, rather than the way we manage the bass population."

While Tom Bailey isn't small by state lake standards, it is small enough, at approximately 230 acres, that it's not too intimidating to anglers who don't know where to look for fish. It might not be entirely fishable in one day, but anglers should be able to effectively pattern bass within a couple of days.

If there were any intimidation factor on the lake, it would have to be the band of flooded willow trees that run the entire rim of the lake. When Tom Bailey was drawn down for renovation, the willows grew quickly and densely on the exposed lake bottom, and now these trees dominate any water shallower than about 4 feet.

"We did some mechanical removal of the willows to allow bank fishing access," said Clay. "They were growing all the way up to where the water hits the land. We wound up removing about a 30- to 50-foot band so people could cast into an open area."

While there are plenty of willows still standing, Vaughn says they are quickly dying out. As the willows die, though, they create small openings within the thick cover in which anglers can maneuver small boats. Getting back in the willows is a great technique for summer bass fishing.

"A lot of bait and small crappie get in those trees," said Vaughn. "If you've got a small boat like a Bass Tracker, you can get back in them and cast or pitch around the wood. Bass will move in to get something to eat, and throwing yellow spinnerbaits or topwaters is a great way to get them."

Other than the willow trees, the two main kinds of bass cover in Tom Bailey are rocks and vegetation. The rocks line the dam out to a depth of about 6 feet, and alligator grass tends to get bunched up under the willows. Understanding how the locals fish the rocks and grass will help all anglers catch more fish.

Vaughn watches anglers as they work their way down the dam, and the one thing that stands out is that many of them begin up on the surface, and they work progressively deeper until they find where the bass are holding.

"A lot of anglers I see fish the dam start off with some kind of topwater right up on the rocks," he said. "If they don't get bit on top, they back off and fish the deeper rocks and slow down a little bit. Once they make their way down that curve on the east side of the dam they go into the Sand Branch pocket."

Along the dam and in the pocket, Vaughn said three of the most popular lures are a buzz bait, a Texas-rigged watermelon or green pumpkin lizard and a white Trick Worm fished wacky style.

"The white trick worm fished wacky style is really getting to be one of the best lures on the lake," he said. "Somebody can go out there with that worm right now and catch a good mess of fish over 15 inches within about 30 minutes. Just run your hook through the middle of the worm, and don't use a weight. Throw it out and let it sink all the way to the bottom - if it gets that far."

Vaughn believes one of the reasons the white trick worm works so well is that Tom Bailey is heavily fertilized throughout the year, resulting in a near constant green tint to the water. The white worm, in his opinion, contrasts greatly with the green water, which makes it easier for the bass to see it as it falls.

As imaginative as anglers are with the white worm in the green water, they are even more imaginative when it comes to fishing the alligator weed. The weedy areas hold lots of small bait and crustaceans that hide from hungry bass. Many anglers figure the best way to turn on the food chain is to disturb the bait in the grass.

"What they do is run their boats right up into the middle of the grass," Vaughn said. "They'll make a big hole about 10 feet wide and 15 feet long. That makes the minnows and other bait flush out into the open water. Then the boat will leave and come back 30 minutes later and fish the hole with topwaters or spinnerbaits, and they catch the bass that moved into the hole to feed."

Being that Lake Tom Bailey is managed to be a trophy bream fishery, Bull said anglers could expect that to play a role in selecting lure colors. There are lots of gizzard shad in the lake and crappie, but the majority of bass forage is the bream.

"A bream-colored lure would be important any time, but probably most important when the bream are bedding," said Bull. "Bass will get on the outskirts of the bream beds to eat, and a bream-imitating lure would be a good choice then."

All of these methods are producing big bass at Tom Bailey right now, and Vaughn expects this summer to offer some banner fishing. However, the longer the bream management plan is in effect, the more anglers can expect to catch a lot of small bass rather than big fish.

"This is going to be true five years from now more so than next year," Bull said. "As the lake ages, we're going to see fewer large bass over 15 inches and more fish less than 15 inches. As we get to that bass-crowded situation, expect to catch a lot of small bass that will have to be thrown back. But as of right now and the next few years, the possibility of catching large bass is there."

Lake Tom Bailey may be one of the best bream lakes in Mississippi, but for now it's also one of the best for bass. If you're not in the mood for bream, and you don't feel like driving very far, give the bass in this bream lake a try.

The fishing is so good you just may not ever want to go home. Don't worry when you do come dragging through the door, though. Just remember, the couch isn't all that uncomfortable.