I arrived in Kentucky Friday night after dark and spent the evening spooling up line and prepping gear. I had two rods set up. Stout rods that could handle a 27-pound bass. I also used 15-pound test green P Line that I soaked in hot water first. I tied on a Castaic rainbow trout lure, the seven-inch model. I also tied on a soft plastic Castaic shad lure that actually looked like a rather odd shad, more like one of my chub suckers in color and size.
The next morning, I was up before dawn; the weather was cool. To me, it felt perfect at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I was keeping my honey hole close to this temperature almost year round. I knew that contributed to the conditions that allowed this fish to grow to world-record size.
I started with the Castaic trout lure. It looked so soft and real. I started away from my spring and figured I would return there later when the feeders went off. I cast out as far as I could with my new rod and reel. A smooth perfect cast went far out into deep water. I let it sink for about 10 seconds and began a slow, slow retrieve, barely enough to keep that trout tail thumping.
The sun started to come over the horizon. As I reeled slowly, I marveled at the lake I had created. The vegetation was in full bloom, with hyacinths, bull rushes, water willow, piles of Christmas trees in various places in about eight feet of water, deadfalls, and several different kinds of grasses. My bass lake was surely the greatest ever built. On top of that, here I was fishing with a seven-inch trout lure for fish over 10 pounds. Maybe even the world record.
I felt a fast peg and reeled hard, but nothing. One had hit and missed. I slowed down my retrieve. The bait was not swimming perfectly, I thought, and came to the top too fast. I had difficulty keeping it in the deep areas. I decided to try the Castaic shad bait instead with the little bill. That seemed to swim more naturally than the other bait. I let it sink for about 10 seconds and retrieved it in a tight wobble, slowly. Half way back, BAM! Hookup!
The fish was tearing out drag. I had to tighten it and set the hook again. Luckily, I did that fast enough to keep it hooked. The fish tried to jump, and I steered it back by angling my rod to the side and down. It made a couple of runs and tried to go for a big snag of tree limbs. I reeled it in hard, away from the snag to the shoreline. The fish gave up for a few seconds, enough for me to lip it. The fish was the biggest I had ever caught. I pulled out my new Islamorada BogaGrip. It pulled it all the way down to the 12 line. I’d call it 12 pounds even. Fat fish! Healthy! Incredible girth! I threw it back.
I was shaking from the excitement, and I walked to my favorite feeder by the spring. I stood there and waited. I saw a little billowing under the pool cover to my left, probably bubbles from the big rains we had, coming in from the spring in gushes of air pockets, or maybe something else, something bigger was causing the billows.
When the pellets from the feeder started going out, trout came up right away, even before the bluegill. I pitched out my lure and let it sink down to the bottom. It did not look natural as it sank since it was not swimming, but the color and shape looked realistic. I then reeled it in like an injured chub sucker trying to escape. As I had hoped, I saw the shadow of my giant move closer to inspect it. Nothing that cast, but the big girl was waiting for a trout to make a dumb move or for an injured chub sucker or bluegill to fall down toward her.
Big bass started pegging the bluegill and trout. I counted at least 12. I did not see any small bass here. They would have been bait too. Every fish was at least 10 pounds or better. I saw Elise gulp in a trout down below. She was patient and waited. She did not school like the others, who had been raised on a fish farm in their early lives.
I pitched my soft plastic bait back down to the big bass and watched her reaction. She was watching and turned. I twitched it and made it swim a bit. She grabbed it. I reeled up line and went to set the hook, but she spit the lure out of her mouth. The bait shot about eight feet up the water column with my ridiculous, nervous hook set.
I did not have the experience or fortitude for a fish like this, especially with 15-pound test line and a couple small treble hooks. I realized the only way I was going to hook this big fish was with a big jig and some pork. I went back to the shed and spooled up 20-pound-test P Line. I tied on a huge jig with a big 6/0 Gamakatsu hook and a big piece of brown pork. The jig was green and brown. I quickly changed the timers on the feeders so they would go off again in a few minutes.
I went inside for a bite to eat and came back. The feeders turned on again. I looked down and could not see Elise down there, but I knew she would be. I tossed my jig to the opposite shoreline in front of my cover. I let the jig sink slowly to the bottom. Then I bounced it along. Right in the middle, I knew she was there, and I felt the fish engulf my jig, even though I could not see her. I set the hook immediately without giving her a chance to spit. She was hooked, one solid rock of a fish like the one I hooked on Lake Fork, which had been wedged behind a stump. She started moving to deeper water in the main lake, and I turned my drag down a notch to let her have a run. She did a couple of short ones and ran out of steam. I started pumping her in. When I pulled her close, she did not make any effort to run again, like most green fish. She was lazy. I lipped her with one hand, set my rod down, and grabbed the back of her body at the tail. This fish was too huge to hold up with one hand.
I marveled at how fat she was. She had eaten trout after trout and sucker after sucker, I imagined. Maybe even some bass. I knew she had eaten many bluegill. I had seen her. She probably ate any shad that veered back here in the winter, unknowing. She might have even swum out and nailed frogs, crayfish, and other fish. I was one proud papa. The sad feeling came over me then that this was not my baby. She was a Lake Fork beauty, which could not be claimed as the world record.
With my BogaGrip in my pocket, I had to weigh her, even if it might be a bit hard on her. I clasped her jaw with the grip right at the lower front where the bone was strong and gently released her head and tail so the scale could weigh her accurately. It went a hair past the line between 26 and 28. Elise was over 27 pounds.
I passed on the temptation to put her in one of my runways. I knew that could potentially kill her. By God, she might not live that much longer anyway. I saw myself in the same position as Mac Weasley. I knew this moment would come. I put her back and held her tail and lower jaw to let her revive for a few seconds until I saw her gills moving open and shut. I released her. She swam slowly down to the bottom of my top pool there under the cover into the shadows. Clearly, that was her favorite haunt, except when she came out to eat or sun herself.
Copyright 2012 Jason Covington
U.S. Library of Congress