Awhile back I received an email from a reader wanting to know what I have against bass.
He pointed out that I frequently write about fishing for crappie, stripe, bluegill, rockfish, catfish, trout, sauger, musky and even the lowly carp, drum and skipjack, but seldom about the most popular, fished-for species in the U.S. – bass.
I wrote back, conceding he had a point and explaining why I don’t write much about personally fishing for bass – it’s because I don’t do much of it.
As a kid growing up in the country I was a bass-busting terror, but I did almost all of my bass fishing in farm ponds and small lakes. I fished from the bank or waded the shoreline shallows.
After forsaking my rural roots for a big-city newspaper job, I never adjusted to large reservoirs, bass boats and big-water tactics.
The biggest bass I ever caught was a 6-pounder in my Uncle Leslie’s pond one spring afternoon when I was 12. I caught it on an orange Shyster spinner with black dots, painted to resemble a spring lizard. (I had to be careful with the little spinner-bait because it and a paint-chipped old Hula Popper were the only lures I owned.)
The big bass hit the flashing spinner in some weedy shallows above the spillway. It raced out into the deep part of the lake, and for the next several minuets gave my cheap little Zebco spinning outfit a workout.
Just as I dragged the bass up on the bank the hooks pulled free but I quickly pounced on the flopping lunker.
That was 60 years ago. As you can tell, it was a memorable moment.
I cleaned the bass and we had it for supper. (Where I came from we didn’t mount fish, we ate them.) I tacked the head, big jaws agape, on the side of the barn to dry, but some crows stole it.
I’ve caught other sizable bass over the years. I landed a 5-pounder on Lake Tansi one freezing, snow-spitting day, and a four-pounder while wading the Obed River.
John Sloan and I caught so many pot-bellied bass on a trip to White Oak Plantation in Alabama one year I was afraid the boat would sink and I’d be faced with a moral dilemma: should I try to save John or the bass?
Chuck Campbell and I got into some big smallmouth one magical, wind-swept afternoon on Center Hill Lake. We caught tail-dancing bronzebacks till our arms ached.
Last year on Percy Priest Lake during Jim Duckworth’s annual writers conference I brought in the biggest largemouth of the event – as partner Joey Mallicoat is my witness.
It was just at dawn, the lake surface was smooth as glass, and when the big fish exploded on my top-water plug it sounded like someone dropped a kitchen stove in the lake.
Some interesting bass trivia: in the late 1960’s my outdoors-writing mentor at The Tennessean was Bob Steber, an internationally renowned author. In 1967 an Alabama visionary named Ray Scott had an idea: to form a national association devoted exclusively to bass fishing, with tournaments, corporate sponsorships and big prizes.
Scott ran the idea past his pal Steber, and asked him to come up with a name for it. Steber suggested Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society.
Today BASS membership numbers in the hundreds of thousands, just a portion of the millions of bass addicts around the country. When you tally the cost of boats, motors, tackle and gear, bass fishing is a billion-dollar industry.
Bass are arguably our state’s most popular game fish. If I can find a good farm pond and my old Hula Popper, I may try to catch one.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected]