Catching all eight species of bass in five days sounded like a superior idea ... on paper. The execution of said plan proved to be a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. We found ourselves against a wall upon arrival in Austin, Texas. We had two species remaining to target, and one day to get it done.
Because of an earlier lapse in judgment (I released a 3-pound northern largemouth while fishing for shoalies without documenting its length with the camera), we lacked this species, along with the Guadalupe bass.
So, waking up at the crack of dawn on our final fishing day, we headed to Lady Bird Lake, which runs through the state capital. If we could nab a 14-incher in short order, we'd be able to head to New Braunfels for our final fish.
I caught three short fish off bridge pilings when I heard the shouts of David Jones. The popper he was fishing was assaulted by a 5-pounder. This 20-inch northern checked this bass off our list, and we were headed south by 9:30 a.m.
Thinking we had it made, we expected a relaxing float down the Guadalupe River to finish our Slam. What actually transpired was different, though. We quickly caught largemouth, but the Guadalupes were noticeably absent.
Shooting rapids in our kayaks and soaking in the glory of the Texas hill country, bluff walls towering, at times, along the edge of the milky green fishery, we found ourselves Guadalupe bassless four hours into the float.
This was not going as planned.
After gliding through a fast-flowing shoal, we pulled the yaks on a nearby bank. It was here that we became very confused. See, David Jones hooked a bass that Chris Horton, our resident biologist and fish identifier on the trip, could not really identify.
"This very well could be a Guadalupe," he said. "But it could be a smallmouth."
We measured the bass, which went 13 inches, enough to meet the minimum Slam requirement ... if it was, in fact, the Texas state fish.
The next rapid down, I caught another suspect bass.
"I think this may be a smallmouth, but it could be a Guadalupe?!" Horton said after closely inspecting the fish.
Come to find out, even biologists who specialize in Guadalupe bass have trouble telling the difference. We decided to photograph everything we caught from that point on and then refer to a Texas bass biologist once we finished the trip.
Another five hours passed, along with another five miles of floating, fishing between the scads of tubers and their coolers of beer. Floating the river in tubes is a popular pastime in the Lone Star State when temperatures reach the triple digits, which it easily did this trip.
We caught more northern largemouth up to 13 3/4 inches, and one other short Guadalupe/smallmouth bass. Arriving at our destination, we shared a couple of Texas state beverages with some of the natives and then toted our yaks up the hill to our shuttle back to the truck.
Once we were able to get an Internet connection, we sent photos of the three bass in question to Dan Daugherty, fish biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The question was simple: Did we catch a Guadalupe?
"I'm not sure, I need to get a second opinion," was his initial response ... and he handles these fish on a weekly basis!
This, by the way, made Horton feel better about his fish ID skills.
His follow-up e-mail elicited a collective exhale from the cab of the Tundra we had put a couple thousand miles on just for the Guadalupe bass.
The short fish, in his opinion, was a hybrid. Evidently, Guadalupes and smallies hybridize frequently. The fish I caught, too, was a hybrid in his opinion, with strong smallmouth tendencies. The fish Jones caught, on the other hand, he felt was a pure strain Guadalupe!
Happy freakin' days! In the span of a work week, we managed to catch all eight species of bass, although our redeye specimen didn't measure up to Slam requirements.
Still, the adventure of targeting the lesser basses in environs so critically specialized to each fish offered a trip of a lifetime. My personal Slam bass qualified on this trip included: Florida largemouth, 16 1/2 inches; Suwannee, 14 inches; shoal, 14 1/2 inches; spotted bass, 16 inches; smallmouth, 16 inches. (I'm not counting the northern I failed to measure nor the Guadalupe hybrid.)
Although spending time on the road and sharing unique fishing experiences with good friends created memories I will not soon forget, this BASS Slam trek also brought something new to my fishing. Every time I set the hook on bass, whether it was wading Alabama's Flint River with tiny baits and light tackle or slowly scooting by blowdowns on Florida's Santa Fe, my heart raced.
What species had I hooked? Would it measure? The anticipation added a new dimension of excitement to the experience. It also added frustration. I lost several redeyes on the rocks of the Tallapoosa that might have measured; broke off several fish in the Guadalupe that might have qualified. These were not trophy fish, but you would have thought so if you had seen my reaction to the gaffs.
So, to conclude my comments about our five-day BASS Slam trek, allow me to simply recommend you give this challenge a try. Granted, I'd not suggest attempting it in five days, but certainly take good friends along to enjoy the ride.
Licking our wounds, both physically and emotionally, from "The Great Tallapoosa Redeye Adventure," our attention now had to be refocused towards the next BASS Slam challenge: smallmouth. Our destination was Alabama's Flint River near Huntsville, just four hours up the road.
The Flint is a pristine stream — clear, shoal-filled and about 25 yards wide where we fished. Access is tough, though. Although we were given the best area of the river to fish for smallies (John Hammond, local bass fisherman, clued us in via an internet fishing forum), we did not have a specific access point. So, once we arrived, we asked a landowner whose property abutted the fishery if we could walk through his lot to the river, and he kindly obliged.
Oh, what a picturesque setting we found!
Much of the river was ankle to knee deep, with holes reaching 4 feet. In some stretches, tall oaks and elms shook hands over the water, creating a green canopy that kept us protected from the sun. Large rocks occasionally interrupted the slow flow, as did small rocky shoals creating gentle rapids. Casting small soft plastics and topwater poppers to grass edges, rocks and deep holes, the smallies were very quick to respond.
I was amazed at the number of fish in this little river! We landed no fewer than 21 smallies, the biggest going 14 1/2 inches, passing the mark needed to qualify for the Slam. David Jones lost a bona fide stream smallmouth trophy when a 3-pounder broke off at his feet. I'd quote him here, but a majority of the language is understandably unfit for print.
Not only did we catch smallmouth, but also spotted bass and largemouth. Although the majority of these fish were between 10 and 14 inches, the setting and use of light tackle made it one of the most memorable fishing experiences of this trek.
After the dismal redeye failure, this was a badly needed success. Capping our day off at 10 a.m., we packed our rods and tackle and aimed southwest. A 950-mile jaunt lay ahead, ending at Texas' Guadalupe River and its namesake bass. We are hoping luck is again on our side for the final two species.
As my head submerged beneath the rushing, rapid flow of the quickly rising Tallapoosa River, I realized that my redeye trip had gone strangely awry. In my right hand I grasped a 16-inch spotted bass and my rod; in my left I held a boat bag that included my tackle and a video camera. These items were submerged as well, as my feet had slipped on a rock, and the river, that just minutes earlier had been knee deep, was now to my chest. I was still 100 yards from the bank and was heading, against my will, for a serious waterfall 200 yards downriver.
However, that's not how the trip started. We had met Steve Sammons, professor of fisheries at Auburn University, who lined up an access point on Alabama's Tallapoosa River (thanks to landowner Roy Fincher) for our redeye and spotted bass fishing. The destination was majestic.
The river, 300 feet wide, was boulder filled, clear and easily fishable by foot ... at least when Alabama Power wasn't generating electricity. We were planning on wading the shoals and small waterfalls, looking for redeyes and spots that prefer this habitat.
The spotted bass came fairly quickly, with each of us catching at least one over the required 12-inch BASS Slam minimum. Shaky head worms and small craws on jigheads were the go-to baits. We'd cast up river and let the current deliver our offerings to the bass.
The red eye, however, was more elusive.
As the afternoon wore on, Chris Horton and I waded farther across the river, looking for new shoals and eddies to target. As Sammons had mentioned to us earlier, the redeyes love shallow water and can be caught out of the fastest moving H2O you can find.
Roughly two thirds across the river, I found a huge boulder on which to perch, and immediately had a bite on a topwater walker. I switched to a craw, and two casts later landed a 16-inch spot.
As I was yelling at Horton to come videotape the fish, I noticed the rock I was standing on starting to disappear beneath the water. Not a good feeling.
"Dude, we gotta go now!" I yelled his way.
Good advice, but too late. Alabama Power had begun to generate electricity, and the release of water heading our way was astounding. By the time I collected my stuff and started walking towards shore, the boulder I was standing on only minutes ago (which was 3 feet out of the water) was gone.
I was being pushed downstream, but thought I could quarter towards shore, fish and gear in hand, without trouble. (I wanted to keep the spot to measure, photograph and video. Made sense at the time, but now I question my sanity for holding onto that fish while being swept toward the falls.)
After one small misstep, I was beneath the water, and lost complete control. One of my shoes fell off, and floated away at a quick pace downstream. Not good, as the rocks were jagged and plentiful ... when I could get my feet back on the bottom.
Eventually, I found my footing and managed to inch my way towards shore, one shoeless foot at a time. I made landfall 25 yards before hitting the waterfall. Horton, who was behind me, had similar issues. He even lost a shoe, as well, but managed to swim it down before it got away from him.
Although completely soaked, battered and a little freaked out, I did make it back with the bass! We documented the catch and decided to give the redeyes one more shot in the morning.
As dawn broke, we found ourselves again face to face with the Tallapoosa. And again, the redeyes won. Two redeyes were caught, but measured only 8 inches. With no time remaining and another three species to target, we decided to cut our losses and head north for smallies. We officially failed to catch our slammer redeye ... but might swing back through Alabama on our way home to give the fish one more try.
I believe whole-heartedly that the redeye will be BASS members' toughest challenge to complete the Slam. Not only are they slimly distributed, but they also are a challenging breed of bass to target.
I recommend you prepare yourself for several days of tough fishing to nab one of these little largemouth cousins ... and that you call ahead for the power generation schedule!
I'm hoping that the smallmouth experience tomorrow will be a bit more subdued, that the video camera I submerged beneath the Tallapoosa will start working again, and that I can find a shoe store prior to our next wade fishing adventure!
Goodbye, sweet Santa Fe. The little Florida river that gave our BASS Slam crew fat Suwannees was now in our rearview mirror. Ahead of us, the Peach State and shoal bass ... our third stop on the BASS Slam trek.
Arriving in Leesburg, Ga., with two hours remaining before sunset (Chris Horton slept on the way, drooling profusely on my tackle bag), we found a little tributary off the Flint River and paddled like madmen to find shoal bass habitat and get some casts in before it became too dark to fish.
If we could catch a shoalie on the first day, we'd have three species down out of the eight needed ... and we'd be halfway on schedule.
The little creek was riddled with blowdowns, creating quite a maneuvering test for our kayaks.
The first little run over a submerged log, I high centered the Hobie Cat Pro Angler I was fishing from. Luckily, I got stuck in front of the mouth of a little spring. I made a cast with a spinnerbait and was assaulted by a Northern largemouth.
"Wow, that's a chunk!" I declared, before releasing the 3-pounder.
"You know, that could have qualified as our Northern largemouth for the Slam," said Chris Horton, cohort on the Slam adventure.
"Oops," I declared, shocked at the level of my own stupidity.
After I rocked my yak off the log, we continued down the stream to a sandbar, where we beached the boats and cast to the opposite bank, 15 yards distant.
"Got one!" hollered David Jones, BASS staff writer.
He was casting a Booyah Boogie Bait (bladed jig) to the deep holes when he got bit.
His turned out to be a dandy shoal bass, measuring 15 1/2 inches.
That made three species in one day, putting us perfectly on schedule. We had planned on fishing another half-day for shoalies, then heading to Alabama for a redeye.
The following morning we made the 3-mile float down the same creek, but went downstream, where we left a friend's truck so we wouldn't have to paddle back upstream. Best idea ever.
What followed was no fewer than 3,000 casts between the three of us. And when I say casts, I mean 1/4 casts. The current was so swift in most areas that you had about 2.7 seconds after a cast before you were either hung, about to t-bone a blowdown or out of the strike zone. Call it drive-by fishing.
After high-centering on approximately 15 more logs, breaking off four spinnerbaits and three Texas rigged craws, we found a dandy set of shoals and a small waterfall. Here, I caught my biggest shoal of the trip (one of only three boated during our time on the Flint tributary).
Another five minutes and we were back at the truck. Although our shoal trip was not red hot, we did catch our Slammer. Now, on to the redeye ... perhaps they'll be more hospitable.
Three guys, three kayaks, plus luggage and fishing gear to accommodate said personnel and said boats for six days of fishing is no small order for one vehicle ... especially when one guy is nearly 7 feet tall. But that's exactly what Chris Horton, David Jones (the resident 7-footer) and myself stuffed into a Toyota Tundra this morning (5:45 a.m.), beginning the search for every species of black bass that exists.
Our first stop was a little public lake off Highway 27 in Clermont, Fla. Here we had to catch a 16-inch, pure strain Florida largemouth. Hopes were that we'd only need an hour or so to fill this tag, and then move on to the next bass on the list (Suwannee).
After a shaky start (I fell into a pot hole up to my crotch while dragging my kayak through what was supposed to be inches-deep water), the sun rose on a slick, somewhat tannic, natural Florida lake. Lily pads and Kissimmee grass rimmed the bean-shaped fishery, no bigger than 100 acres. This particular lake was selected for our BASS Slam trek because of its propensity for larger fish. Its reputation seemed unfounded this morning.
As Jones plop-paddled his way across the lake to a likely looking spot, I couldn't help but notice the shower of water raining down on him after each stroke. Not saying he's bad at paddling, just saying he may not be on the Olympic rowing team any time soon. He would have to change clothes before getting into the truck later.
The bite was fantastic. Between the three of us, we caught 28 bass in 2 hours. Problem was, they were all under 15 inches. Finally, at 9 a.m., a 16 1/2-incher decided to eat my Lake Fork Baby Ring Fry. We took photos and immediately headed back to the truck to repack and head north to Florida's Santa Fe River. The trip had just begun and already we were at least an hour behind schedule.
We arrived at the Santa Fe around 11:30 a.m. After unloading and using the facilities, we were casting by noon. What a gem of a stream! Spring fed, quite clear and lined with blowdowns and multiple types of vegetation, this Florida fishery is inspiring.
Didn't take long to produce, either, as Jones had a Suwannee on within minutes of launching. Unfortunately, it jumped off at the boat.
Horton was next to act, hooking and landing a nice 15-inch Suwannee. As Jones (with his mad paddling skills) approached to get video of the catch, the tip of a rod I was letting him borrow (one of my favorite Fenwick spinning rods) caught a stump and snapped off.
Broke in half ... one of my favorite rods.
Why can the rods you dislike not break in half?
He didn't inform me of the mishap until we were ready to leave. After nearly weeping over the loss of my rod (more specifically, half a rod ... he did return the butt portion), I realized the quaint, picturesque Santa Fe delivered big time, giving each of us several Suwannee bass over the 10-inch BASS Slam minimum.
The trek was starting off strong. Two species down during Day 1, and only slight casualties. If we can keep up the pace, we'll have all varieties of largemouth caught in five days ... and one rod left among us.