Hoot Gibson scanned the surface of Neshoba County Lake. He detected the telltale swirl of a bedding bass in the upper end of the lake and instantly sent a lure her way.

Seconds later the veteran angler of many bass wars felt the thump that indicated the fish had sampled his offering. Gibson dropped his rod tip, reeled in the slack and drove the steel deep into the jaws of the lunker bass.

The enraged sow exploded from the depths and wallowed on the surface violently as the tension mounted.

Using every ounce of strength and expertise he had, Gibson wore her down and she finally succumbed to his prowess. After posing for a few pictures, he released the bass right back to her bedding area so she could complete her natural spawning process.

"These bass at Neshoba are some of the strongest bass I've ever fooled with," Gibson said. "I'm telling you they will really pull your string and break your heart if you're not careful."

A former Bassmaster Classic qualifier and tournament competitor, Gibson is also a lure designer and manufacturer who has turned his passion and pursuit of largemouth bass and lunkers, in particular, into a daily obsession that is shared by a very close friend. No discussion of Neshoba County Lake can be held without mentioning Gibson or his fishing partner, Sterling Jones, also of Philadelphia. Both are excellent bass anglers and have probably caught more lunker bass from the lake than any other anglers over the years.

Neshoba County Lake was not much more than a blip on the map before undergoing an extensive transformation and stocking program administered by the MDWFP a few years ago. Though the lake actually shrank in size and depth, it was reborn and slowly garnered a reputation as a "trophy bass lake."

It is now one of the most prolific trophy lakes in the state.

About four years ago, bass in the 9- to 11-pound range started showing up with regularity, and the lake became an "overnight sensation." According to lake officials, a large part of that is due to catch and release, as most anglers release the big bass after weighing them and taking pictures.

Last spring proved to be the best yet in terms of catching lunker bass in the 11- to 14-pound range, as evidenced by the online bragging board on the MDWFP Web site, which at any given time is dominated by bass caught from this lake.

"We think there's some 14- to 16-pound bass in there now, and I'm pretty sure you'll see some come out of there this spring if anybody can land them," Gibson said. "When those big sows pull up into those shallow water flats and bedding areas, the fishing is sure to be fabulous, if you're here at the right time."

So when is the best time to catch a lunker bass on Neshoba Lake you might ask?

"February and March are the two months you want to fish the lake if you want to catch a lunker bass," Gibson said. "If you know how to catch bedding bass, or prespawn bass, then fishing the lake during the spawn should yield astounding catches. Depending upon the weather conditions, the prime time could come in late February or March."

And the number of trophy bass caught last February and March back up Gibson's claim. During spring break week in March alone there were 28 bass over 8 pounds caught, weighed and registered by lake officials.

And that doesn't include lunker bass not taken to the official scales. The numbers of big bass caught and released are particularly astounding when you consider the size of the lake.