No, not a 12 pounder, smooth bore cannon, but a big bass. The story of our quest for the big fish follows.
As I was languishing in a staff job in Atlanta, an old friend from my neighborhood, Bill Priddy, had just been promoted in, he had worked for me in Houston, but now had a marketing job with the big computer company we both worked for. Best for me though, I now had a bass fishing partner.
We decided that since we were both in Georgia, where a 22 pound, bass, the world record, had been caught years earlier, to go after a really big one. Our choice was a pay to fish spot, Horseshoe Lake, just outside of Tifton, a few miles from the world record catch. Tifton was a good 4 hours away from our homes in Sandy Springs so we planned an overnight trip to the lake.
Even in March winter still had its grips on Atlanta, but the dogwoods were starting to bloom. What a sight, white blooms covering the hills and hollows, the first sign that spring was near. As we drove south toward Tifton, which is within 5 miles of the Florida line, we met spring just past Columbus and everything turned green. We spent the night in my camper and planned to fish all day Saturday. We were up early, ate a quick breakfast, Twinkies and OJ and launched the boat in the first of 3 lakes where we would fish. This place had 10 lakes all stocked, supposedly, with Florida strain, largemouth bass.
We hadn’t been fishing ten minutes when, “Whamo”, Bill has a tremendous strike on a yellow, Piggy Boat. The fish took line, shaking its head like a redfish and we couldn’t figure what he had tied into. Then, a roll by the boat told us, the high fin giving it away, a channel catfish, of at least 10 pounds. Not the wall hanger bass we were looking for, but it would look good in the skillet!
We fished the first lake hard with spinners, worms and rat-l-traps, but only had the catfish to show for it, so far, not worth $5.00 fee. We moved on to the second lake, by unceremoniously carrying my 12, foot, aluminum boat and trolling motor over the levee. A feature I had added to the aluminum boat was three coats of rubberized paint applied to the insides, a liner that I painted on, for an aluminum boat it was nearly soundproof.
The second lake, almost 50 acres, was much like a rice field reservoir along the Texas coast. A deep channel was cut all around a square impoundment with about ten feet of shallow water along the sides before the channel dropped off into about 6 feet of water. The channel, the only structure in the lake, was approximately 30 feet wide, sloping up to a large, shallow flat covering the center of the lake.
We choose to cast, me a six inch, motor oil colored, worm, rigged Texas style, and Bill, back to his trusty yellow, Piggy Boat, toward the center of the lake and drag our baits over the shallow water and across, or down, in my case, the drop-off. We had not seen any bass on their spawning beds, but if not today they should start within the week. Finally, we caught two, 3 pound, bass, and quickly put both back into the water to grow up. Well, we thought out loud, we may be onto something, casting toward the middle and working the baits back over the drop-off.
About 5 minutes after putting the last bass back in the water, I had a jarring strike on my worm. The fish didn’t gently tap-tap-tap, the worm, but picked it up and “headed south” at full speed. I was using a solid spinning reel with 10 pound line and a fairly stiff, 6-1/2 foot spinning rod and I exclaimed to Bill, “I got a big hit, Bill, I guess this is another cat.” Thinking back, I have fished for and hooked a big, blue marlin of five or six hundred pounds, caught a 120 pound Pacific sailfish, a 60 pound Amberjack and a 60 plus pound, possibly a State record in Texas, but we cut it up and ate it, kingfish, all on light tackle, and in comparison, this fish jolted me as hard as any of the bigger ones!
The fish took line and then came to the top and wallowed up, almost into the air and we saw the big mouth. Good heavens, a big, big bass and all I could do was hang on and hope the hook was set securely in its jaw. Another wallow/jump, the fish was too big to get out of the water all the way, but we could see it more clearly and it was a whopper! Another short run and my line stopped, it seemed to be hung up, I guessed the bass had wrapped me around a log or something.
We turned on the electric motor and inched toward the point where my line entered into the water, and Bill saw motion, a swirl and the bass had wrapped the line around a snag of some kind. All in one motion, I cut off the motor, told Bill to stick a paddle into the bottom to hold the boat and flopped into the 2-1/2 foot, cold, water with my rod held high. Running my hand down the line until I felt the snag, I inched my hand around until I felt the bass and hoping that I didn’t hook myself, tried to grab the fish. No luck, so I got a good hold of the snag and pulled it to the surface and Bill netted the bass.
Back into the boat, we didn’t have a scale, but we estimated the bass weighed over 10 pounds, so I told Bill, “I felt like I was harvesting rice, reaching down and bringing up the snag, moss and bass, all in one handful. This one is going on the wall.” This was years before “Share the Lunker”, or, you could get a plastic replica of your fish, so we put her on a stringer and kept fishing. We caught some more bass, but none even close to the big one, so we decide to find a scale and weigh the fish and head back to Atlanta.
The owner of the lakes was as proud as if he had caught the fish himself and his certified scale showed 12 pounds! I couldn’t imagine catching a 12 pounder. Pictures were taken, congratulations accepted, the fish was packed in ice and we loaded the boat on top of the camper and headed back to Atlanta.
Back in Atlanta, it seemed like the whole neighborhood came over and the viewing turned into a party. Keeping the fish on ice, on Monday, I took it to the best taxidermist in the Atlanta area. He was in Duluth and within a month, my fish was ready and today, it has a place of honor in the hall of my ranch house, next to a picture box display of my dad’s old fishing plugs and a replica mount of a 9 pound plus, speckled trout, but that’s another story.
The 12, foot aluminum boat is still providing yoeman service to my son, Randy. He uses it to take his kids bass fishing and maybe someday one of them will surpass my record!