A few minutes later, Bates stepped up onto the front deck and cast to a beautiful grass bed.
"We've been catching bass on frogs in the grass," Bates said. "You might want to try one of those to start with and I'll try this topwater, and we'll see if we can get a bite today."
Bates worked the outer edges of the grass bed with his Jitterstick, while I followed up with an H2/0 frog and probed the top of the grass. Although the morning was cool and conditions near perfect for bass fishing, no surface activity was detected as we worked topwater lures.
But it didn't take long for a bass to find my tempting offering, as one smashed the frog and disappeared. I dropped my rod tip, reared back and drove the steel home.
In seconds, we had our first keeper of the day in the boat.
Bates directed me to probe the pockets and small openings along the grass beds while he worked his Jitterstick around the cypress trees, laydowns and smaller grass patches.
"I modified this Jitterstick and the bass really love them, and it's won a lot of money for me," Bates said. "They don't make them anymore, so I buy any of them I can find.
"And when they're feeding on top, they'll just kill it."
I continued working the edges of the grass with the frog, and was just about to switch to another lure when I looked down at the boat a second.
A bass smashed my frog, and I quickly dropped my rod tip and slammed the hook into his jaw. The lunker bass exploded through the surface and wallowed on top for a few seconds before disappearing in the dark water.
After a few minutes I wore him down and quickly brought him into the boat. The H2/0 frog had done the trick again and enticed a pretty nice bass into striking.
"They're ought to be a bass around that grass point up ahead," said Bates. "It's the perfect location for bass to stage."
Bates continued working the Jitterstick and I followed up with my frog, but neither of us got bit.
Bates then picked up a chartreuse spinnerbait with a Zoom trailer and worked the area right out from the grass.
A bass engulfed Bates' spinnerbait and bore down toward the bottom. Bates whipped the rod back and set the hook, and the fight was on. A few minutes later he landed his first lunker of the day on one of his favorite lures.
The veteran bass guide and tournament winning angler has won many tournaments by doing things a little differently, and he's not afraid to change gears at the drop of a hat.
"When I'm fishing tournaments I'll use a big-bladed spinnerbait with a large profile to catch bigger fish," he said. "I may not get many bites, but when I do, they're usually lunkers."
And this bass was a pretty good tournament-sized fish.
"If you're fun-fishing you might want to use smaller lures to catch more bass, but they won't do you any good during a tournament," said Bates.
After working farther back into the cove, in slightly shallower water, things had slowed down and we'd not caught another good bass.
"We're going to work that point again and see if there's any more bass there," said Bates. "You might want to try a spinnerbait, too."
He gave me a trailer and trailer hook for the shad-colored lure, and turned the boat around and worked back to the point and fished the area adjacent to the grass patch again without another bite.
Spinnerbait bass - Keeper No. 3
As we passed by the point, I turned around and sailed one last cast out into the open water and worked my spinnerbait parallel to the grass. This time I barely got by the point when another bass struck hard, about 10 feet off the point. After another explosive battle I landed the bass and had my second lunker of the morning.
Moving across the cove, Bates worked the cypress trees, docks and smaller grass patches, and I followed with the frog.
We drew a few strikes from smaller bass but never got a big bite or caught another lunker.
"When I'm fishing a tournament and catch good, solid bass like we caught off of that point, I'll milk it all day and just keep coming back and hitting the area," Bates said. "Sometimes the bass will stage off grass points like that, and sometimes they're just working the area and moving in and out while they feed.
"I'll usually work it pretty good over and over, or just hit it numerous times during the day - and sometimes pick up quality fish on several different stops."
Grass point honey hole
After moving back to the area just off the grass point, Bates really worked it over with a spinnerbait and Alabama rig without a strike.
Then he sailed his spinnerbait out a little farther and worked through the area several times - finally drawing a short strike right at the boat, as a big bass smashed the surface and barely missed the lure a split second after he lifted it from the water.
The fish had followed the lure right to the boat and struck a second too late.
I followed up with a cast of my own and let the silver-colored spinnerbait sink a few seconds before slow-rolling it back across the hot zone. I bumped a submerged stump, and another bass nailed it as the lure deflected off the structure.
After another short battle, our fourth quality bass was in the boat and we were in business.
"Any time I catch a bass in an area like this I'm going to expand my fishing zone and work the entire area," Bates said. "Sometimes the bass are holding on submerged stumps, drops or maybe on something we can't see.
"If you can find out where they're holding, you may be able to catch a whole bunch. But you've got to work the area thoroughly or you might miss the main school."
Bates decided to move toward the southern end of the horseshoe lake to work a few more spots.
"I like to hit the grass on the north side of the lake as it's usually clearer up there," he said. "The Yazoo River gets into the lower end, and it stays a little murkier down there. But I usually catch more down there too."
We continue past the boat ramp at Thornton and on south past the bridge, and stopped on the left-hand side of the lake along scattered cypress trees positioned well off the bank in deeper water perhaps, 100 yards out.
"In July the fish will sometimes be out in slightly deeper water along these cypress trees in 8 or 9 feet of water," Bates said. "But anytime you have colored water, slightly stained or murky, you can catch them a foot and a half to 2 feet deep."
After working the outer trees without a bite Bates cranked up and moved farther south.
Blade baits and culverts
After a short run, we stopped on the left-hand side of the lake and started fishing the cypress trees along the bank.
"We're going to work these cypress trees on either side of a couple of culverts," said Bates. "I'll catch bass on either side of them sometimes and then fish the culverts.
"You can catch concentrations of bass right out from the culverts, and they'll school up and feed on bait coming through."
Bates pulled out his favorite spinnerbait and worked the cypress trees, making machine-gun casts and working all sides of the cover. This spinnerbait is noticeably darker than the bright-colored lure he used on the upper end of the lake.
"I like to use a blade and cover a lot of water, and I'll get quality bites most of the time," he said. "When I'm in tournament mode or scouting for lunkers, I'm looking for five bites and 18 to 20 pounds of bass."
It didn't take long before another lunker bass rolled and smashed Bates' spinnerbait next to a cypress tree not far from the culvert.
Keeper No. 5
After fishing the second culvert and working the area over thoroughly, we took time to snap a photo of another bass that fell victim to his blade.
By now we were fishing in the cypress trees and getting bites and picking up bass all along the stretch.
Bates decided to move farther down south on the lower end of the lake to a shallow flat.
"We'll slow-roll spinnerbaits, crankbaits and maybe fish a Brush Hog out on this shallow hump right out from that ditch," he said. "There's a ditch that pours into the lake from those fields, and bass will work this open area out in front of it."
As the wind picked up from the south, we worked the area over pretty good and bumped a stump or two without any results.
Bates picked up and moved farther south until we neared the upper third of the southern horseshoe; he stopped right where a line of cypress trees ran well out into the lake.
"We're going to fish the outer edge and then swing around and fish back toward the wind through the middle of the cypress trees," he said.
Cypress tree - Kicker fish
As we worked our way around and through the trees, Bates and I both missed on pretty good strikes as the bass just missed on the blades.
So Bates picked up his pitching rod and followed up his miss with a june bug red Brush Hog, pitching it to the brush right along the bank.
"There he is!" Bates said.
Another lunker bass nailed his lure, and Bates made quick work of his best fish of the day.
The bass was the kicker of the day and would have anchored our creel with a weight that would've put us in contention to win a tourney on the lake.
Honey hole time
"We're going to hit another couple of spots before we quit because I want to show you some more areas, but I'd usually stop and work this area longer and probably keep catching bass," said Bates, as we moved to another spot. "You just never know which spot will be the hot one of the day, so we want to keep moving."
Noon - Dinner bell rings
About five minutes after stopping, Bates pitched his Brush Hog right to the bank and a bass swirled but missed the lure.
Bates pitched the lure back into the strike zone, twitched it, and the bass nailed it. This time another quality lunker bass fell victim to Bates' magic touch.
Continuing down the bank, we spotted laydown logs, shallow cypress trees and other prime fishing spots. And the fishing just kept getting better.
With a strong southeasterly wind now blowing shad up into the area, the bass were obviously taking advantage to feed.
"I don't know if they just turned on or if we just got to a hot spot with a good concentration of bass, but it's on now," Bates said.
As he continued probing cover with his Brush Hog, I followed up with a spinnerbait with a june bug Brush Hog trailer.
On my second cast with the combo another quality bass struck my offering. I boated the fish and quickly admired it before slipping it back into the water.
We continued fishing the area and enticed more bass into striking. Over the last hour of our trip, we caught and released quite a few quality bass on Zoom Brush Hogs and spinnerbaits.
Though we had picked up quality bass all day long, when the clock struck noon it was as if a switch had been turned on and the bass bite went into high gear.
Though our day started with a slow topwater bite, Bates had worked his magic and we'd caught a quality string of bass on frogs, spinnerbaits and Brush Hogs.
Our best five certainly pushed the scales to that magic 18 to 20 pounds that Bates looks for each tourney.
Bee Lake is located approximately 12 miles north of Yazoo City on Highway 49 East at Thornton.
The lake is an old oxbow of the Yazoo River and is home to lunker bass, crappie and bream, as well as monster Appaloosa catfish.
With more than 15 miles of shoreline area filled with cypress trees, laydowns and grass beds, there is plenty of room to fish.
The lake can be accessed at Bell's Grocery and Landing at Thornton. Bell's store reopened in 2012, and a new ramp was built.
Contact Brian Carter at 228-218-9526 for fishing updates, lake information and hotel room availability.