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Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Bass – One that got away and one that didnít

Red sky at night...

Bass – One that got away and one that didnít.

As a young fisherman I fished for pan fish because I could catch a dinner string in a few hours. I occasionally saw bass in the gin-clear waters of my pond, but I considered bass fishing low productivity. Donít get me wrong, I would have liked to catch nice sized bass but I didnít think I had the right tackle and I expected to be frustrated most of the time. I focused my attention on beds full of fat bull bluegills.

But there were occasional opportunities.

This April day, about 1948 or so, I stood thigh deep in the water on a sandy bar that reached out into the pond. About 20' further out the bar was an area that looked like a bombing practice site. Over about a 400 square foot area there were dozens of shallow craters inhabited by fat bluegills running 7-9". A faint perfume, very like watermelon, signaled that bluegills were spawning.

I was using my fly rod, the one that Major Magid brought me from Japan, and an ancient Shakespeare automatic fly reel given me by another of my elderly mentors. I had the reel loaded with D level floating fly line with about 6' of 8lb test monofilament as a leader. My terminal tackle was a plain #6 Eagle Claw hook on which I impaled crickets.

I could cast that rig the 20' to the bluegill bed. I would let the bait sink slowly to the bottom, about 4' down, watching my floating line like a hawk. If it made it all the way down I would twitch it about 6" or so and wait. I rarely moved it out of the bed area before the line gave a slight jerk. Then I would set the hook and play my quarry to my side, where I unhooked it and placed it on the stringer dangling from my overalls.

Then I saw an ominous shadow at the edge of the bed area. It drifted at the limit of my visibility and faded away. I wondered what it was.

When I hooked my next bluegill and was playing it toward me it suddenly took off with unexpected power, then turned and raced toward me. What the...? The shadow was chasing it, and the shadow was a monster bass!! That thing looked to my bugging eyes as though it was as long as my arm!! It gave up the chase and returned to lurking around the beds. I unhooked my bluegill with shaking hands and decided to catch that monster.

But how? What bait, what method??

I waded ashore and poked around in the marshy shoreline. There I found and caught a small frog, just small enough that I could cast it with my fly rod. I put it on my #6 hook, because that is all I had, and waded back out toward the bluegill bed.

It took a couple of tries but I finally dropped the frog near where I had last seen the big bass. My hands were shaking and my heart pounding so hard I could hear it. I saw the bass approach it and stop. I twitched it about a foot and the bass sucked it in. I heaved back on my fly rod and thought I had hooked the bottom. That thought didnít last very long because at the sting of the hook the bass took off for the other side of the pond like a submerged rocket. My rod doubled over and the line screamed off my reel. EEK!! I had never felt anything like that before! I held on for dear life and appealed to any available supernatural power for assistance. The bass stopped and I was able to regain some of the lost line. Then it took off again.

This cycle repeated for about 10 minutes (seemed like hours) until I had worked the bass into shallow water. Then it did something strange. It stuck its snout into the bottom, with its tail sticking out of the water. Suddenly my line went slack and the fish was gone.

I waded ashore and sat down. I was shaking so bad it took a while before I was able to get my bike and ride home. I tried to tell folks of my experience but all I got was advice to stop making up tall tales.

I didnít lose all my bouts with surprise bass. In fact there is a chance that I encountered that same bass again.

I was walking along the dam, casting popping bugs, late one afternoon. Near the spillway I spotted a huge bass on a spawning bed fairly near the shore. I popped my bug over her and got thoroughly ignored.

I thought about the bare hook and frog trick, but remembered that a big bass had whipped me and my light fly rod to a frazzle. This time I had more tackle... some 20lb test monofilament and a few bigger hooks. I went into the swamp and cut a stout willow pole about 12' long and attached about 15' of the strong line and a #1 hook.

I attached a small bluegill to the hook and dropped it over the bass. She rushed it and it took off, but as soon as the bait was out of her bedding territory she returned to her nest. This repeated several times.

So, I killed the bluegill and tried again. I dropped it right into her nest. She gingerly picked it up without getting the hook in her mouth, swam to the edge of her nest and spit it out. ARGH!! This also repeated several times.

I rehooked the bait in its belly and tried yet again. She picked it up again, by the belly! I snatched back on the awkward pole and had her hooked. She was too heavy to lift out of the water with the pole so I put the pole over my shoulder and ran down the back of the dam with it. When I turned she was high and dry, flopping on the bank.

When I rode my bike down Main Street her huge tail stuck out of my basket like a victory banner. To this day that is the biggest bass I ever caught. Twenty eight inches long. Might have weighed 10-12# before spawning, but only 8# empty.

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