Big Bass Dreams Turn Big Bass Reality – (Originally Posted April, 2013)
Not too long ago, I put down my thoughts and my frustrations down on paper in my last blog post titled, “The Slump”. It was a huge outlet for me. I was able to really break down what was going on in my head as I had become my worst enemy. I had no confidence. No faith in my game plan on any given day. I couldn’t catch a descent fish on a swimbait to save my life at that point.
A day or two after that blog post went up, I was invited to go fishing on some new water with a couple friends. I needed to try something different. These guys had been on a bite for a solid month and a half. I had a good shot at busting the slump so I went. They had been catching them steadily fishing a certain style, so I wanted to do something different and see how the fish would react. I threw a 12 inch hard bait and a 9” line through soft bait throughout the day and ended up going 2 for 3 bites. I had 2 solid fish, including one that literally came out of the water to eat my swimbait at the boat (and yes it was captured on video to share with you guys soon). Just like that, the slump was busted and my confidence was back.
Later that week, I ran into my friends Scott Whitmer of 22nd Century Swimbaits and Whitney Curry on one of the local lakes. We had all been struggling to find a bite here locally so Scott invited me to caravan with them up north a bit to fish some new water, change things up a bit. They told me that somebody had just landed a really big fish, in the 16-18lb range and that I really needed to go check it out. I had originally planned to fly to to Arkansas to fish with a couple friends and chase big stripers from 30-55lbs during that time frame. My gut told me that I needed to keep chasing my goal of a 15+ pound largemouth NOW. Those stripers aren’t going anywhere. It’s March, it was coming into a good moon phase and big fish were on the move all over California. I made the decision to pack up for the 8 hour road trip and head out on another quest.
Keep in mind that California is highly pressured. I mean highly pressured. There are times when it gets downright ridiculous having to contend with 10+ boats trying to fish a small area. Word gets out quickly about big fish especially and people tend to flock to chase that bite. Out of respect of some friends of mine and the locals that fish that area, I am not going to name the public body of water that we targeted.
We left the Los Angeles area around 4:30am on a Sunday morning. It took about 9 hours to tow the boat to this new lake. We launched the boats at about 2pm. Whitney was fishing with Scott in his boat, and I was on a solo mission. We picked an area on the map that looked “good” and made the 10-15 minute boat run. Once we got to the general area, we signaled to each other. Scott headed right, I headed left. I drove another ½ mile or so and spotted a real good looking point. It was a long, tapering point that appeared to run out to deep water. So I slid into the next point over, as I hate running over my spots with the big motor. I’m big on being as stealthy as possible. If those big fish know you’re there, or something is out of the ordinary, they will usually not respond in a positive fashion.
So I put down the trolling motor as quietly as possible and start working towards the point I eyeballed. I’m throwing a new glide bait made by Andrew Hinkle of San Diego. It’s 11 inches in length and has already got me some solid bites in the short time that I’ve had it. It’s big and bad, and draws some attention, making it an excellent bait to cover water with. Five minutes in and I get a small 5-6lb fish come up and take a look. I think to myself, “Ok at least I know there’s some fish in this area”. I slide up to the point I spied and fire the Hinkle Glide bait up over the top of the point at a 45 degree angle. As I work the bait in, I spot a BIG black shadow under the bait. It’s easily a double digit. However from her body language and previous experiences, I knew that this fish would probably not eat an active bait like the Hinkle glide.
So I decide not to pound the point with the hard bait, and I think to myself that this fish would probably want a slow moving bait on the bottom. I reach down and grabbed my rod with a bottom bouncing soft bait tied on. I like using scent on my soft baits, so I apply a new scent to both sides of the bait and smear it all over. I make a long 45 degree cast out to deeper water and let it sink to the bottom. I begin my retrieve and I can feel the swimbait bumping the rocks, coming throw some brush, bump, bump, bump.
Then it happens, 22 mins after I drop the trolling motor in I get a THUMP. Instinct kicks in and I swing for the hook set. The rod is full bendo and I know I got a good fish on the other end. I’m fishing 25lb line with a locked drag and I’m winching this thing to the boat. She comes up and boils on the surface and I instantly realize at that moment that it’s a GIANT. I wind on her two more times and I get an even better view of her and I see that she’s bigger than any largemouth I’ve ever hooked.
A little panic sets in at this point as I’m fishing alone. I have a big net on the boat but it’s sitting over the pedestal seat on the back deck. I have my left arm with the rod and a MONSTER on the other end and reach for the net handle with my right. The netting gets caught for a split second on the seat and I make myself regain my composure and focus on the task at hand. In the past I’ve lost good fish because I was fumbling with the net fishing solo. That’s the reason I will bounce fish when I feel it’s the right call. There was no way I was bouncing this thing ha ha.
I slide the net into the water and try to lift the fish into it, FAIL! I missed her the first time, as I’m high sticking the rod trying to get that right angle to slide her up and into the hoop. Once again I have to focus and not lose myself in the heat of the moment. I lift the rod with a smooth motion and lead her into the net. Got her. I let out a laugh in disbelief and look at the camera I have mounted on the console. I pull down my Buff and it’s all smiles. I say to the camera, “You guys will not believe how big this fish is!” I take a moment to soak in what just happened. I still have the fish in the water in the net. Only the head and line tie portion of the swimbait is visible.
Instantly I’m overwhelmed by pure emotions. Joy, happiness, excitement, a sense of real accomplishment. The most powerful feeling though, believe it or not was RELIEF. I’ve been chasing a fish of this class since I started fishing. 20 years of trying to figure this out. 20 years of pressure I’ve put on myself to make it happen, to catch a giant bass of this magnitude. I’ve been reaching for what seemed like an unattainable goal for a long time. There were many times, such as the recent slump that I was going through, where I felt like it just wasn’t in my cards.
I’ve grown up reading about and seeing giants in our local Western Outdoor News caught by the likes of Doc Holiday, Bob Crupi, Jerry Rago, Mike Long, etc. I’ve always looked up to those guys that were consistently bagging trophy caliber fish. They motivated me to start this chase, to pursue my DREAM of fooling a giant bass to eat an artificial lure. I’ve continued to learn as a fisherman, continued to grow. I figured out how to consistently catch double digit bass in the last few years. I set a goal of catching a “teener”, a bass 13lbs or heavier. I accomplished that goal in 2012. The next progression was to catch a 15+, but I knew that 15+ bass were a rare commodity and that I was reaching.
In the past year I’ve watched friends of mine with some amazing catches. Mike Gilbert bagged a 17lb 7oz behemoth in February of 2013. John Curry broke his personal best a few weeks ago with a 14lber out of one of my home lakes. Each time I was stoked for them. Genuinely happy and excited for their accomplishments. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that was envious. Not jealous, envious and almost angry with myself. I put in a lot of time, money and effort into the hunt. I would kick myself for not making it happen. Obviously these fish are there and they’re being caught. What am I doing wrong??? Why can’t I put myself in position to catch a giant bass?
This is the kind of pressure I’ve put on myself. It’s been weighing me down. As I stared at this fish in the net, all that anxiety, pressure, every worry I had was gone in that moment. I reached down and grabbed her by her fat lip and hold her up for the video camera. She’s absolutely massive. I honestly had no idea what she was going to weigh. I had never handled a bass like this before. I knew she was 15+. I pulled out the Salter/Brecknell hand held digital scale and hung her on it…17.40 is where it settled and I couldn’t believe it. I caught my 17 pound bass, a new personal best. I fill the livewell and gently slide her in.
I try to force myself to continue fishing, as I knew that initial follower was not the same fish. It was big but not 17lbs big. So I continued casting to try and get another good one. I tend to catch big fish in flurries, this was no different. On my second cast, I blew it. I snagged the bait up on top of the point in a bush or a tree. I couldn’t break it off to save the spot, I just caught a 17lber on it. Screw it, I’m going in to get it. As I motor up to my bait on the trolling motor, I can’t believe what I see. I spook off another GIANT, an easy teener. She was slightly smaller than the fish I caught but still, I had a shot at her until I blew the spot up. I was kicking myself for that.
At that point I decide I need to go find Scott and Whitney, as I have no phone reception in that area. I stow the gear away and motor up to where they were fishing about a ½ mile away. Whitney motions asking me if I have a big one, and all I can do is nod and motion back that it’s HUGE. I kill the motor and slide up next to them. Scott asks me, “Well did you get one?”. I didn’t say a word, I just opened the livewell. I believe some expletives were uttered at that point. I mean come on, we had just split up 35 minutes prior and launched 20 minutes before that.
Whitney jumps on the boat and we go look for some calm water for a quick photo session. At this point the fish has been in the well for about 10 minutes and looking very fresh. I put the bow of the boat on the bank in the back of a cove and we do 3 rounds of photos. I only held her out of the water for about 30 seconds at a time and made sure she got a rest in between so she could breathe. It’s crazy, you chase this fish all your life and when you finally catch her, all you can think about is her well being. I setup the GoPro Hero 3 for a 3 shot per second burst mode and it quickly captures about 200 twelve megapixel photos. Another round with the Nikon D60 and my Galaxy S3 and I know I have some winners in these batches. At this point she’s been in captivity for about 40 minutes and I really want to get her back in the lake so she can do her thing.
Whitney shoots a quick video of me weighing her one more time, and this time the scale bounced around a bit from me still shaking as I try to hold her. It settles at 17.38 which is 0.02 of a pound of weight loss in 40 minutes. We get her on video as she swims away quickly and in a strong fashion and she’s gone. I ask Scott and Whitney if they had a tape measure as I wanted to get her length and girth, but we blew it and didn’t get the measurements. I do know she was 28 inches long with a girth of 25-1/4 inches though, but that’s another story for me to tell.
Immediately I had to let my close circle of friends know about what I just did. I got the fish I’ve been chasing for 20 years. The fish that has until this day eluded me. The countless days on the water, the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on gear, swimbaits, fuel. The self doubt that kicked in when I would go through slumps. The stubbornness to just keep trying, to keep learning from every experience. It all paid off in the fish of my lifetime. I sent a photo and a short message to about 15 of my friends whom I felt had to know about this moment. Everybody was shocked and congratulated me for the feat.
A fish like this doesn’t come often, I couldn’t believe I finally did it. This game we play isn’t easy. Hundreds of factors come into play and we as fishermen have to adapt, learn, and adjust our tactics to be successful. I’m lucky to have caught this fish, and in this case I’d rather be lucky than good any day. Hard work, dedication, and the dream of big bass motivate me to continue the chase. Let’s hope I can share with you more incredible experiences soon. Look forward to seeing this leviathan on video in an upcoming volume of Big Bass Dreams!← BackNext →