MANY, La. — It's rare that you hear as many "one-that-got-away" stories as were told at the Day Two weigh-in of the Bassmaster Elite Series Toledo Bend Battle. They served as proof that the leaderboard one day might turn upside down the next in this four-day tournament.
"They don't bite at all, then when they do bite, it's just crazy," said Greg Hackney, who is in 10th place with a two-day total of 34 pounds, 10 ounces. "I lose one that I can't turn, then I catch a 6-pounder that's hooked under the lip. The way I'm fishing, it shouldn't be hooked under the lip.
"When it goes down, I'm telling you, it's about as wild as it can get."
Most everyone is fishing big schools of largemouth bass that are relating to structure in 15 to 30 feet of water. They'll have lockjaw for hours at a time, then one strike will activate the school like nothing anyone has ever experienced.
"It's almost like they're too aggressive," said Hackney of Gonzales, La. "It's like they're trying to take the bait from the other fish's mouth."
Aaron Martens took a dunking in Toledo Bend as he tried to grab an 8-pounder that broke his line right at the boat. The exhausted bass was motionless on the surface for an instant; Martens stretched to grab it and fell out of his boat.
Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., has had an abundance of success in compiling his second-place total of 42-0. But he has also experienced some butt-kickings. Herren lost most of his rods and reels Thursday when a broken bungee cord sent them flying off the boat deck as he was running down the lake. And he almost lost another one Friday.
"Today I about got a rod jerked out of my hands," Herren said. "There are some gorillas out there."
That's why Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., has little concern about the 5-pound, 7-ounce deficit he has to tournament leader Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan. Chapman's two-day total is 43-9; DeFoe is in fifth place with 38-2.
"That's half-a-bite here," DeFoe said.
But no one had a one-that-got-away story quite like David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn. First, it needs to be mentioned that Walker hates those stories.
"That's why I never tell them," he said.
But Walker had an experience Friday that he will always remember. It happened about 8:30 a.m., and Walker didn't get over it the rest of the day. He made the Top 50 cut with a 40th-place total of 24-7, but it could have been so much more than that.
"I was hopping a big worm," he said. "Then I just lost everything."
Walker couldn't feel anything at the end of his line, but the line was moving so he knew a fish had the worm in its mouth.
"When I set the hook, it stopped," he said. "Then it just started stripping line."
Walker was fishing with 20-pound-test fluorocarbon. He usually cranks the drag down to the point that no bass can strip line from the reel. But this one did.
"It pulled so hard that I really didn't think it was a bass," he said. "I thought it was a big drum. Then it started running to the surface, and I thought it was a bass that was coming up to jump."
Rather than leaping from the water, this fish got near the surface and started high-tailing directly toward him.
"I could see the fish coming like a torpedo," Walker said. "I know I've got to get around the back end of the boat and get my rod under the motor."
It all happened so quickly that Walker couldn't imagine the time frame. Somehow the bass managed to take Walker's line under the narrow slot between the gas cap and the boat transom. And just like that, the fight was over.
"It just snapped," he said. "I might as well have put scissors to it."
Walker wasn't right the rest of the day. The 47-year-old tournament veteran has caught and lost plenty of big fish. In one tournament at Florida's Lake Toho he landed a 12-2 and an 11-4 in consecutive days. Losing a big one is common enough that he's able to just go on to the next cast. But not this time.
"Mentally, I was done," Walker said. "I just sat down. It killed me. I was like, 'Man, what a tragedy just happened here.'
"To go from that extreme high to that extreme low in such a quick amount of time just shell-shocked me."
He refused to speculate how big the bass might have been, saying only, "Obviously, with the length, it could have been in the 10-pound class."
Again, this is coming from a guy who hates one-that-got-away stories. This one, however, isn't going away.
"I'm going to remember that one for a long, long time," Walker said.