I have lost several bass over the years that would have changed the outcome in a particular tournament, but I also remember one particular bass I lost that would have probably changed my career. It happened during the last afternoon of the final day of the 1978 Bassmaster Classic at Ross Barnett Reservoir, Oct. 27, 1978.
Since the Classics in those days were conducted in the fall, bass were fairly easy to pattern. At Ross Barnett, the bass were trying to move shallow but because the lake had recently been drawn down more than 2 feet, they were holding closer to the sharper edges of deeper water leading into the flats. Lily pads were particularly thick and abundant in portions of the upper end of the lake where shallow flats fell into deeper water, so that's where I decided to concentrate.
The first day of competition, however, I brought in only 3 pounds, 4 ounces, which put me nearly 14 pounds behind leader David Owens, who brought in 16-12. The problem hadn't been locating the fish; for me it was finding the right lure/retrieve combination to get them to bite. Several of us had strikes from big bass, so we knew the lake had the potential to produce a 25-pound stringer, especially since we had a seven bass limit that year.
The next day Owens struggled, and Bobby Murray, who was also fishing lily pads, brought in six bass weighing 19-1. His catch included a 6-12, and he took over the lead with a total of 29-13. Tommy Martin brought in more than 20 pounds, including two over 6, and he moved into second. I caught 18-4 and climbed into fourth with 21-8, but it still left me more than 7 pounds behind.
That night a cold front blew in, and the bass bite slowed. I felt I needed 15 pounds to win, and I also felt I could do it, but that final morning I missed five of the first six strikes I had. The bass weren't taking the lure that well. I was casting a gold Johnson spoon with a black/chartreuse skirt and a 4-inch Mister Twister worm trailer, and I was retrieving as slow as possible through the lily pads.
By noon I had four fish weighing a little more than 9 pounds in the livewell, but I knew I needed one big bass to bite, and from then on that's all I concentrated on. I knew big fish were there in the pads, and I literally talked to my spoon on every retrieve. I was fishing it very slowly just under the surface, not doing anything erratic that might cause a bass to miss it.
The strike came at 2:30. Even today I distinctly remember the wake the bass made as it came up to the spoon. Then the fish came completely out of the water to hit the lure. I knew instantly it was larger than the 6-1 I'd weighed in the day before, and I made a good hook set. I felt the weight of the bass as it dived into the pads, and then it just came off. I knew then I'd lost the Classic, and I never had another strike the rest of the day.
The four bass I did bring in weighed 9-8, and I actually took the lead for a few minutes until Bobby Murray weighed in. He was the last fisherman to the scales, and he had only three fish weighing 7-12, but that was enough for him to win by 5 pounds, 15 ounces. It was his second Classic win, but had I brought in that bass I lost, it would have been my third Classic win in a row.