My favorite bass: J.D. Blackburn

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J.D. Blackburn

A while back, a canister arrived at my house from a guy named Mike Emerson, owner of a company called the Fish Print Shop (www.prints.fish) in Illinois. Mike specializes in life-size prints that serve as stunning big-fish replicas.

As I slowly unrolled the print inside the canister, 20 years just disappeared. 

Jumping off of the thick, archival paper was perhaps the most rewarding bass I’ve ever caught. She looked exactly how I remembered, printed to her exact length — 23 1/2 inches. In my hands was confirmation of both her size and beauty. 

I nearly shed a tear. I was 22 again, floating in an aluminum boat with a ridiculously large grin on my face, still in shock from what had just happened.

That bass had remained locked away in my head for two decades, but the print brought one of my greatest memories back to life.

And what a memory it is...

I had fished the little pond nestled in the rolling hills a few miles north of downtown Nashville, Tenn., at least three dozen times during my four years at Lipscomb University. 

Rumors of a couple larger bass having been caught elsewhere and stocked in the pond remained woefully unconfirmed — and at that point, we believed them to be entirely fabricated, their source’s credibility completely shot. This was a “numbers pond” and 15 to 20 bites in a couple hours fishing time was the norm — all from bass weighing a pound or so. 

We didn’t care. We were just happy to be fishing. 

We were known on campus mostly by the uniform we wore — the baseball team. But when we slipped away and made the 25-minute drive that skirted past downtown Music City, we entered a whole new world. In this little world, we were fishermen. And all was right. 

This small pond, no more than 3 or 4 acres, was behind the house of one of our assistant coaches, so we basically had free reign. 

We wore paths along the banks circling that oasis and spent hours casting from the little gazebo that jutted out from the northeast corner. Plastic worms, spinnerbaits, poppers, flukes — they all seemed to work. You could pretty much reach the middle of the pond with a long cast, so there weren’t many hiding spots in the lake we hadn’t discovered.

But on this warm June day in 1997, having accepting my hard-earned diploma the month prior, I saw the pond from a whole new perspective — from a boat.  

It was 11 feet long, aluminum, old, and somewhat leaky, but fit perfectly in the back of my pickup. Rigged with a little trolling motor, it made the perfect pond craft. 

The worm was Red Shad, made by Culprit, seven inches long, and Texas-rigged on a 2/0 Mustad worm hook and a beaten-up, quarter-ounce bullet weight. It had already fooled several 1-pounders yet still had plenty of life left for a few more. I was essentially catching the same fish that always bit here. But being in a boat I felt a little more, I don’t know, grown-up, mature maybe.

I remember the cast was respectable, landing softly and pretty close to the base of that wooden gazebo.  To this day I remember the “mushy feeling” I had read about in Bassmaster Magazine that told me to set the hook. It was a completely different sensation than how all the other fish in the pond had taken a bait the past four years. When I set the hook and my rod nearly doubled over, I knew why.