It's no secret to most Magnolia State anglers that Southwest Mississippi offers their best bet for catching lunker largemouths. The numbers of monster bass that are pulled each year from the scenic waters of Calling Panther Lake, Lake Okhissa and Natchez State Park Lake are legendary.

However, it seems that these double digit largemouths are only being caught by a select few anglers. Are they simply luckier than the rest of us; or do they have special tricks up their sleeves?

Actually, the answer is much simpler than that. It all has to do with biology. When it comes to landing lunker largemouths, size matters.

According to Dr. Marty Brunson, noted fisheries specialist at Mississippi State University, largemouth bass, like most predators, operate under what is known as "optimal foraging" in order to survive. The basic premise of the optimal-foraging theory states that organisms forage in such a way as to maximize their energy intake per unit of time. In other words, they behave in such a way as to find, capture and consume food containing the most calories while expending the least amount of time possible in doing so.

This behavior makes a large bass more inclined to gulp a bigger bait over a smaller one, when given the choice.

"Largemouth bass make their living off baitfish 1/4 to 1/3 their body size," said Brunson. "Under this proposition, a 12-pound bass, which averages 26 inches in length, would prefer a bait that was 6 to 9 inches in length. Likewise, a 1-pound bass that measures 12 inches in length would favor a bait 3 to 4 inches in length."

It is not that giant largemouth bass won't hit the smaller finesse baits when presented properly, because they will. But the nature of their survival depends on their ability to consume the largest meal possible without exerting an excessive amount of energy.

Brunson offers up the analogy of a red-tailed hawk perched on a limb surveying the ground for a meal. At the same moment, the hawk spots a small field mouse and a large cottontail rabbit in the meadow below. There is little doubt that the hawk will pass up the smaller mouse for the much larger meal provided by the rabbit.

This is the exact scenario that plays out when a lunker largemouth is on the prowl for prey. A double-digit monster may pass up hundreds of small 3- and 4-inch baitfish only to inhale the first 8-inch shad or hand-sized bluegill that swims into its feeding zone. And that is why mega-sized artificial lures are more effective at catching trophy bass than the smaller finesse baits that stock the tackle boxes of most bass fishermen.

However, there are a few anglers who just don't fit this mold. Their tackle boxes are loaded with the heavy artillery, lures that dwarf those of the average bass angler. Don Hynum and Steve Smith are just such anglers.

Sure they like to catch bass of all shapes and sizes, but when it comes to fishing the triad of Southwest Mississippi lunker lakes (Natchez State Park, Calling Panther and Okhissa), they know they must bring out the big guns in order to get the job done. This trophy bass angling duo consistently catches giant largemouths, at all times of the year, by casting oversized lures.

Hynum's fish-catching formula is simple: If you're looking for fish over 10 pounds, throw lures that are much bigger than normal. His lure of choice, especially in deeper water, is an oversized shad-colored soft-plastic swim bait.

However, a peek inside his tackle box reveals that he has a variety of mega lures to choose from, including spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater plugs and monster soft plastics, many of which are 8 inches or longer.

"There are two downsides to using big lures," says Hynum. "You're not going to catch as many fish and your arms are going to ache from heaving these heavyweight lures all day long."

Although you may not catch as many fish by switching to mega lures, you greatly increase your odds of landing really big bass. And few bass enthusiasts will ever be heard complaining about their sore arms with a 10- to 12-pound largemouth in the livewell.

Another factor big-bait bass anglers will have to take into consideration is the shocked reaction they are certain to get from their fellow bass fishermen. Tie on a soft-plastic swim bait the size of a bull bream or whip out a 16-inch worm attached to an 8/0 hook, and you are sure to get plenty of stares and even a few chuckles from your fishing cohorts. But you will be the one laughing when you reel in that giant largemouth that has totally ignored their tiny finesse lures all morning long.

"The great thing about big lures is that they are effective all year," Hynum said. "Whether it's spawning bass in the spring, schooling bass in the heat of summer or deep-water bass in the fall and winter, double-digit bucket mouths can be caught consistently on these mega lures."

So when is the best opportunity to take advantage of a big lure's ultimate potential? Hynum suggests that you first select an appropriate fishery. Lakes with a low catch-rate of trophy bass are not good candidates for mega lures. That's why he targets Calling Panther, Okhissa and Natchez State Park Lakes. They are each known for consistently producing large numbers of bass well over 10 pounds.

In fact, the largest bass in Mississippi history was pulled from the waters of Natchez State Park Lake. Anthony Denny of nearby Washington landed the 18.15-pound monster largemouth with a big Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue on New Year's Eve 1992. Ever since, this 230-acre lake has become a hotspot for bass fishermen hoping to break the long-standing record.

Another factor that Hynum takes into account is water clarity. Although he has caught big bass in clear water, some of his biggest hawgs were caught in stained or slightly muddy water. He believes that the masking effect of the darker water combined with the large displacement of water by the big lures helps draw strikes. It's harder for a bass to see that the lure isn't the real thing in the darker water. According to Hynum, the secret to catching bigger bass is creating the illusion of realism.

According to these two anglers, the best conditions are when light levels are low (either dusk or dark), on overcast days with a slight wind and when temperatures are less than ideal. Surprisingly, most big-lure trophy-bass fishermen confess that their biggest fish come at midday under windy, cold, cloudy conditions rather than at dawn or dusk.

Big baits can be very intimidating when you're viewing them at arm's length at your local tackle store and making the decision to fish a lure that is almost as large as last year's hatch can be a bold move. But if you're serious about catching big bass, take some advice from the anglers who regularly tie on these mega lures - go big or go home.