Thursday, April 18, 2019

Remembering Some of My Biggest Bass

Last night, I was reflecting on some of the biggest bass that I've caught in my home state over the years, and thought that maybe it would be a good time to share some of these stories with you.  Since some of the stories may be long winded, so I'll do this over the course of several blog posts.  Some of the stories might not have been my biggest fish, but, they were big fish, and the stories are worth telling.  I hope that you enjoy them and, even better, learn something that may help you catch your personal best bass.

Unfortunately, some of these stories happened prior to the digital age, and I have no idea what I did with the pictures that I had, so you'll have to take it on good faith that the stories are true.  Yeah, I know what they say about fishing stories.  I do have witnesses though!!!   So, if I don't have a pic to share of that actual fish, I'll post a substitute picture of a nice fish, or pics related to how I caught the big one.

One day, if I'm lucky enough to find any of those prints, I'll make a copy of them and share them with you.  I had a major septic flood in my basement in 2012, and lost a bunch of stuff, so it's possible that many of the pics are gone forever.  I also have rolls of film that I've never developed, so maybe there are some pics on those rolls.  Some of you may ask, what is "film"?  Ha ha.  Some of these big bass were caught prior to the invention of affordable waterproof or digital cameras.  What can I say, I'm an old fart!

How do I...???
One hot summer evening, I was bank fishing with my buddy, Howard, his girlfriend at the time, and his black Labrador, Max, along a body of water next to a local river, and decided to drop down to fish the river.  The bank was steep and it was a struggle to climb down there.  

The river was deep, and the water was, what some of my friends today call, "big fish green".  "Big fish green" means that there is a slight amount of color in the water, enough sediment to make fish feel comfortable to be active, yet not too much that they can't see your lures, leaving the river with a greenish tint.  

There was a huge log that ran parallel to the river bank right in front of me.  In fact, I had to fish over this log, and, it sat at about waist high to me, so it wasn't easy.  There wasn't a lot of room to stand along the bank there, and just barely enough room to effectively cast.  Just a bit upriver from me, about twenty feet or so, was a rock ledge that stuck out from the river bank about twenty five yards and created a nice eddy where I figured that fish would lay in ambush of their prey.

Just a few days prior, I purchased my first baitcasting outfit.  I'm not really sure, but it may have been my first time fishing with it.  Back them, stores pretty much only sold affordable baitcasting reels that cranked on the left side, and being right handed, and growing up fishing with spinning tackle, I was used to cranking with my right hand.  So, I had to learn to switch hands after each cast, and learn to crank with my left hand.  Learning to cast and not backlash was difficult enough back then, prior to the invention of fancy magnets in reels that prevent the spool from spinning too fast, but, switching hands too?  Still, I started to get the hang of it.

I remember that I had a large chartreuse buzzbait tied on, a perfect choice for targeting big, aggressive largemouth bass in the slower waters during the hot summer, but not really a lure meant for tempting smallmouth bass the fast river water.  Also, most people generally pursued river smallies with smaller morsel sized baits over the bigger lures commonly used to chase largemouth bass.  But, being lazy, I didn't want to tie on a new lure.  And, I only intended to toss a couple casts.  Honestly, I didn't really think that I'd catch anything on it in the river, but, what the heck?

My buddy, Howard, and his girlfriend, happened to walk by and watch me cast from the path above me.  I think that Howard, already a baitcasting veteran, enjoyed watching me struggle to learn the ropes.  It must have been somewhat amusing and entertaining throughout the day, watching me learn the hard way, as I cursed while I picked out the many birds nests.  I forced myself to learn the hard way by leaving my spinning rigs at home.  So, even if I wanted to toss smaller smallmouth sized lures, I wouldn't for fear of getting more backlashes.

On the first cast, I lobbed the buzzbait upstream and across, and retrieved it past the tip of the rocks and through the eddy.  Just as the lure reached the bank right in front of me and the tree, the water erupted.  Water went everywhere, on my sunglasses, on my face, and on my shirt as the fish thrashed about in front of me.  It suprised the heck out of me!

I don't have any pictorial examples of big buzzbait smallmouth, but, this picture shows that big smallmouth will hit big baits, and big baits don't get much bigger than this musky sized bucktail.
Of course, I was extremely surprised and excited, and nearly forgot what I was supposed to do.  In situations like that, sometimes people say the silliest things.  I fought this fish as it went ballistic on me just over the stupid log, I yelled out a couple expletives that are too vulgar for this blog, followed by "How do I fight this thing?"  Howard, his girlfriend, and probably the dog too, were laughing hysterically at me.   I really did get confused, not used to reeling with my left hand, and fighting a fish with the rod in my right hand.
These days, I routinely toss small 1/8 oz. buzzbaits while targeting smallmouth bass like this decent fish.  The truth is that you definitely will get better summer time numbers of fish on these smaller buzzbaits.  But, big baits catch big fish, as the story told explains.  
To this day, Howard teases me about that fish.  Eventually, I figured it out, got the fish in, and hoisted it over the log.  It wasn't the biggest smallmouth bass that I've ever caught, but it was a nice one for our area, and was my biggest to date at that time.  I didn't have a tape measure or scale with me, but I'd guess that fish was a fat twenty inch smallie.  And, it was the first fish that I ever caught using a baitcasting outfit! 

The hanging down to my ankles fish...
It was a hot, muggy, dog day of a summer evening as Howard and I met each other in the parking lot after work.  Typically, back then, we'd scurry to our fishing spot after work and get as much time as possible in to fish.  But, on these hot, steamy nights, there was no hurry.  We arrived at our spot about an hour before dark so that we could fish the magic hour, and then fish well into the dark.  Usually, our timing was about right, and we'd catch fish right away.  During the dog days of a hot summer, the best bite is often at night as bass are mostly inactive during the heat of the day.

Frogs sang and chirped loudly.  They'd jump from our footsteps and into the water as we walked along the path along the bank.  Bugs were everywhere, and mosquitos constantly buzzed us as they searched for a chink in our bug spray armor.  To me, all these things meant is that it was buzzer time.  

Using baitcasting outfits were so productive for me throughout the years, whether they were specialized rigs for flipping, pitching or just plain chunkin' and windin'.  I found them to be very effective for using larger lures, the spinnerbaits and buzzbaits, for example, that produced so many big bass for me.  These lures are perfect for fishing around sunken timber, weeds, lily pads and logs.  

We bank fished most often at one of our favorite bodies of water.  Baitcasting rods teamed with heavier line not only allowed us to toss larger lures, but also improved our chances of retrieving lures that we snagged in the timber.  After all, if your not snagging now and then, you're not fishing in the right places.  But, we were young and lived on a tight budget, so, every lure that we could get back was a bonus.
As Howard shows you, summer night fishing with buzzbaits can be the ticket for big largemouth bass.
Both Howard and I worked our way down the bank, and picked up some nice fish here and there.  On this particular night, the fish were bigger on average than what we normally caught.  Howard already caught a pair of twenty inch largemouth that probably weighed about four pounds at their summer weight.  I had a pretty good evening as well, landing a few eighteen inch fish and several fifteen inchers.  Howard and I eventually drifted away from each other, out of sight in the dark, as we each tried to figure out where the next big bass lurked.  I lagged behind as he moved on, because I knew that I was at a really good spot.  

I had a good feeling about this one particular spot, so I worked it thoroughly.  There were several blowdowns, and I wanted to make sure that I covered every angle fishing them.  I just knew that there had to be a lunker there.  This spot was about forty yards long, so I worked each tree from many angles to optimize my chances that a big fish would find my lure.  I picked up a couple smaller fish, and it was late, about midnight, so I figured that I'd work my way back toward Howard, meet up with him, and we'd head home.  After all, we had to work the next day.
Oh, how I love fishing buzzers at night during the dog days of summer!
On the way back over that same forty yard stretch, I fished the one spot that I hadn't really covered, where there weren't any trees, but, rather, had tons of frogs.  That spot was simply casting parallel to the bank.  On my second cast, I worked the lure all the way to me, covering as much water as I could.  I couldn't see anything except for where the weeds and water met, because it was so dark.  I couldn't even see my lure from the end of the cast to but to only about ten feet away.  But, I could hear the buzzbait, making a squeaky sounding plopping sound as it chugged along.  I worked the lure as slow as possible, just fast enough to keep the lure at the surface.

As I fished with the rod tip low to the water, and about four feet of line left from the tip of my rod, the water exploded just feet away.  Honestly, it scared the poop out of me!  I literally jumped when it hit.  I could tell immediately that this was a special fish.  On my baitcasting rigs, I set the drag pretty tight so as to get the maximum hook set, and typically, I'd horse the fish in.  There was no horsing this one in.  It took line, even with my drag set as to not allow that to happen.  Finally, I got it near shore, and I climbed down the bank and grabbed the behemoth by the lower jaw.
In the evening and at night during the dog days of summer, large buzzbaits, like this one, call in the hawgs.
As of that day, it was my biggest largemouth that I'd ever caught, for sure, and prior to that fish, I had caught dozens of five pound fish in my life.  This fish was bigger...unforgettable.  I was about two hundred yards away from Howard, and I wanted to show him this fish.  If this fish was so much bigger than most of the big fish that we catch there, that it was worth walking two hundred yards away to show my friend, and stop fishing, then you know it had to be a special fish! And that's what I did.  I walked down the path along the bank directly to him, carrying the fish at my side by the lower jaw.

When I reached Howard, he couldn't believe what he saw.  He said that, as I walked toward him, that he could see me holding the fish at my side, and the tail of the fish reached my ankle.  I'm 5'11" tall, as a reference for you, so it was a long bass.  He marveled at the fish as he proceeded to fit both of his fists into its massive mouth.  That amazed me!  The belly bulged on this fish, similar to the way my belly does now.  I was still shaking from the experience.  Neither of us had a camera, so, after a couple minutes of admiring the fish, I released it.
This was the buzzbait that I used to catch that huge fish, and many others since then.  I made this in-line buzzer by taking parts from other buzzbaits, bending my own wire shafts using a wire bending tool, and assembling the three components together with split rings.  This bait has caught me so many big fish.  The whole thing is about eight inches long.
Howard estimated that this bass would have been about twenty four inches long and weighed about seven pounds, give or take an inch or a few ounces.  It was truly one of the biggest largemouth bass that I've ever caught.  It would be a few years before I was able to equal that fish, but those are different stories for future blog posts.

OK, so that's all for today.  I'll post a few more on my next post.  Until then, I wish your all good fishing!

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