Lake Bill Waller in Marion County near Columbia produced a 15-pound, 14-ounce largemouth in 1995, the second-largest bass ever caught in Mississippi.

The lake closed in 2003, and reopened in November 2007 after biologists drained, renovated and restocked the lake, besides building new boat lanes, earthen piers and gravel beds and keeping old standing timber to provide fish habitat.

"We've already caught three bass that weighed 10 pounds or more from the lake since it reopened in 2007," says lake manager Tim Barber. "One fish weighed 10 pounds, 2 ounces, another weighed 11 1/2 pounds, and the third weighed 12 pounds, 2 ounces.

"The good news about these three bass was they were all released back into the lake. In the next two years, we expect to possibly have a bass in the lake that will rival the state record."

From where did these monster bass come, especially after biologists used Rotenone in the lake to kill the unwanted fish before restocking? Anglers wondered if these three largemouths survived the Rotenone application and remained from the fish originally stocked in the lake. Or did these bass experience phenomenal growth in the past three years after the state stocked bass fingerlings?

Until the scientists can analyze the scales from these bass under a microscope, we won't know for certain the age of the bass or solve this mystery.

"The bass in the lake right now were 3 years old in April 2008," Barber said. "So if those bass were part of that stocking three years ago, we may have a huge number of big bass in the lake."

Originally impounded in 1975, Lake Bill Waller had blown out in the 1983 flood and needed restocking.

"When Waller reopened in 1985, 4-pound bass only 13- or 14-months old were being caught out of the lake," Barber said. "So there's a strong possibility we'll have 3-year-old bass in this lake that will weigh in the double digits."

Many fishermen have asked why the state closed Lake Bill Waller, and why it suddenly has begun producing monster bass again.

The state closed the lake for repairs on the drainpipe and also to put in a better boat ramp.

"We built a number of fishing piers deep in the water next to the bank and a lot of bream beds, and we restocked the lake with Florida-strain largemouth, copperhead bluegills and catfish," Barber said.

He isn't surprised about the big fish the lake has produced.

"Whenever you restock a lake, the first bass fingerlings you put into the lake generally will grow the biggest in the shortest period," Barber said. "The bass that weighed 15 pounds, 4 ounces was one of the first fingerlings stocked in the lake."

Biologists have intensively managed and fertilized Lake Bill Waller as one of Mississippi's trophy-bass lakes and also to produce plenty of eating-size fish.

"All the bass 18 inches or longer must be released back into the lake," Barber said. "We also encourage anglers to keep 15 bass, 18-inches and under, per person per day. Some of the fish less than 18 inches weigh from 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each, which are really good eating-size bass. We encourage our fishermen to catch and eat these bass to keep the lake in balance."

Barber mentions that the state has managed Lake Bill Waller using a relatively new trend in small-pond management in Mississippi lakes. This system of catching and releasing bass over 18 inches and catching and eating bass under 18 inches ensures that plenty of big bass will remain in the lake and that Bill Waller will continue to produce numbers of eating-size bass.

Much like in an aquarium, some of the fish have to be removed periodically to keep the fish healthy and growing. If you only practice catch-and-release, you'll hurt the trophy fish in any body of water. However, if you catch-and-eat the fish under 18 inches, you can help that body of water grow more and bigger bass every year.

Perhaps for too long, we've treated our Mississippi bass like sacred cows. If a fisherman ate one of these sacred cows, the fishing community often damned and scorned him. However, to produce the biggest bass, we all have to follow a similar regime to the program landowners use to raise bigger deer - taking off the surplus of animals.

If you don't harvest a certain portion of bass, a lake won't have enough food for the other bass to grow to the older-age classes and heavier weights. But by removing the smaller bass and letting the big ones grow, the lake can stay dynamic and continue to produce plenty of bass for the trophy anglers as well as numbers of small bass for fishermen who enjoy catching and eating bass.

"Our biologist who supervises the lakes in our area keeps close tabs on our bass populations, and if we realize that we're over-harvesting, we'll reduce the limit," Barber said. "Right now, we definitely can see that our slot limit is working. So we encourage the fishermen who fish here to keep the bass less than 18-inches long."

Lake Bill Waller has a phenomenal catch rate.

"Just about everyone is catching their limits, even on bream and crappie," Barber said. "The crappie in Bill Waller weren't stocked - they just appeared. Our crappie are from 9 to 11 inches long, and there are a few 1 1/2- to 2-pound crappie being caught."

The design of Lake Bill Waller has proven to produce trophy bass. About 30 feet deep at the levee, the lake has treetops out of the water - but not trees that have been sunk by fishermen. Instead, these treetops have about 20 feet of trunk under them in the water. The state has left timber standing in the lake, creating plenty of structure where bass can hold and feed.

Close to the bank, the lake's about 6-feet deep; however, the average depth runs around 18- to 20-feet deep.

The lake also holds plenty of good natural points present in the area before the lake's impoundment. Also, the state has cut-in boat lanes through that timber, making more of the flooded timber accessible to fishermen. The lake's heavy fertilization keeps the vegetation to a minimum, and the water usually has a cloudy color to it.

"As long as our fishermen continue to catch and keep bass less than 18 inches, we'll have plenty of room and food in the lake for larger bass to grow and get bigger," Barber said. "In the next two years, we'll have bass caught out of this lake that will be pushing the state record, and we may even break the state record."

And don't forget: At Lake Bill Waller, you can catch your trophy bass and take fish home for dinner.

"If the state continues to impose these types of regulations, we should have more fish to catch and eat and more trophy bass to catch and release than we've ever had in the past," Barber said.

Lake Bill Waller stands as a classic example of good fisheries management. If you're looking for tackle-busting bass action, you'll enjoy fishing Bill Waller.