When I was a very young boy, I developed an unusual passion for a pastime that I had never been exposed to. This pastime I refer to is called fishing.
My father had never fished. He worked two jobs in order to pay the bills and had little time for such an endeavor. We lived in the city of Chicago where there was no place to fish except Lake Michigan, and since this lake was so huge, and at the time was very polluted, I considered it a nonentity. Besides that, who would take me?
The bizarre hobby I developed began with the collection of pamphlets of what I considered exotic fishing resorts. I collected these pamphlets the same way any little boy might collect baseball cards or stamps. Among my most prized possessions were brochures from Hayward, Wisconsin (home of the largest Muskie in the world), Kentucky Lake, where fisherman were shown holding huge stripers, and Minnesota, which simply declared itself the land of 10,000 lakes. On any given day, I would retreat to my bedroom to read and dream of fishing these locations.
One Sunday I awoke to the sound of voices in serious discussion apparently coming from our kitchen. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I immediately recognized the voices of my Uncle Wes and Aunt Fran from Indiana.
“Good morning young man,” my uncle bellowed. “Your aunt and I think it’s time you came fishing with us.” My heart began to race. “We are going bass fishing at Flint Lake in Indiana and we would like you to come.” I could not believe it. I became so excited I began to perspire.
Suddenly, my mother declared, “He can’t go. He will drown!”
I was devastated. This was worse than the classic BB gun rejection, “You will shoot your eye out.” That experience is what made my mind up that when I was old enough, I would live on a lake and fish whenever I pleased.
When I was twenty-seven years old, I decided to take a sales position in the state of Texas, based in the Dallas area. As the plane descended into the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I was astonished to look out the window and view several huge bodies of water. I had little knowledge of the outstanding fishing north Texas had to offer.
I began to read everything I could about the lakes of north and east Texas and the terrific fishing they had to offer. One of the lakes stood out above the others, “Lake Fork.” This lake claimed to be home to some of the biggest largemouth bass to be found anywhere. “Perhaps this is just a Texas thing,” I thought. As I read further the article bragged that Japanese businessmen would not blink an eye to take a journey to Lake Fork in order to bag a trophy bucketmouth. That was enough for me. I would have to find out for myself.
This would provide an excellent opportunity for my brother and me to explore the fertile waters of Lake Fork. My brother was the only one I knew that loved fishing as much as myself. Between the two of us, we could fish all day and all night without eating. He collected massive quantities of expensive fishing gear complete with enough lures to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, he still lived in Chicago and had no place to use the equipment. One phone call was all it took to secure a fishing trip. Before I hung up the phone I told him, “Bring dad and we will have some laughs.”
Three weeks later I picked them both up at the airport for the start of our adventure. The only problem we encountered was getting my brother through airport security because his fishing pole container resembled an anti-aircraft weapon. After security confirmed the tube contained no less than fifteen fishing poles, we were on our way. In less than three hours we had arrived at Lake Fork. We checked into our cabin and after a few beers and fish stories we decided to get some rest. Tomorrow would be a huge day.
The alarm clock went off at five in the morning and both my brother and I leaped to our feet. “Wake dad up,” I told him. My brother shook him from a deep slumber. The first words he uttered were, “What are we going to eat?”
I told him the lodge had a great restaurant with a special “grand slam breakfast”. That was enough to bring him to his senses. We dressed quickly and grabbed our gear. Actually there was no restaurant and we settled for donuts and coffee. So what? I lied.
We proceeded to the front desk of the lodge, and I asked the corpse-like clerk working, where our reserved boat was. “In stall number nine,” she said, as she handed me the keys. The three of us stumbled our way through the foggy darkness down to the lake. We followed the pier until we found stall number nine. I was horrified; it was a pontoon boat. I had pictured us shooting across the lake in a fancy bass boat just like the pros did on the Saturday morning fishing shows. Instead we would chug along in a pontoon boat.
After loading our gear, we boarded the vessel and were on our way. It was a beautiful October morning. The air was cold and crisp and the sun had just begun to rise through a thick mist. The pontoon boat plodded through the water until we found our first cove. My brother indicated that this looked like prime bass territory and began to assemble his poles. He had brought a special closed face Zebco reel for my father. The reasoning behind this was simple. We would tie on a large float with a shiner for bait. There would be no casting, no tangles, and no backlash. Meanwhile we prepared our fancy bait casters and broke out my brother’s arsenal of top-waters, crank baits, buzz baits, spinning lures, and a giant tray that contained thousands of rubber worms.
I flipped my dad’s float in the water and handed him the pole. My brother had tied on a top-water and I tried my luck on a white spinning lure. On my brother’s first toss to the willows the top-water fluttered across the water and was inhaled by what seemed to be a huge largemouth bass. There was a violent explosion as the fish broke water and leaped into the air. I caught an adrenaline rush as I seized the net. My brother had worked the fish to the side of the boat and I netted him. This fish weighed about five pounds and we were thrilled. Where we were raised, a three pounder was a wall-hanger.
The rest of the day would be a productive one. We never left the cove and caught fish all day long. The bass were schooling in the shallow water and we wore them out. My father managed to catch several nice bass even though the turtles were constantly stripping him of his bait. On occasion, he even brought several turtles to the side of the boat before they let go of the shiner. My brother quipped, “You’re becoming quite the turtle fisherman,” as we both laughed out loud.
As the sun began to set, I turned and saw my father’s float submerge beneath the water. “Another turtle,” I thought. He set the hook and began to reel, but the drag just made a cranking sound.
“Tighten the drag,” I said. I was sure this was another small bass and he had not adjusted the drag properly.
“Maybe it’s a trophy turtle,” my brother chuckled. I continued fishing while he tried to tighten the drag. This went on for several minutes before I began to get suspicious. I retreated to the back of the boat to check his reel. The drag was tight. He tried to hand me his pole, but I told him that this was his loggerhead. Finally, the line started to move toward the boat as he reeled in little by little. Whatever was on the line was becoming tired. I conceded that it might be a big catfish. I looked over the side of the boat and saw a flash as the fish retreated under the boat.
“Pull the fish in,” I said. “I would like to get back to my business.” I heard a splash and looked down again. This time I nearly had a heart attack. It was the largest black bass I had ever seen.
I screamed to my brother, “Get the net!”
As he approached with the net and peered into the water, I heard him exclaim, “Holy Smokes!”
The fish avoided the first swoop of the net and I nearly fainted. I could visualize the fish throwing the hook at the last second and descending never to be seen again. The second time my brother netted him head first. He pulled the fish into the boat and the three of us looked at it in awe.
I scrambled for the digital weigher and quickly located it. The fish weighed ten pounds even. A double-digit bass. This was a fish that most bass fisherman would never see in a lifetime. We found the disposable camera and clicked off several trophy photos with each of us taking a pose with the monster. Then we set him in the water and watched him quickly swim away.
Since that day, I have built a house in east Texas, right on the lake. I have fished thousands of times and this story still ranks tops. How can it be beat? The turtle fisherman catches the trophy bass, nobody drowns, and nobody had an eye shot out with a BB gun.