Catching a 16-pounder 'felt like a bowling ball'

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Ben Milliken

Ben Milliken and Joe McKay pose with the 16-4 caught on O.H. Ivie.

Joe McKay had grown accustomed to feeling the hard thump on the other end of his umbrella rig after a full day of slamming lunker bass on Texas’ O.H. Ivie Lake.

But one bite just before sunset on Feb. 19 hit like no other he’d experienced in a quarter century of bass fishing.

“I thought I might have had two fish on at the same time,” McKay said. “It really felt like I caught a bowling ball.” 

Nope – just a 16.40-pound largemouth, a record catch for the 20,000-acre impoundment of the Colorado River near San Angelo in west-central Texas. The bass broke the former lake record of 16.08 set in 2010, was the 16th heaviest largemouth in state history and the biggest caught in Texas in the past two decades. McKay said his own research puts his largemouth among the heaviest 60 or so catches ever recorded worldwide.

McKay’s toad was the talk of a frosty day on O.H. Ivie, when the Iowa resident and his fishing friend Ben Milliken, both of Milliken Fishing, caught approximately 50 bass, the five heaviest weighing nearly 58 pounds. Turns out, however, that Milliken’s hand scale was off a smidge, and that the total weight of the top five fish was right about 60 pounds, including a pair of 10s, two 12s and the 16-pound whopper.

The biggest of the bunch was weighed on a certified scale at Elm Creek where it was recorded for the Toyota ShareLunker program, administered in Texas by the state Parks and Wildlife Department. 

“I’ve caught maybe 15 8-pound bass in my life,” said McKay, 44. “In Iowa, an 8-pounder is a giant. Then with one cast, I caught one fish that weighed double that. It was amazing.”

McKay and Milliken, who met several years ago at a competitive fishing event, almost didn’t make it to Ivie, though. The blizzard that blanketed much of Texas a week earlier iced roads and made traveling conditions hazardous, even for seasons heartland drivers like McKay and Milliken, who lives in Nebraska. They were due to fish that week at Texas’ Choke Canyon to get promotional content for 6th Sense Fishing and for Milliken’s own YouTube channel. But when the power-generating lakes in east Texas froze during the blizzard, the anglers rerouted through central Texas to Ivie, where Milliken heard a few 10-pouders had been caught in recent weeks. 

“When we got to the water, I could see how clean it was,” Milliken said. “We’d never fished the lake before, but right away I knew we had a chance to catch some really nice fish.” 

With the air temperature in the 20s and water temp hovering in the high 30s, the fishing partners had the frigid lake to themselves, but not before freeing their bass boat which had frozen to its trailer at the docks. 

The duo, with cameraman Cole Thomas onboard, didn’t take long to figure out the lake. Milliken caught quality bass on their first day on there, using his Garmin Panoptix LiveScope to pinpoint big bass, placing a 3.2-inch 6th Sense Divine swimbait shad right next to them.

McKay said he struggled to get into any rhythm on the first day, but on day two of the trip they discovered that an umbrella rig outfitted with the 3.2-inch swimbaits on the bottom and the 3.8-inch Series baits on top was irresistible to Ivey’s big bass. They slowly rolled the rigs over the tops of submerged bushes offshore and in areas where their electronics revealed the biggest bass.

Milliken caught a pair of 12-pounders with that setup and McKay was pulling in double-digit fish throughout the day too. At one point, Thomas joined them both on the front of the boat as they whacked the Ivie lunkers.

“I was exhausted,” McKay said. “We were trying to let Cole get some fishing in since he had filmed us for two days straight. If we had tried to go weigh the 12-pounders thinking they were ShareLunkers, we wouldn’t have caught the really big one.”

The 16.40-pounder was caught on 65-pound PowerPro braided line with Owner 5317 medium gauge hooks. McKay had only three of a possible five hooks on his umbrella rig, and the big bass not only bit all three hooks, but she straightened them out when she hit.

“It’s a miracle we were able to get her into the net,” McKay said. “People thought we were stupid to go, but like I said, ‘You can sit on your couch, or you can be out here knocking ice off your rod and catching donks.’”

Easy choice?

“We made the right call,” Milliken said. “It was our first time there, but it won’t be our last.”