Catching bass by hand

Bored of catching all those bass by rod and reel? Looking for a new challenge? Probably not. Most of never grow tired of enticing – or trying to entice – bass to take an artificial bait.

But Robert Earl Woodard, an Alabama farmer and retired football coach, is a notable exception. As a young man he decided he wanted to catch bass by hand.

And 40 years later, after perfecting his technique, he’s an overnight video sensation on the web, courtesy of a 16.03-pound largemouth that he caught by hand in a 5-acre lake on his farm near Blountsville. That’s less than 8 ounces off the Alabama state record of 16.5 pounds, and, although the fish wasn’t measured before being released, Woodard believes that it was between 34 and 35 inch in length, which would have made it the longest ever captured by 2 inches or more.

“When I was holding it, it went from my shoulder to my knee,” he said.

Having caught dozens of big bass by hand over the years, why the notoriety now? Woodard decided that he wanted to use it to help promote The Way It Was Back Then, his book about growing up as a hardworking farm boy during a more innocent time. He also includes the bass fishing expertise he acquired fishing all over his home state, and explains how he caught his first bass by hand.

“I had an 8-pounder strike at my thumb while I had my hand in the water after feeding some bass by hand . . . That was fun!” he wrote.

He had been walking along the shore of a pond during late afternoons, feeding the fish “fiddle worms,” when the bass latched onto his thumb, and, shocked, he pulled it ashore.  Now fast forward a few decades to four years ago, when Woodard retired from teaching and coaching and decided to create “the best bass lake in Alabama,” as well as perfect his catching-by-hand technique.

The latter includes enticing bass to his dock with shiners and bluegill. Some will take directly from his hand; others will try to suck it out. And a few hang back, waiting for him to throw the bait out into the lake. A 14-pounder that he has nicknamed “Jaws” actually bit his thumb, making it bleed.

To catch a bass by hand, Woodard explained, you must be certain your thumb goes into the “V” at the bottom of the mouth to ensure a firm grasp. “And you can’t pull them out when they’re wild,” he said. “Bass are very powerful.”

Now that he’s experienced, 9-pounders just aren’t that challenging, he said. But when he latched onto a 12-pounder, “it nearly pulled me under the dock.”

And that 16-pounder? “She headed for deep water and pulled me a foot down the pier,” the Alabama angler said.