I recently made my first bass fishing trip of the year on Percy Priest, and on my third cast, I hooked into a big fish. It stayed down and bulldogged for a good 30 seconds towards deeper water, so I was almost positive it was a big drum. I was throwing a ned rig on spinning gear, so I was careful not to fight it too hard. As the fish pulled, I grew more and more certain it was some variety of “rough fish” until it shot straight to the surface and did its best to jump out of the water. It was a solid 7, possible 8-pound largemouth bass, and would give my 7.5-pound lake-best bass a run.
That exact thought went through my head as the ned rig sailed in slow motion back over my head, and the fish swam to freedom.
It was quite a start to the season. While it was a big fish, it didn’t entirely surprise me because I’ve caught solid bass on that bank before. To be honest, I wasn’t even mad about losing it. You win some, and you lose some.
Now, catching a big fish in a place you don’t expect it, that’s surprising, in an excellent way.
Back in college, I had access to a little 3 to 4-acre pond a few miles north of Nashville, Tennessee. My baseball teammates and I fished it at least once a month throughout school. It was chock-full of small bass, most likely stunted due to how many were in there. They ate flukes, Carolina rigs, Texas rigs, crankbaits, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, you name it. At best, they might go a pound. Some of the giant bream in there were as big as most of the bass.
There was a gazebo on the north side of the pond, and we would often fish from it. You could reach the middle of the pond and deeper water from it, so we knew it well. You could pretty much reach the whole lake with a cast from one bank or another.
The summer after I graduated college, I had a rental house with enough space for a small boat, so I explored middle Tennessee lakes and rivers in it. While I really didn’t need a boat to fish the pond, I decided to give it a shot one day.
It was June of 1997, back in the days before cell phones with cameras. And I went alone.
The boat was an 11-foot-long flat-bottom john with a little 30-pound thrust trolling motor. It fit nicely in the back of my 1989 pickup.
I fished a Texas-rigged worm with the only decent baitcaster I had, a Pro Qualifier combo from Bass Pro Shops I got my sophomore year as a Christmas gift.
Since I had fished the pond so much from the bank or standing on the gazebo over the years, I decided to fish the base of the gazebo first.
The first couple of fish were the same cookie-cutter largemouth as always. It was special fishing from the boat, though, and I felt like a bass pro putting my bait at the wooden base of the gazebo.
The few minutes that followed are etched in my memory and will be forever.
It turns out a big bass can pull a little john boat around a pond for a good little while until it tuckers out. I set the hook on a bass that pulled me in a full circle and jumped a couple of times before grabbing hold of her.
There are no actual photos of that bass, and I didn’t have a scale with me -- lesson learned there. This was still 7 years before Facebook started. I like to think nowadays, I would have gotten some sick photos of that bass, and it certainly would have been worthy of a post. But the image of that fish is burned in my head; the whole 2-3 minute scene is still vivid.
As I look back on the experience, one thought really sticks out. The part of the gazebo that fish was hanging out in was one of the few places a cast from the bank, or the gazebo wasn’t possible. Presenting a bait to that spot could only be done properly from a boat. Making an extra effort often pays off in fishing.
I took measurements as best I could and estimated the weight at 8 pounds. A few years later, I found a way to calculate the estimated weight, and the numbers checked out. So, it was my personal best at the time and still is my personal best in the United States. It’s also my favorite bass of all time. In 2018, I was blessed with a trip to Lake El Salto in Mexico, but that trip, and the big bass south of the border, is a story for another day.