Twenty-two-year-old Randy Doyle of Redding, Calif., is a marked man. His uncertified 8-pound, 7-ounce spotted bass from Lake Shasta has put him on every California trophy bass hunter's radar.
Doyle set out with his friend Sean Weaver April 8 with big bass on the brain. Bassasholics, a California clothing company, had just got Doyle into trophy bass hunting.
"The Bassaholics guys got me into throwing big swimbaits for big fish," Doyle said. "If they hadn't opened my eyes to these things, I'd still have a drop shot in my hands."
During early April, most lakes in California are prespawn, meaning the bass are ripe with eggs. The trout pull up shallow, and the bass follow. Doyle was lobbing an 8-inch Triple Trout swimbait along a staging flat around 6 p.m. when his line went slack during a steady retrieve.
"As soon as that line went slack, I popped it and felt a surge," Doyle said. "I knew it was a good fish, maybe a 5-pounder, because it was peeling line off my (Daiwa) Zillion. It was when I saw her near the boat that I knew it was a monster."
As Doyle hauled the bass aboard, disbelief set in.
"I started shaking; I didn't know what to do. It was huge. There were three scales on the boat, but all of them were fried from the rain. Because it was near the end of the day, there were no other boats around. I had to run ten miles before I could find someone else who had a scale," Doyle said.
When Doyle found another angler with a scale, his fish weighed 8.7 pounds (somewhere between 8 pounds, 11 ounces and 8-12). He called the California Department of Fish and Game to get his fish certified to be in contention for Lake Shasta's record, but no one answered. A committed conservationist, Doyle started thinking of the fish rather than the record book.
"It was really tough letting that fish go before getting her officially weighed. I may kick myself later for that," he said. "It was a really cool, once in a lifetime thing to catch that fish, but it felt even better to be able to let her go."
When he got home, a little research on the Internet revealed that the spotted bass record on Lake Shasta — California's largest impoundment — is 8 pounds, 8.76 ounces.
"I don't know what that fish would've gone if we had gotten it officially weighed. It was big. Nine, 10 pounds? Who knows?" Doyle said. "One thing I do know is that she'll have to eat again."
When she does, Randy Doyle plans to be there.