All I want for Christmas is one second of my life back.
Not just any second. I’ve got a particular one in mind.
This tick of the clock happened at legendary Lake El Salto during the fall of 2015. I was on a great trip at Angler’s Inn International with the folks from Abu Garcia and Berkley, and we were having a ball at a place that’s known for making bass fishermen’s dreams come true.
For the afternoon session, I fished with Bassmaster Elite Series pro David Fritts from North Carolina and one of the talented local guides from Angler’s Inn.
That evening, I tied on a topwater bait and made a cast toward a timber-filled shoreline.
The cadence went twitch, twitch…atomic explosion.
The biggest largemouth bass I’ve ever seen in person came almost completely out of the water after the bait with a mixture of hunger, anger and meanness I haven’t experienced before or since.
My best guess for how much the bass weighed probably wouldn’t be realistic. But if you want to form a mental picture of it, start at 10 pounds and let your imagination run wild.
The gravity of the strike was lost on no one.
Fritts is a former Bassmaster Classic champion, Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and winner of millions of dollars in tournament competition. He’s seen a lot of big bass in his day, but he instantly screamed, “Big fish!”
Our Spanish-speaking guide, whose job it is to lead anglers to the fish of a lifetime, yelled “Grande!” as he was grabbing the net.
But there was no need for it.
The fish was gone. It missed the bait.
Or at least that’s how my therapist says I should remember it.
It’s entirely possible that I reacted too quickly and pulled the bait away from the bass. But my only coping mechanism is to assume it was the fish that made the mistake.
Sometimes I need a mental “happy place” to review those events. It’s an empty room where a replica mount of that big bass hangs next to a framed picture of me, Fritts and our guide grinning from ear to ear with the fish before it was released.
But it’s all fiction.
I must have made a hundred more casts to the spot where that bass breached the surface. I tried the same bait it missed. I tried a soft-plastic jerkbait. I tried a crankbait, just in case it was lurking in the same area, only deeper.
But bass don’t get that big by being stupid — and I guess that fish was smart enough to realize the sudden barrage of “wounded baitfish” limping through the area seemed a little odd.
My friend and colleague Thomas Allen has a masterfully written story in the November issue of Bassmaster Magazine titled “Trail of Broken Hearts.” In that piece, anglers recount battles they fought and lost with bass that would have drastically changed their careers.
I can only imagine how those guys felt.
Those fish cost those anglers money.
This one only cost me sleep.
I don’t want to find that fish under the tree Christmas morning.
That would be dirty and smelly and cruel and weird.
What I’d really like — all I really need for a merry Christmas — is a do-over for the one second I had a chance at it.