In 1997 during a BASS Megabucks tournament on Richland Chambers Reservoir in Texas I managed to land a 13-pound, 9-ounce bass. She turned out to be the largest bass caught in BASS history up to that point. It was a day I'll always remember.
Two years later, in 1999, Mark Tyler caught a 14-pound, 9-ounce giant in the California Delta while fishing a Western Invitational. That fish pushed my big one out of first place in the record books.
While I respect Mark Tyler's catch, I was disappointed when I lost the record. I wanted it back. Nevertheless, over time I settled into a routine of raising a family, fishing tournaments and representing my sponsors. For the most part I forgot about the whole thing.
But then, some years later — in the California Tour Pro event in 2003 — I was competing on the Delta. On the second day I found myself in a canal fishing less than a mile from where Tyler caught his record bass.
I was struggling under bright, bluebird skies with very little wind and a bite to match when a small, dark cloud and a puff of wind appeared out of nowhere. It blew directly over my area. Trying to take advantage of the momentary break in the weather I fired a spinnerbait — similar to the one I had used years before to catch my 13-9 — into a little jog in the grass lining of the canal.
Almost immediately the water exploded. I set the hook. The battle was on.
And a tough battle it was. At first she mired in the grass — she struck at low tide on the inside edge of the weedline — but then broke loose with a tail walk and headed down the canal into open water. She just kept going, never slowed down and never hesitated.
Despite her strength and obvious size, I was confident of the outcome. After all, she was in open water and I had new 20-pound-test line on my reel. I backed the drag off a little and settled into the fight. It was only a matter of time.
Then, suddenly and without warning, my line went slack. The battle was over, the fish was gone. Instantly, I knew there was nothing I could do about it. My stomach was hollow, my mind frozen in time.
It was the kind of feeling you get when the blue lights come on behind you as you're driving down the highway. You know you've been speeding and, at the same time, you know it's too late to do anything about it.
Like an android I reeled my line in. My spinnerbait wire had broken, snapped. Normally when a spinnerbait wire breaks you get the blades back But, that wasn't what happened this time. I got the head and hook of my lure back. The blades were gone. No doubt she had been holding the bait in her mouth. The hook had nothing to do with anything.
As I stood on the deck of my boat, my thoughts returned to the 13-9 in Texas. That bass was "hooked" much the same way. The point of the hook had curled and was pressed (but not imbedded into) the roof of her mouth. When my partner lifted her from the water the hook simply fell out onto the deck of the boat.
My newest monster was obviously hooked (or not hooked) the same way. My world was reduced to two giants, two bad hooksets, two different results.
I don't know how big that California Delta bass was, but it made my Texas bass look like a guppy. I believe she would have pushed the 17- or maybe even the 18-pound mark on the scales. She was big — no doubt the biggest BASS tournament bass ever.
Can you imagine what a second BASS biggest bass would have done for my reputation as an angler and for my career? I've thought about that fish for years. One record bass can be dismissed as luck; two makes a statement that can't be denied.
She's the one.