At the crack of dawn, pro bass fisherman James Buchanan slipped his boat into the calm waters of Ross Barnett Reservoir just north of Highway 43 and headed upriver.

As the fishermen motored towards Ratliff Ferry and beyond, the scenery was almost heaven to bass fishermen -filled with islands, cuts, sandbars and all manner of wooden cover: laydown logs and tree tops.

Peering intently at his depthfinder, Buchanan cut the engine, and only seconds after dropping in his trolling motor, he was casting a crankbait over top of a submerged hump that was filled with wood structure. As it turned out, the structure was chock full of bass. Just as the crankbait bounced off a stump, a feisty river bass engulfed it and turned towards deeper water. It was only the first of many Pearl River largemouths to come that day.

In short order, his partner also hooked up with a bass, and several other bass followed the hooked fish to the boat. Thinking quickly, Buchanan pitched a lure alongside that bass, and one of the trailing bass sucked it in.

As the day wore on, the two caught and released many bass and had several doubles on. In fact, Buchanan and his partner each caught and released at least three limits of bass in the 3- to 6-pound range. Buchanan's best five tipped the scales at just over 22 pounds, not bad for a June day on Ross Barnett.

Could it be that the good old days are back? Fishing with Buchanan you'd be hard pressed to believe otherwise.

Buchanan, a Tupelo native, moved to Brandon four years ago after a career as a naval officer. While in the Navy, he began fishing tournaments, and he decided to fish full time once he retired. Since he's been in the Brandon area, he has become quite proficient at finding and catching bass on Ross Barnett. He has several tournament wins under his belt and recently finished third place in a Media Bass tournament held on the lake.

In addition to fishing tournaments on Barnett, Buchanan is also fishing the professional Bassmaster Central Division and the BFL trail as well.

Early topwater bite

During June, a good topwater bite will normally occur during the early morning hours, sometimes lasting up until midday. Buchanan will usually launch his boat and head out in search of points with vegetation and structure along the main river channel. He will alternate between buzz baits and frogs, casting along the vegetation and wood structure until he determines which pattern is best that day.

Some days, the buzzbait might be best fished around stumps, logs and brush, while other days, the frog bite may be the hot ticket. Whatever the case, Buchanan isn't tied to one pattern or one bait. He lets the fish tell him what they want. If they are tight to the vegetation and want the frog, he'll fish the edges, pockets and the thickest "salad" he can find, as long as he gets bites. Once the topwater bite slows down or quits however, he'll change gears and head deeper.

Midday ledge fishing

After the topwater pattern ends, Buchanan will look for deeper ledges upriver along the main river channel above Rt. 43. Ledges that drop off from 6 feet to 10 or 12 feet deep are prime areas that hold bass during the hot hours of the day. Crankbaits are oftentimes the hot ticket for finding, locating and catching the bass.

While Buchanan prefers fishing crankbaits and jigs for quality bass, almost any lure combination may be adequate when it comes to catching numbers. A Carolina rig is deadly on bass stacked on the humps and drops. There are an unlimited number of plastic worms that will produce good results fished Carolina style.

Main-lake ledges

During June, main-lake ledges will be stacked with schools of bass, with some running in size from a pound to a pound-and-a-half. Others may have bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. However, they usually don't mix or school together.

The one exception occurs when some larger bass may suspend below the smaller schooling fish. In that situation, the larger bass simply feed on the leftovers, or injured baitfish, that fall below the topwater frenzy. In that case, you might want to fish Carolina rigs and deep diving crankbaits to get below the smaller fish.

"The main lake below Highway 43 is notorious for schooling activity this month, and the bass may school at any time of the day once they get on the ledge pattern," Buchanan said.

Anglers should stay on the main river channel and cruise south from the bridge in search of schooling activity. Once you get to the S-curve, start looking along either side of the river for shad, baitfish and schooling activity.

A top-notch pair of sunglasses will help fishermen spot schooling bass on bright, sunny days.

Schooling bass may be caught on a variety of lures as well. In addition to using a citrus-colored Fat Free Shad Jr., Buchanan likes to cast soft-plastic jerkbaits such as Flukes, and similar lures. He also likes to utilize 4- to 6-inch swim baits, matching the size and color of the shad that the schoolies are feeding on. Natural shad colors are good choices when fishing swim baits. Buchanan also likes to utilize a chartreuse/brown back in a swimbait.

When chasing the schooling bass with soft-bodied jerkbaits Buchanan uses a 6-foot G Loomis rod and 6.3:1 Pflueger reel teemed with 10-pound monofilament. The light line is a must while fishing for the heavily pressured schooling bass.

There's no big secret to finding schooling bass on the main lake. However, since they face a lot of fishing pressure, anglers must tailor their techniques to the bass. That means staying off of the trolling motor as much as possible, according to Buchanan. He has found from experience that it's best to position the boat upwind so that you can drift through the schooling activity. Once you blow through the fish, crank up, circle around and drift back through again.

According to Buchanan, it doesn't take long to figure out if a school holds big bass. If you catch two or three small ones, you can almost bet that school is made up of the smaller bass. If you just want to catch bass, you're in business. If you're searching for quality bass, you need to pull the trolling motor up and look for another area that has schooling activity.

"Normally, you can tell when there are bigger fish in the area by reading the water," Buchanan said. "When you see big shad start jumping out of the water, you can be sure that big bass are somewhere close."

If the shad are small and the small bass are slashing the water, then more than likely the majority of the school are small.

Weekday = prime time

The best time to catch schooling bass on ledges is during the week, when there will be less pressure on the lake. Weekends will be tough due to increased boat traffic, as well as increased fishing pressure from the large number of tournaments held on the lake. Buchanan has found that Wednesdays and Thursdays are two of his favorite days to fish, when the fishing pressure is decidedly lighter.

The difference between fishing on weekends and during the week is sometimes drastic. During the week, a fisherman may be able to fish many of the choice spots and pick up bass all along. Weekends will put more anglers on the water, and many of the best spots will be fished multiple times. That's not to say that you still can't catch a limit of quality bass, you just have to change tactics somewhat on the weekends.

Big tournament limits

With a 15-inch minimum size limit on Ross Barnett, fishermen can really have fun catching numbers of the smaller bass - if that is your goal. However, if you're fishing for tournament bites or quality fish, you will have to change tactics and slow down or upsize your lures.

"It will take 18 to 24 pounds, on average, to win a tournament on Barnett this month," Buchanan said.

Since that's the case, anglers can't target 2- or 3-pound fish; they have to be able to catch bigger fish..

Buchanan adjusts his strategy when he encounters tough fishing situations and during tournament days due to the fishing pressure and size limit.

Experience has taught him that large baits mean large bass. Buchanan's favorite big-bass bait is a black/blue BOOYAH jig. He knows he will need big fish to compete and win, so he chooses confidence baits that have been successful in the past.

"I've got confidence in my fishing ability - that I can get a few quality bites on that jig if I just stay with it," he said.

Recently, a fished a jig all day in a tournament. He only got nine bites, but the biggest five went over 16 pounds, giving him a third-place finish.

Since Buchanan spends a lot of time on the water, he has become familiar with many areas of the lake. In fact, his biggest bass on the lake, a 12-pound, 3-ounce lunker, came from the Pelahatchie Bay area. It hit his favorite black and blue jig. He has caught several other 9- and 10-pound bass.

Frog day afternoon

On one foggy "froggy" overcast day, I enjoyed one of my best days ever on Ross Barnett during a tournament. A low misty fog hovered just above the water for most of the morning, followed by a light drizzle. During pre-tournament practice, I had located two sections of grass and pads adjacent to the main river. Both of the pad fields had water at least 10 feet deep along the edges, and the pads were literally full of baitfish and bass.

Almost as soon as we began to cast, the strikes started coming. On my first strike, I bowed up and set the hook. The bass wallowed in the pads before I pulled him free and into the boat. Continuing down the pad line, another bass smashed the frog, and the fight was on again. In short order, my second bass was history.

As we continued to move down the lake, we had strike after strike. It wasn't long before I had my limit and was culling 3-pound bass. My partner was having a good time at drawing strikes but had trouble setting the hook. He began the day by striking the bass as soon as it hit the lure. Later, he would wait and let the bass have it a while before setting the hook and missing again.

In reality, catching bass on some frog baits is not the easiest thing to do. Just as timing and hand-eye coordination is important in hitting a baseball, so it is with setting the hook on a frog bite. Over the years, I've developed a feel of when to set the hook. Some anglers count to three before they set the hook.

When I see a bass smash my frog, I drop my rod tip and reel up the slack. If I don't see the frog on the surface by the time I have the slack out, I try to break his neck. If the bass are sucking the frog in pretty good I usually won't miss many. I use 60- to 70-pound braided line, along with a variety of frogs. With braid, there is not much stretch, and it's much easier to set the hook. I use a medium-heavy rod that has just enough flexibility to compliment the low-stretch line to set the hook without straightening it out.

Fishermen need look no further than Ross Barnett Reservoir during the month of June to sample some great fishing. From early morning topwater bites to ledge fishing all day long, nothing much beats the fishing on the "Rez."