On the second competition day of the very first Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in March 2006, at Lake Amistad, I was flipping a 3/4-ounce Title-Shot Jig to prespawn bass holding on bushes leading into the backs of spawning pockets. The bite had been slow — I'd caught about 20 pounds the first day — but that afternoon I noticed more fish starting to move toward spawning beds, and I saw several large, cruising females.
I was using a flipping stick with 50-pound braided line, and I boated one fish weighing 8-11. When I spotted a 3-pounder behind some bushes, I began easing in to try to catch it, and that's when I saw the biggest bass I've ever seen in my life. It was just a dark silhouette holding along the edge of a shallow underwater shelf that dropped straight down to about 40 feet, and at first I wasn't even positive it was a bass. I thought it might be a carp because it was so big.
I pitched my jig to the shelf, out of habit more than anything, and instantly the fish dashed to it and sucked it in. I saw its gills flare and knew then it was a bass. When I set the hook, the fish just raced by me. If you've ever fished in the ocean, or salmon fished in the Great Lakes, you may have gotten a sudden strike from a fish that momentarily stunned you with its strength. Your line just zips through the water but the fish doesn't come up. You're really just holding on. This was at least a 15-pound bass, maybe larger, and at first I couldn't control it at all.
In a few moments I had it closer to the boat, and I could see my jig hooked through the fish's upper lip. It wasn't though the hard, bony part but instead through that small section of thinner membrane, and a hole was starting to tear.
My drag wasn't slipping because I hadn't thought I'd need it with my heavy flipping stick and the braid. I couldn't give the fish slack line because it would immediately throw the jig. Still, the bass was pulling so hard I was afraid my rod would break. I lay down on the deck to lip it but it was still just a few inches out of reach, and I couldn't pull it any closer.
Then the fish rolled and wallowed on the surface and the jig came out. For a second, the bass floated there on the surface, just inches out of my reach. Then it slowly turned and swam down into the deep water. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I just lay there on the deck, my face actually on the trolling motor, thinking of what I'd lost. My co-angler that day, who lived on Amistad and fished the lake regularly, said it was the biggest bass he'd ever seen.
I returned the next day and saw the bass in the same place, but this time it was with a 13-inch male around a bed. I could see the hole in its lip so I knew it was the same fish, and no matter which lure I pitched to it, the fish immediately swam away. Because I missed qualifying for the final Top 12 (I finished 42nd), I described the fish and its location to Edwin Evers who'd been fishing nearby and who did make the final cut. When I spoke to him after the tournament, he told me he'd found the bass, but it wouldn't look at anything he threw, either.
I don't know exactly how much that bass weighed, but Edwin, who's caught big bass before, confirmed it weighed more than 12 pounds and was easily closer to 15, maybe heavier. Its back was so broad it reminded me of a salmon.