Lunker: 11 pounds, 8 ounces (largemouth)
I saw her during practice about five days before the tournament started. I knew she was big, but I really didn't know how big. It's hard to tell when they bust the 10-pound mark. We don't see enough of them that big to judge them accurately.
She was in a foot of water in the middle of some Kissimmee grass. She was cruising around the area looking for a place to spawn or maybe waiting for the buck. I looked around, marked a few holes in the grass where I thought she might settle in. I never went back. When it was my turn to leave the dock on Thursday morning, I knew exactly where I was pointing my Yamaha-powered Skeeter.
When I got back there, the buck was on the bed but not the female. I did see a big tail swim off, however. I immediately dropped my Power Poles and sat still for a few minutes. Sure enough, she came back and settled into her bed. I flipped into the bed 10 times before she bit. After that, she was all mine. My bait was a green pumpkin Berkley Chigger Craw with the claws dipped in JJ's Magic. I was using a 4/0 straight-shank Mustad hook with a 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight.
My rod was a 7-foot, 6-inch Abu Garcia Verdict Flipping Stick and a left-hand Abu Garcia Revo reel spooled with 65-pound-test Spiderwire Ultracast Invisi-Braid. I was fortunate to find a number of big bass. I had a solid 10-pounder the first and last day and one that was close the second day. (She might have gone 10. I don't remember for sure.) And I lost at least one pig every day.
It was a heckuva three days. If there's a lesson in my catch, it's that you must know your water and have the right equipment. I know Toho. It has a very well-defined spawning pattern. The big ones — 8 pounds and up — move in to the beds first along with the 2-pound males. The 4-, 5- and 6-pounders stay away until the big ones are done. If you're going to try to win, you have to find the big bass. A 12-pound sack of bucks isn't going to get you anywhere. And you can't catch bedding bass if you can't see them.
You need top quality polarized sunglasses. I wore Costa Del Mar 580s. Looking into the water was like looking through thin air. I could see everything on the bottom and in the grass. Finally, you can't work a bedding bass unless your boat is rock still.
The only way to hold it that way is with Power Poles. If you're serious about shallow-water fishing, you need a couple of them on your boat.