The days rolled into weeks. I spent my life feeding fish and rewriting my thesis. I had to send it back to my director several times before he finally approved it. I lived, breathed, and ate fish. I started eating two-pound bass as my main diet. They had successfully spawned and juvenile bass swam by everywhere, pegged by shadows beneath. I had not seen Elise, but I knew she was there with her younger sister, lurking in the depths, probably in one of my giant tree piles out in the middle. They were in their preferred zone, like home, with shad and bluegill to feed on, and plenty of deep cover. I hoped that as the summer warmed up, they might head toward my spring, under my giant pool cover, strapped down to four trees and shading 50 meters of my top-end channel. The water was deep there and at least eight degrees cooler than the surface temperature of the sunny areas.
I unfastened the 25-horsepower Johnson from my Alumacraft boat and dragged the empty boat down the hillside one wet, rainy day. I hauled the battery down later and connected it to the trolling motor and fish finder. I was going to find those beauties.
I trolled back and forth over the giant piles of trees in some of the deeper parts of the lake, looking like a maze of branches and sticks on the fish finder. Sure, you could see a suspended fish here and there, but these bleeps were not 12 or 17-pound bleeps. They were a few three-or-four-pound bass ranging for shad.
The next day, the Pond Boss guy, Bill, showed up to spray the lake. He had his aluminum boat ready as always.
“Hey, glad to see you,” I said. “I put a boat down there now so you can use that from now on.”
“That will make it easier,” Bill said. “I’m also going to put in the aerator today. You want to show me where you want it?”
I showed Bill where I thought he should install the aerator. I wanted it closest to that nearby pond so none the muck from it infested my lake. I also did not want it too close to where I had planted my grasses from Lake Fork.
After he finished the installation and sprayed the lake, he told me the fisheries guy would be out later next week with the threadfin and some more bluegill. I was pleased about this.
Bluegill would still need to be replenished, since they were the best breeders. They were also much cheaper than the redear. The shad would thrive now that the lake had been fertilized. I would be installing more feeders in preparation for the bluegill. I was going to have them all around the lake now.
Toward the end of summer, the weather warmed, making it uncomfortable in my hog shed, even with a window AC unit I installed. I insulated the windows and doors where I could, but the hot summer was unrelenting. I did all I could to ensure my hatchery fish, especially the trout, stayed cool enough, but I had more die than normal that week. I decided to start dumping them in the lake by the pool cover, where they could live in the cool, shaded water, significantly colder than the runway. I installed another pellet feeder there and started dumping in trout every day at dusk.
I did this for about three days. I did not see any bass come up. I think they were feeding on the shad that were in huge abundance in the main lake area. However, the fourth day proved to be different. The pellets went in, followed by a flurry of bluegill activity, then some four-pound class bass. They were fat. I tossed in a couple trout. Pound! They were pegged right away. They were such an easy meal for the four-pound bass. I tossed in more. Bass ate them before they could swim a few meters. I had on my polarized glasses from earlier, and below this zone of activity, I could see one big shadow. I tossed in three or four more trout. Two of them became food right away, but two sped downward to the deeper spots. That’s when I saw the 12-pound Lake Fork fish, which appeared to be 13 or 14 pounds already. She moved about three feet, and one of the bigger trout, about six inches, disappeared. She came in and scored another before dark.
I could not wait to wake up before daylight. I typically did not feed the bass any trout in the morning, but usually saved that for the evening. My hunch was that maybe I could entice Elise’s sister to come up in the morning at the same feeder or maybe the opposite one. I tried the opposite one. I sat there waiting with two big five-gallon buckets of trout. Some of them were big ones too.
The feeder went off and the bluegill went nuts. Bass started eating too, and bluegill disappeared. I did not see the 13-or-14 pounder right away, but as the sun rose a little more, I was then able to see the giant down there in 10 feet of water, in the cool spot from the spring. I dumped in both buckets and watched.
Some of the smaller trout were eaten right away by the four-and-a-half-to-five-pound bass. Some of them sped down to deeper water, where I was hoping my big fish would eat a few quick meals. I saw her scoot up closer, stealthily and quietly, like a huge tank. She waited until a dumb trout swam right in front of her, and she inhaled it like air through her gills. A few minutes later, down deeper, I could make out the same thing in the shadows. A trout was swimming by, then a big suck in from the bass, and no more trout. One big swallow, and a six-inch trout disappeared whole.
My summer revolved around these feedings. I soon fed this bass all my trout except for a handful that I had reserved for breeding. I needed more.
I called all the fish hatcheries I knew about before finding a new hatchery in Tennessee that would stock the trout, after I told them my surface water temperature under the cover was right at 70 degrees, and it would be much cooler in the deeper spots where the spring came in. One of the hatchery guys warned me about the Largemouth Bass Virus, cropping up in the south and killing off many of the bigger bass. Lake Fork was one of the worst hit lakes. I had a pang of regret when he told me that, but the virus was not affecting my fish so far, so I did not worry. I negotiated a deal on the trout, and they loaded them up. I also ordered another shipment for October. After seeing the tremendous results with the fertilizer spraying, I called Bill to order additional sprayings. I wanted my threadfin to continue to grow big and repopulate.
“All I care about is results,” I told him. I negotiated a long-term contract, but I had to put it on my credit card. I was out of cash.
After spending several thousand dollars on fish and fertilizer on the card, I was glad that I would be starting work soon. I couldn’t keep this up forever. I would not tell Lauren about my spending spree; she had already harshly criticized me when she found out about the first spraying.
My life was like a dream that bass fishermen everywhere had, but even I could not stomach eating any more bass for a while. They were all over five pounds now, with fingerling bass pounded as food. I would have to start buying my meat elsewhere.
I heard some kids in the woods nearby playing close to the neighboring farm. The next day, I put out “NO TRESPASSING” signs all along the perimeter of my property, even though it bordered a farm on three sides, and was quite a ways from any road or place where people would ever see it. Nonetheless, I did not want anyone to find it now.
I had never weighed the biggest bass from Lake Fork, but I knew she had to be around 20 pounds by now. I could see the wide shape of her body in the depths. She was bigger than any bass anywhere.
I went to sleep that night, hot and sweaty from working outside, and thinking of my record bass, a Kentucky state record. I thought to myself, “Who are you kidding? That is a super bass from Texas. It is not even a northern bass. How could that be the Kentucky state record? What would Lauren say if she knew about this? Why didn’t I tell her? I was mad, that’s one reason. I hadn’t planned it, two. It just happened.”
I saw Lauren, her strawberry blonde hair up, curly and perfect. She was in a white dress, with a flowing gown on a hillside overlooking a trophy bass lake. I was dressed in a tuxedo, holding her hand and kissing her.
Then I saw this wonderful log house on a lake, overlooking bass on a quiet cove, as they swam by. The beautiful oak trees shaded the house and kept it cool on the warm spring day. Two babies ran around. One was 26 months; she was big, daddy’s pride and joy, golden curls and giggles. The other was a little guy, 14 months old, running around with little legs holding daddy’s fishy pole.
I awoke to the smell of fish and the bubbling and gurgling sounds of my aerators. Still in a dream state, I walked to the runways. Trout were floating in one. I was a bit disgusted. Luckily, I had released most of them a few weeks ago. My other raceways looked clean, so I just flushed the one. The trout would be food for the crayfish back in the shallow mud holes.
The chub suckers looked healthy and had grown to a decent size for their age. I decided I would release at least half of them today in the spring water. I arrived mid-feeding and dropped in about a hundred five-inch chub suckers. I did not wait to see what lurked below. I took another hundred and spread them out in the shallower areas of the lake, where they would live, grow, breed, and make this the greatest fishery that ever existed.