How to Catch a Bass (World Record?)
April 29, 2005
It's that time of year... Spring is in the air!
It's time for a FISH STORY done OYB-style! ---That is, trumping the other fish stories out there. Check it out...
But first, this winter I bought a $5 goodie from an online catalog that came with a note saying they were giving me two free subs to Outdoor Life and Field&Stream. Now, as a kid I read every issue of those magazines (sneaking them to school). I also read all their back issues since they were started. Yes, I discovered that the MSU Library had them all and I checked them all out (plus every FFG...and Esquire...with a special library card they made for me as a kid, after I convinced the directory I could be trusted) and read them.
Anyway, I see now that OL and F&S are published by the same people. And the latest issues, both arriving on same day, both had stories about the quest for the million-dollar World Record Bass.
They made me remember a story I'd read a few years back in the wonderful world's best boat mag "Messing About in Boats" magazine ($28 for 24 issues of broad-minded DIY boat joy a year). An issue showed up with a photo of a boat on the cover, with a fishing pole and bass in the bottom of the boat. My eyes bugged out. The article discussed the boat, and that was it. The next issue had an article starting out with "I know something is going to get said about that fish picture on the cover..." Yes, indeed! It was a hilarious case of dramatic pause. None better!
The writer, boatbuilder and fisherman is Robb White. He's a cranky old storyteller from the Gulf Coast. I sell his book, "Tin Canoe," which is full of stories as good as this one. But this fish story is a classic. (Let me know if you've seen a better fish tale.) Here's what he had to say about that fish... Enjoy...
by Robb White
I know something is going to get said about that fish picture on the cover of December 1, 2001, so Iíll catch it in the air. The first thing is about the fish. She is a large mouthed bass. I was doing an experiment to see how fast bass grow after they get big. What I did was catch the same fish every spring when she went on the bed and measure her length (32" in this photo) and take her picture. I had caught this old gal six years straight and she was bigger every year up til this time (1996). The next spring, she was beginning to go down some.... roe not nearly so big as in the year of the picture (which I bet weighed more than two pounds). I couldnít find her in the spring of 98. I believe an alligator got her.
The second thing is about me. I donít want to brag or anything... it is against my principles... but I believe I am about the best bass fisherman in this country. Iíd go on the TV and advertise fishing reels and metal flakes and make big money but I am a solitary fisherman. I canít do it right with legal witnesses... makes me self conscious and unable to concentrate. Besides, I donít use metal flakes and high tech. I donít even fish out of a boat. Though I used that little boat to get to that place, I caught that old gal off the bank. In the picture, I am just going to put her in the boat in her usual place to get her portrait made. I only use a boat to get to places where I am going to fish. I found out a long time ago that the best fishing holes are hard to get to and the best bass are too wary to tolerate the presence of a big, predatory looking, floating object. I believe that they like a varnished boat better than a metal flake rig. I think they have sense enough to know a piece of wood when they see it. After all, they are intense observers of intricate detail. Maybe the hungry and stupid among them might say, ďLetís us go over and rest in the shade of that nice piece of wood...maybe a worm might fall off of it,Ē but the best would rather not see anything unusual at all lurking around any delicacy.
The third thing is that little boat. It was 25 years old in that picture and varnished all over too (keep it in a sack when you ainít using it). Anyway, that old boat is twelve feet long and three feet wide. Notice that there are only three planks to the side. That was the experiment that proved that poplar planking could be forced to come from a flat bottomed pirogue into a pretty exquisite looking hollow bow. I have dragged that little boat in the picture to many a place (like that one where the big bass lived) that has never floated a man-made object (except maybe a goddamn birthday helium balloon) and caught fish that had no idea that there was anything like a hook and line.
It is hard to catch big bass when they are on the bed. They have other business, besides eating, on their minds. The best way to get a real big bass is to fish with a Winchester .25/35.... unless you have made a lifetime study and figured out a thing or two about a thing or two. Though those old matriarchs doní t normally eat during that season, they do not like any predators or scavengers in the bed with them. Theyíll chase bream and other small bass out and pick up stupid things like crawfish and carry them off into the weeds. I even saw this old gal grab and evict a potential husband, builder of the bed.... a shocking thing to a man of my sensibilities. You can catch a big bass on the bed with a small fish rendered idiotic by a hook in the backbone if you can get it in the right position without scaring her off. Thatís hard to do. They normally bed in very shallow water and are real easy to startle and when they leave, they stay gone for a long time. You canít throw a hand-sized bream out there too many times or sheíll leave and stay gone for the rest of the day. Every now and then, I have caught one by throwing the fish way past the bed and easing him back so slowly that the big fish was not scared, but it is hard to do. The movement of the line will scare them for one thing, and the bait fish has to be too incompetent to run but not so dead as to pose no threat to the eggs.
I discovered that an invertebrate was much better but you canít even, carefully, let a worm down into the bed without startling the fish and even if you do, sometimes the fish will ignore him and her (you know worms are made that way). A crawfish is best. Bass will not tolerate a live crawfish in the bed with them. What you have to do is get the crawfish into the bed while the bass is gone and manage to keep him there until she gets back. Sometimes you can hang him on a little weed or something to keep him tied up but the bed is generally perfectly clean in the middle so there ainít anything to hang him to and the bass wonít pay any attention to anything off to the side. I tried a big sinker to try to hold the bait where I wanted it but a crawfish is strong and can drag a lead big enough to spook the fish. I tried to cripple the poor thing so he would be too weak but then the fish ignored him... I guess she knew he was in too bad shape to do any damage.
Finally (and this took years... I ought not to tell you) I discovered that a tiny, little baby crawfish, not as big as a cricket, could be flipped into the bed with a fly rod and, if you did it just exactly right, with the lightest kind of tippet and the tiniest hook, the wonderful old girl wouldnít run all the way off into the weeds but would begin to stare at the little thing to see if he was a bona fide threat to her reproduction. I had to dry this little animal off and super glue the hook to him because he was way too little to continue to act like a potential problem with a hook through him. Anyway, after days of fooling around, I finally did it right and she picked up my little crawfish to carry him to the edge of the bed. I gently set the tiny hook and she started to swim off. I carefully eased back on my rod (my grandfatherís little old bamboo rig...) and she swam off into the weeds.
The place where this happened was just a little way down the bank to the right of the boat in the picture. That whole little pond (maybe two and a half acres) is very shallow all around the edge and during a normal winter, it freezes up close to the bank and kills the weeds. You can see that little lane in the picture. Thatís where the fish bed in about eighteen inches of water. When a big bass feels uncomfortable, she likes to hide in the weeds. When they feel panicky, they like to tear up a bunch of water and be just as difficult as they can.... you know, like you see on the other end of Roland Martin on the TV. I never pulled hard enough on the old fish to make her lose her mind. She just decided that it was time to go hide out until whatever was worrying her went away. She swam out to that line of dollar bonnets and buried her head in a big mess of Hydrilla. I just kind of followed her (you can see just how deep I got... about up to my hip pockets). I could see her tail sticking out of the weeds and I gently slid my hand up her side until I could get all my fingers in her mouth (plenty of room). When I latched down on her, she snatched real hard and abraded the top of my hand with her little teeth but I quickly lifted her up enough so I could open her bottom jaw enough to make her lie quiet (which theyíll do). Then I waded to the bank and took her to the boat for her annual portrait.
Some people told me that that might be a world record bass. I donít know about that. I just know that I would have had to kill the old gal and then tell a lie about how I had caught her on a Quantum reel on an Ugly Stick rod with 8 lb Stren line and a Rat-L-Trap crank bait out of a Ranger bass boat with a five hundred hp Mercury motor on a Panther jackplate after I had seen her and taken her temperature with my Humminbird fish finder and positioned my fifty thousand dollar rig with my 24 Volt Minnkota trolling motor. Then I could get in the books and be eligible for a big check to appear on the TV and lie some more. If you have been reading this magazine for very long, you know that I donít do things like that... for money.
I will tell you this though: Around here there are a bunch of little rivers that run under the ground and then come up and make a little short stretch on the surface and then go back down into the limestone again. The places between those holes are miles and miles of some of the worst kinds of saw-grass bogs and thickets... no place for a real boat and, unless you swim it, you canít travel on the river part because there are some very deep, (very cold) holes. It is a problem. I dragged my boat back to a place like that just the other week and I saw a bass that I think might be bigger than that one. Iíll slip back in there this spring and take her picture for you.