Robbie Bridges rocked his bass boat with great force when he set the hook, and immediately asked for help.
“Get the net ... it’s a big ’un," he hollered. “When I set the hook, I couldn’t move her. If she hadn’t shook her head, I’d swear I had hung up in the rocks.”
When Bridges finally coaxed the big, fat, dark green bass to the surface of Bay Springs Lake, it was a big Kentucky spotted bass.
“Would you look at the size of that spot," Bridges said. "What a pig." I netted the fish and hauled it over the side of the boat for Bridges to grab. He smiled, as if he had the confirmation he needed to back his boasts of the uppermost pool on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
"I told you Bay Springs was Mississippi's king of spotted bass," said Bridges, of Brandon. "Look at the belly on that fish. She's short and fat, like a football."
Bay Springs rates No. 1 in Mississippi for spotted bass. Others in the top three are Lock E of the Tenn-Tom, which is just below the lock and dam that form Bay Springs, and the upper river area of Ross Barnett Reservoir.
While spotted bass are found throughout the state, and especially in its clearest running rivers, they do best in the Tenn-Tom and its pools and canals, and in the Pearl River and its tributaries. For fishermen who want to target spots and fully appreciate their sporting qualities, they must include Bay Springs on their annual fishing schedules.
Larry Pugh, chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, confirms Bridges' rating of Bay Springs Lake.
"That is the state's best spot for spotted bass," Pugh said. "We have some other good fisheries, but for overall quality, pairing size and numbers, Bay Springs is No. 1."
Bridges likes the lake so much, and calls its spot bite so dependable, that when he fishes a tournament on Pickwick Lake, he makes the 40-mile run by boat down the headwaters of the Tenn-Tom to get to Bay Springs.
"Pickwick is great but it is so big and finding a good pattern on either largemouth, smallmouth or spots can be difficult," he said. "Bay Springs Lake is much smaller (8,000 acres) and the patterns easier to find. It has deep and shallow points, big coves, standing timber, road beds and, of course, the lock and dam."
It was the lock and dam that provided Bridges three bites in 15 minutes on our trip that produced the 4.2-pound spot mentioned above, plus a 3.4 and a 2.8, all while the lock was being filled.
"When they start locking through a boat, and sucking water to fill the lock, that's when you want to hit the walls of the lock," Bridges said. "It creates current that excites the fish and makes them bite. You can probably catch fish here anytime but not like it is when they start the lock."
Bay Springs is good all year, thanks to its depth and long points.
"They have night tournaments here in the summer that are real popular," Pugh said. "Guys come out and fish late afternoons and evenings, fishing the deep points with 10- and 11-inch worms for big spots. They'll catch them 25 and 35 feet deep.
"In the spring, the shallower secondary points and stump flats hold spots, too."
Bridges uses two primary lures, both soft plastics. His top choice is a shaky head worm rig. His No. 2 is the drop shot worm.
"Both are finesse baits, and even though spots are aggressive, they are particularly prone to bite a finesse worm," he said. "I can catch some on spinnerbaits and jerkbaits when they move up on shallow standing timber, but you can't beat the shaky head."