I'm out on Smith Lake getting ready for the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open tomorrow. Am I ever having a ball! I've had two experiences with spots out here that'll make you laugh and make you appreciate these great fish. The stories show you a little something about their attitude — an attitude that has them ranking second in the "fun to catch" category. (Smallmouth rank number one, of course.)

The first one hit a topwater lure. I didn't see her when she hit, but I knew she was big the second she started pulling. In fact, she pulled so hard that I thought for a minute she was a sizeable striper.

After maybe a minute, my line went slack. I thought for sure I'd lost her. Pointing my rod out towards the lake, I stood in the boat with my hands on my hips. I could still see swirls in the water. It's bad enough to lose one when you do something wrong, but I knew that wasn't the case here. It wasn't my fault. The line just went slack. There was nothing anyone or anything could do about it.

As I was standing there feeling half sorry for myself, my bait floated to the surface. Almost immediately I noticed the swirls getting active again. That fish had turned around and was coming back for a second try. She got it this time, and I got her. She weighed 4 1/4 pounds. That's a quality spot no matter where you're fishing.

My second experience is something only a tournament angler can appreciate. After I caught the big one, I decided I'd better stop sticking them. You don't want to catch all your keepers in practice, so I cut the hooks off my lure well below the point and barb — down into the bend. I left just enough of the curve so that I could hang the bait on my hook-keeper on the handle of my rod.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before another spot grabbed it. This time I didn't do much. I figured she'd spit it out when she realized it wasn't something she wanted to eat. But she didn't. This was a serious fish. I'm guessing she thought she had something that belonged to her, and she wasn't going to give it up regardless of how it felt or tasted.

I let her go for a few seconds and then started to bring my lure back to the boat. She was still there. She held on all the way to my partner's thumb. This one wasn't nearly as big as the first one I told you about, but she would have made a fine keeper bass on tournament day.

How many times in a tournament have we had a bass grab our bait — usually one with nine hooks hanging off it — and then throw it 3 feet into the air about half-way back to the boat? With me, it usually happens after I've set the hook at least twice or, in some cases, three times. And it's always a big one that gets away.

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