The place to fish for bass in 2008 was Pickwick, according to the annual report from the Mississippi Bass Tournament Program conducted by MDWFP with the assistance of bass clubs throughout the state.

The Mississippi Bass Tournament Program compiles input from clubs and tournament trails that provide quick and simple input to MDWFP. Completing the tournament report card takes just a few minutes. The data are compiled by Assistant Chief of Fisheries Larry Pugh. The results give anglers a good idea of what to expect when they fish different lakes and a way to see how they stacked up against other anglers.

Pickwick made the No. 1 spot by providing the highest winning weight (18.40 pounds), ranking second for average weight per bass (2.29 pounds) and average pounds caught in an eight-hour day (5.35 pounds), and ranking third for average number of bass caught in an eight-hour day (2.44 bass). Clearly, Pickwick was the place to go for good numbers of quality-size bass.

Bay Springs was the overall No. 2 lake. Bay Springs was No. 2 for big bass with an average big bass weight of 5.88 pounds, and had the second-best index of time to catch a bass topping 5 pounds.

Ross Barnett Reservoir continues to provide quality bass fishing. The average weight of bass weighed in from the big reservoir was 2.66 pounds, and the average winning weight was 17.93 pounds. Ross Barnett was also the place for trophy bass. The average big-bass weight was 6.46 pounds.

Lock B (Smithville) on the Tenn-Tom Waterway emerged as the top lake for numbers of good-quality fish. Tournament anglers weighed in an average of 3.04 bass per angler-day, and the average weight was 5.40 pounds per angler-day. The average big-bass weight on this lake was 5.53 pounds.

Big bass catch was up from last year, even though the number of tournaments and number of tournament-angler days was almost identical in 2007 and 2008. Twenty-eight bass over 7 pounds came to the scales in the 252 reporting tournaments in 2008, six more than in 2007. In 2007, the eight biggest tournament bass and 14 of the 22 bass over 7 pounds were caught at Barnett.

In 2008, 15 of the 28 bass topping 7 pounds were caught at Barnett, but two or more trophy bass made the list from tournaments at Aliceville, Bay Springs, Pickwick and Turkey Fork.

As you would expect, most of the big bass were caught during or shortly before the spawn. Eight of the 28 bass weighing 7 or more pounds were caught in the summer, two were caught in the fall, and two were caught in February.

The Mississippi Bass Tournament Program data are not formally part of the routine lake assessments conducted by MDWFP, but the data can be very useful. Several years ago, largemouth bass virus ravaged bass populations throughout the southeastern United States, and Mississippi was especially hard hit.

Anglers feared the worst for their valuable bass fisheries. Biologists took notice and actively participated in a region-wide effort to address bass virus. With limited data to pull from, the biologists had little scientific basis for concluding that the virus was impacting bass populations. A program like the Bass Tournament Program would have been very useful because it may have detected changes in bass populations and bass fishing.

Unfortunately, the Bass Tournament Program wasn't in place until 2002, several years after largemouth bass virus struck, but the data summaries provide an indication of how useful this program can be. Downturns in weight of catch and average big-bass weight and a longer time to catch a bass over 5 pounds in 2003 that are evident in the program stats lend support to the impact of largemouth bass virus.

The data provided by conscientious bass clubs and tournament organizations in Mississippi are useful, but the strength of the data is proportionate to the number of events reported. More tournament reports on more lakes will increase the value and utility of this program. Interested bass clubs and tournament organizations may send an e-mail to Larry Pugh (larry.pugh@mdwfp.state.ms.us).

Look for the complete 2008 Mississippi Bass Tournament Program annual report on the MDWFP website: http://home.mdwfp.com/