In the macho world of high-powered bass fishing, you don't see many hot-pink lures.
But look in Mike Webb's tackle box, and you'll see the exception to the rule.
His lure trays glow with color. And the bait he often has tied to his line at this time of the year? It's bright pink.
"I call this bait 'Mary Kay,' " Webb said as he displayed a pink Rapala X-Rap stickbait. "When I first bought one, I did it as a joke.
"And I got a lot of kidding for using it. But once I started catching bass, that kind of stopped.
"Now I've got 20 of them in my tackle box."
So why is the lure so effective? Darned if Webb knows.
"I don't know what it's supposed to imitate," he said as he sat in his boat on Table Rock Lake. "I haven't seen any pink shad swimming around here at Table Rock.
"All I know is, it works."
Moments later, Webb proved it.
After launching a long cast to a rocky point on Table Rock, he twitched the lure several times so that it would dart through the water, then paused. When the bait stopped, a big smallmouth bass rose and went on the attack.
The fish pulled hard and dug for the bottom. But in a matter of seconds, Webb had the 3-pound fish in the boat and was celebrating another victory for Mary Kay.
"This pink bait used to be my secret weapon," Webb said with a laugh. "But more and more fishermen are using it now.
"When I go to Bass Pro, this color is always sold out."
But fishing with that pink stickbait is only part of the reason Webb looks forward to spring so much at Table Rock Lake, a 43,100-acre reservoir in the Ozarks.
Once March arrives, he knows Table Rock will justify its reputation as one of the nation's best bass lakes. As the water warms, big fish magically appear and fishermen enjoy their finest moment. The fish move shallow to feed and look for places to spawn, and they are more vulnerable than at any other time of the year.
"You can have some fantastic fishing at this time of the year," said Webb, 47, who has fished the reservoir for 32 years and has been a full-time guide for 12 years. "I remember a tournament two years ago when my partner and I caught six bass that weighed 24.85 pounds, and we got all of them before the last boat had even taken off.
"We caught them in 15 minutes on a grub on a bluff end. We only had one other bite all day long, but it was still a great day."
That kind of fishing doesn't come along every day, not even in the spring. But it happens often enough to inspire fishermen such as Webb to dream big.
"Every year, you hear of a handful of 10-pound bass coming out of here," he said. "This lake still has some huge bass in it."
Webb was casting for one of those trophy bass on a recent weekday.
Working points in the Kimberling City area, he started by working his Mary Kay stickbait off rocky points. Later, when the wind died and the water turned to glass, he went to a big grub and began to swim it slowly along the bottom.
By the time he was done, he had caught and released seven keeper bass _ largemouths, smallmouths and Kentuckies. The big ones he was seeking managed to elude him. There were no 5-pound-plus fish this day.
But Webb knows they're out there. He has caught largemouths as big as 9 pounds, 3 ounces at Table Rock. And each spring, he hears of even bigger bass being caught.
The spring fishing often follows a timetable. Webb often starts on the first warm days of February, working a suspending stickbait along and over flooded timber. By mid-March, the bass often have moved to the points, especially the ones with a spawning pocket nearby, and Webb uses a stickbait, Wiggle Wart or grub. By early April, the bass are often close to the spawning banks, and lures such as Flukes or tube baits are effective.
Before this week's cold front, the bass had moved to those spawning areas and the fishing was outstanding. The cooler weather has dropped the water temperatures and has caused the bass to retreat to deeper water. But Webb is convinced the bass will be back in the shallows at the first hint of warm weather again.
"They have spawning on their mind," said Webb, who lives in Ozark, Mo. "They'll be back in on the first warm day we have."
For Webb and many others, it's already been a spring to remember. Word has spread rapidly about the 10-pound bass that was caught, the impressive weights in tournaments, and the outstanding action guides have enjoyed.
"In a lot of the bigger tournaments, it has taken a five-fish limit weighing at least 22 pounds to win," Web said. "And there are generally five or six bags (of bass) in the 20-pound range.
"That's some good fishing."