Lake Anna marina operator Campbell Edenton smiled while he brewed the morning's first pot of coffee. "I don't know what else it takes to convince folks around Washington that we have a hot lake here, but look at the pictures."

"March 8, 1982; 10-lb., 8-oz. largemouth bass by Gene Hord of Spotsylvania," it says under a Polaroid snapshot with a smiling youngster and a fish that looked like a giant football. Another, dated March 3, showed a four-fish stringer of bass weighing nearly 30 pounds. Vivid monsters stare from dozens of small photos -- all taken in late February and early March, a time of year when many anglers sit home dreaming of May.

Young Bill Mathias of Mineral is said to be one of the most consistent bigg-bass anglers on the 9,000-acre VEPCO nuclear power station lake just west of Fredericksburg. He stood outside the Sturgeon Creek Marina, his blond beard obscuring a broad grin as he accepted the thanks of a visiting fisherman from downstate Pulaski.

Larry Dean and a friend had read about Lake Anna in a fishing magazine and had driven up to give it a try. They brought their own boat, lures and other tackle. Mathias led them to one of his prime spots. The result: a 10-pound, 2-ounce bragger bigmouth.

Mathias is no braggart; you have to talk to his friends and neighbors to hear about how he specializes in teaching proper bass fishing methods. More than one agrees that Mathias has probably hooked more eight-pound largemouths -- the mark at which America's No. 1 gamefish is usually said to be a true "lunker" -- than anyone else in the past five or six years.

His secret isn't all that special: He pays strictest attention to underwater "structure." Structure is simply any obstacle or change in lake bottom terrain that may attract the secretive and ever-hungry largemouth. Mathias is greatly aided by a chart graph recorder that reproduces the intricate underwater contours as his sleek bass boat slithers around the lake.

"Forget the shoreline fishing," Mathias said. "Most of the time only the smaller bass will hang around that close to land. What I look for is five- to 10-foot ledges that hug a deep dropoff. It's a natural for big fish who want to come out of the deep, feed on whatever swims around the shallows, then disappear back into their sanctuary. And here at Anna I think we have the hottest big bass lake in the entire U.S. Just look at the numbers of trophy fish coming out of here."

During a blustery day of searching for structures, Mathias and a teenage student of bass fishing, Chris Ciliberti of Silver Spring, located such terrain not far from the nuclear power facility, around a place called Rawlins Point. Mathias tied a rubber-skirted 1/2-ounce jig to strong 17-pound monofilament, added a fluttering chunk of black porkrind to the hook and cast into apparently open water. The graph recorder, however, showed a stump-strewn bottom dotted with tiny black marks. "Fish," Mathias said. "Don't know if they're bass. But they're big enough to try."

As he gently pulled his porkrind/jig combo through the maze of obstacles the line tightened ever so slightly. Bang! Mathias set the hook. His rod tip quivered violently; the line shot out to the right, against the wind. "Definitely no snag on a branch," Mathias shouted. Twenty seconds later a net was slipped under a four- or five-pound bass.

"They're coming out of the deep water right behind us," Mathias said. "Probably enjoying a bit of sunshine just like we are." Within a half-hour he had another four- pounder using the same method of slowly dragging the lure through heavy obstacles.In every instance the nearest land was more than 150 feet away.

His young charge lost a big bass over a similar spot farther up the lake. Then Mathias set the hooks to a seven-pounder that never had a chance. Mind you now, the average bass hunter is more than happy with a two-pounder.More than one big-money tournament has been won with daily limits of barely-legal bass. In Virginia that means 12 inches. Mathias only smiles at such juveniles as he releases them. If you get tired of catching bass, Lake Anna also holds crappie, stripers, pickerel and catfish.

THE WAY TO THE LAKE Take I-95 south past Fredericksburg to the Route 606 (Thornburg) exit. Follow 606 and until if forks at Route 208. Route 208 leads to the lake. It's 80 miles from Washington.