For a number of years I just kept wanting one "bigger than the last big one". From 3 lbs, then 4 lbs, then 5 lbs, and so on, until I finally got to the point where it wasn't likely I was ever to catch one much bigger than my current "big bass". The solution to that one was a relocation to the southern United States, to pursue the bigger bass. Sure enough, within 6 months I finally caught a bass over 10 lbs, an 10 lb, 11 oz beauty taken on a buzzing spinnerbait in North Alabama one cold and windy October day. It made the local sports page, with a story covering the entire top of the sports section, big smiling photo included. It made the news as far away as Birmingham, Alabama. I received a letter from the sports writer of The Birmingham News, addressed to "Mike Lott, World Famous Bass Fisherman". We were even on T.V. , my bass and I. Watch out, Bill Dance and Roland Martin, there's a new kid on the block. This was a northern species bass, and a 10 lb northern species bass is rare indeed. She was 25 inches long, and had a 28 inch girth, sort of football shaped. That fish I had mounted, and to this day it retains a place of honor on my wall. Hollywood was not interested in my story.
That didn't stop my search for the "next bigger one." Now and then we'd make another trip in search of the "bass of a lifetime". We encountered them, sometimes big enough that if I told the stories you'd think I was lying. I'll be telling some of those stories on another page. We often fished Lake Jackson in northern Florida, using techniques proven by Bill O'Conner, who at that time had caught over 300 bass that were 10 lbs plus. On several occasions my pals and I caught bass in the 10 lb. range, and I couldn't even begin to guess how many 7 to 10 lb. bass. Bunches of them. Some of them were outstanding performers.
On many occasions I fished "World Record Water" for other species of bass. Smith Lake Near Cullman, Alabama for Kentucky Spotted Bass, Wheeler, Wilson, and Pickwick lakes on the Tennessee River for Smallmouth Bass, the Suwannee River in Florida for Suwannee Bass, and a place called Lady Ann Lake in North Alabama known for holding (at that time) the state record for Redeye Bass. It was my stated goal to catch a "bass-of-a-lifetime" of each of the 7 species of bass. In the ensuing years I have managed to catch a nice selection of 6 of the 7 species.
It finally got to the point where I had to move to the center of the best bass fishing I could find. It was a tough choice, but I chose Tampa, Florida. I haven't been sorry. In the ensuing years I have learned a bunch of new ways to lose a big bass.
Some of my big bass encounters have been with out-of-state visitors that I have guided to trophies a few times, a number of broken lines, and other mishaps where the bass has been clearly seen to be a "bass of a lifetime". Once it was on a white willow-leaf spinnerbait at Teneroc, when my regular fishing partner took one look and said "There's your 13 pound bass!" Ten seconds later, the hook pulled loose, strictly from the strength of the bass.
Another time it was on a plastic worm in a canal, and I happened to have accidently left 10 lb line on my reel after a tournament. Duh. The bass clearly was a monster with a mouth the size of a 5 lb coffee can, pulling the boat against a Minn Kota trolling motor. She came to rest in a submerged treetop and nothing I could do would get her to swim out of there. Finally, I gently reeled in the line to the point where I could tell I was within an arms length of her position. When my hand touched the water, "PING", she broke the line and left for parts unknown.
Worse even than those examples are the times when my friends have "helped" me by grabbing the line, attempting to net the bass from the tail, actually broken the line with the net on one occasion, or similar comical situations. One of my friends has fallen out of my boat on 3 separate occasions. How many of those big bass were the "bass of a lifetime'? Today my answer would be "all of them", or "any of them".
After fishing for bass for a quarter of a century, I have come to believe that any bass is a creature to be respected and appreciated. Would I mount any of those big fish today? Probably not. Would I be more careful to release the smaller bass unharmed? You bet I would. Today I am fishing at Lake Kissimmee in central Florida most of the time, a spot that is benefitting big time from catch and release fishing.
My most recent big bass was an 8 lb even female at Lake Kissimmee. Not having a portable scale with me I put her in a baitwell and took her to the dock at Camp Mack. We weighed her, took some photos, and released her right away, to the applause of everyone watching at the dock. Pretty cool to see her swim away.
We are seeing a constant increase in the size and number of big bass caught at Lake Kissimmee. Certainly a contributing factor is the change in Florida's fishing laws, where the limits are now 5 bass per day, only one of which can be 24 inches or more. The minimum size is now 14 inches as well.
Another factor contributing to the release of that Bass-of-a-lifetime, is the growing use of fiberglass replicas in taxidermy, as opposed to skin mounts. A fiberglass bass looks just as good, and resists damage better than a skin mount. Count in also the cost of skin mounting a bass properly these days, and it just makes more sense to go the 'glass route. All you need is a couple of good pictures and a measurement of the length and girth, and any good taxidermist can make a mount exactly like your "bass-of-a-lifetime."
If you are interested in catching your "bass-of-a-lifetime", then the solution is at hand here. Contact Camp Mack and arrange a trip with Bill Whiting. Chances are, you'll catch one. Just be sure you bring a few things, like a plastic measuring tape, (the kind they sell in sewing departments), a dependable pocket scale for weighing your fish, and TWO cameras. I'd recommend one dependable camera, and one disposable camera.
Then, when you get your bass in the boat, take a measurement, weigh her out, take pictures with both cameras, and please release her.
You'll benefit from knowing that your big bass is still swimming around out there gaining weight and making new generations of little bass.
07-26-1997 Reprinted by Author