A Wall Hanger by Jon Bryan
My old neighborhood friend and fishing buddy from West University, Bill Priddy, and I both had jobs with a large computer company in Atlanta and had decided to go after a really big bass. We believed that our best chance at one would be a “pay” lake and we choose Horseshoe Lakes, just outside of Tifton, Georgia, only miles away from where, years earlier, the world record, twenty-two pound largemouth bass had been caught.
The dogwoods were blooming spreading their white glory over the hills and hollows, but winter still had its grips on Atlanta as we left on Friday afternoon, March 8, 1979. We spent the night in my camper beside Horseshoe Lake number 1, were up, and on the water before the sun on Saturday.
This place had ten lakes, all stocked with Florida strain largemouth bass. We hadn’t been fishing ten minutes when, “Whamo”, Bill has a jarring strike on a yellow, Piggy Boat. The fish took line and shook its head like a redfish and we couldn’t figure what Bill had tied into. A roll by the boat told us, the high fin giving it away, a channel cat of at least ten pounds. Not the ten-pound bass we were looking for but it would look real 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 the $5.00 fee. We move on to the second lake, by picking up and carrying my twelve foot, Sears, aluminum boat and trolling motor over the levee. A feature I had added to the little boat was three coats of rubberized paint applied to the insides making it nearly soundproof.
The second lake, almost fifty acres, was much like a rice field reservoir along the Texas coast. A deep channel cut all around a square impoundment with about ten feet of shallow water along the sides before the channel dropped off into over six feet of water. The channel, the only structure, was approximately thirty feet wide, sloping up to a large, shallow flat that covered the center of the lake. On both lakes we had not noticed any bass on their spawning beds, but if not today, within the week.
We flipped our casts toward the center of the lake; me a six inch, motor oil colored, worm, rigged Texas style, and Bill, back to his trusty yellow, Piggy Boat, and drug the baits over the shallow water and across, or down, in my case, the drop-off. We finally caught two, three pound, bass, and quickly put both of them back into the water to grow up. Well, we may be onto something, casting toward the middle and working the baits back over the drop-off.
About five minutes after putting the last bass back, I had a jolting strike on my worm. The fish didn’t gently tap-tap-tap, but picked the worm up and “headed south” at full speed. I was using a Mitchell 300, Spinning Reel with ten-pound line and a fairly stiff, six and one half foot spinning rod. I exclaimed to Bill, “I got a big hit Bill, I guess it’s another cat.” I have fished for and hooked a big, blue marlin of over five hundred pounds, a one hundred and twenty pound Pacific sailfish, a sixty pound amberjack (hardest fighter) and a sixty plus pound, kingfish on light tackle, and in comparison, this fish jolted me just like the big ‘uns!
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 seemed to be hung up. Guessing the bass had wrapped me around something, I turned on the electric motor and inched toward the point where my line entered the water, Bill saw a motion, a swirl, and the fish 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 us, leaned over the side and stuck my arm down into the two and one half foot of cold, water. With my rod held high in my other hand, I ran my hand down the line until feeling the snag. I inched my hand around until I felt the bass, and hoping that I don’t hook myself, tried to lip the fish. No luck. I got a good hold of the snag, pulled it and the fish to the surface and then Bill slipped the net under the huge bass!
We didn’t have a scale, but estimated its weight at over ten pounds. I told Bill, “I felt like I was harvesting rice, reaching down and bringing up the snag, moss and fish, all in one handful. This one is going on the wall.” This was years before you could get a plastic replica of your fish, so we put it on a stringer and kept fishing.
Bill took this picture of a dried out me, the12 pounder, the lake in the background and my 12’ aluminum boat. The sound proofing on the boats inside is easily visible.
We caught several more bass, but none even close to the big one, so we decided to find a scale and weigh the fish, then head back home. We found the owner of the lakes who acted as proud as if he had caught the fish himself and his certified scale showed twelve pounds! I couldn’t imagine that I had caught a twelve-pound bass. More pictures were taken, congratulations accepted, the fish was packed in ice and we loaded the boat on top of the camper and headed back.
Back home 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 in Duluth, Georgia and within a month, my fish was ready. Today, it hangs 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 nine, pound, speckled trout. But that’s another story.
The Sears, twelve-foot aluminum boat is still providing yeoman service to my son, Randy. He uses it to take his kids bass fishing.