By: Ander Meine, Bass Utopia Contributor
Unbelievable. Had a day I’ll likely never forget breaking my personal best bass with a 12lb 8oz behemoth from Lake Austin. It only takes one cast on Lake Austin, and you never know when lightning will strike.
Here’s how it all went down…I hit Lake Austin this morning ready to conduct a guided fishing trip with “Kev” (as he’s known on AustinBassFishing.com) and his wife. Today was Kevin’s birthday and his wife was kind enough to purchase a guided fishing trip with me for him for his birthday. We got started at daylight and went to the mouth of Bull Creek to see if we couldn’t pick up a few really quick to get us going. Two days ago we had a bunch of rain here in Austin and anytime we get a bunch of rain, it seems like the bite the day after is always good around the mouths of the creeks. Sure enough, when I had gotten out yesterday (the day after the rain), I caught a few nice fish at the mouth of Bull Creek. So I decided to start there again today to see if we could catch anything still hanging around there. No such luck. I don’t think my clients were even bit there, and we usually at least get bit there. It seemed pretty early on it was going to be an off day. This morning was definitely colder than yesterday morning, the skies were clear, and I noticed the full moon on my way to the lake. None of which are really good signs.
We moved to an offshore spot where yesterday I pulled up on it and caught three 2lbers on my first three casts before leaving it alone to fish with my clients today. Again, nothing. Hmmmm, definitely going to be an off day. Hopefully the fish get more active as the sun comes out. We moved again to a slightly deeper offshore spot.
I think at this point Kev’s wife was a little cold from running around, and with the lack of action she wanted to just sit back for a bit and relax. I figured I needed to give her some incentive to keep fishing, so I picked up the shakyhead with a PowerTeam Lures Tickler she had been throwing and started throwing it a bit myself. It wasn’t long before I put a couple of 2lbers in the boat, and she was ready to give it another go. The fish I caught there were obviously very sluggish and didn’t really put up much of a fight though. Both of the bites were even just those “mushy” feeling bites. The fish were obviously affected by the post-frontal conditions we were facing. I had “Kev” throwing one of his jigs that I liked the color of and told him to just keep throwing it and that he’d hopefully get bit on it sooner or later. It wasn’t long before he put a 7-8 in the boat.
Not quite the species we were after, but it sure liked Kev’s jig and was a fun catch still the same. After that we bounced around to several other deeper, offshore spots, but the bite was still very off. We all kept missing several bites and many of them were very light. They were definitely just eating funny. After a little while, it seemed like we were getting a little tired of fishing the deep stuff with a jig and shakyhead, so I figured we’d try up shallow for a while and see what happened. I tied on a wacky-rigged senko for Kev’s wife (I guess I can start referring to her by her name, Shelley, instead of continually calling her “Kev’s Wife” Ha!) and had Kev pitch his jig. We went to a shoreline that had a sea wall with lots of overhanging trees with limbs, roots, and vines that extended into the water. A shoreline that I typically can’t go 30ft on without getting bit. Nothing… but at the very end of the sea wall there’s a dock. Shelly had put down her senko for a bit and Kev picked it up to skip under the dock. He very expertly skipped it way up under the dock, and hooked a solid fish. Unfortunately, it came off as he was wrestling it out from under the dock.
By now it was about 10:30 AM, and we were supposed to be wrapping it up at 11:30. Since Kev hooked one under a dock, I decided we would try running a few more docks really quick and had a good row of docks in mind. As we were running, I saw the docks I wanted to fish, and then out of no where a different spot came into my mind. So I just kept running past the docks. As I passed them, I thought, no, maybe we should just fish the docks. I looked back at them and saw another boat pulling up on them. That made my mind to keep running.
A few minutes later we made it to a shoreline that has saved my bacon with filling out a limit in a tournament more than once. It’s a short rocky shoreline on the main lake that is situated near the mouth of a creek. Typically I come here and throw a PowerTeam Lures Finicky Tickler on a drop-shot rig to just get a few decent bites. Usually just 1-3 lbers. With today being such a finicky bite, I figured we needed to stick with the finesse stuff and just try to get bit. I had Kev pick up the shakyhead and Shelly picked up the drop-shot.
Typically, I try not to fish a whole lot during guide trips. I don’t like catching fish out in front of my clients that they could potentially catch. However, if the bite is a little off, and we need some help figuring out the bite, I will pick-up a rod and see if we can’t get something going until we get dialed into something. Even when I do this, I still pass up the really good places and point them out to my clients telling them to cast there. I will typically just throw at “goofy” stuff, as I like to call it.
As they were throwing the shakyhead and drop-shot, I picked up an Ardent Denny Brauer Signature Series Swimbait rod that I was double-purposing as a flipping stick for pitching jigs around shallow cover. It had a 3/8oz PowerTeam Lures Bull Nose Jig in the DMP Craw color tied on 20lb P-Line Fluorocarbon with a Gary Yamamoto Twintail Grub in their Motor Oil color as the trailer.
Now, before I go on, I need to make this disclaimer. I love PowerTeam Lures soft plastics and use them almost exclusively. However, my one complaint is that we need a couple more baits on the PTL line-up that have a bit more action to them. PTL makes some very unique baits that are AWESOME as a jig trailer (such as the Craw D’oeuvre), but almost all of the PTL baits are designed to have a more subtle gliding kind of action through the water. Which is killer a lot of the time, but sometimes I need something that has more action to it, such as a twintail grub. I’m hoping that by saying this, I can spur on Bob over at PTL to look into making their own twintail grub (because they already make a killer single-tail!) or at least another creature bait with some serious action to it. :-)
Ok, now that I have that statement out of the way, I can dote on their jigs. I was very skeptical at first when PTL came out with their two jigs this summer (the Bull Nose and the Stone Dragger). I thought, what does a soft plastics company know about making a jig? I was wrong. I was immediately impressed by them when I received my first order. The Stone Dragger jig is an awesome football head with pretty much everything I look for in a quality football head jig, and the Bull Nose is just a sweet all-purpose jig. It’s designed to come through cover well as a flipping jig, you can skip it under docks easily, and you can even swim it in grass well. It’s kind of like the Jeep or Hummer of Jigs. It can go anywhere.
Enough of that, where was I in my story? Oh yeah, I picked up my Ardent rod with my PowerTeam Lures Bull Nose Jig and started pitching it up shallow on these rocks. After a few minutes, Kev started talking about how he had several bites on the shakyhead on this shoreline, but they just wouldn’t quite commit to it. I told him we’d have to make another pass on it in a minute and pitched my jig up under an overhanging tree on the rocks. As I fished it back down the rocks, I felt a little thump and set the hook. I immediately knew it was a good fish and it swam out from under the tree, jumped, and tossed the jig. Looked like about a 7lber. Dang.
A short distance away there was another small stretch of rocky shoreline that I knew had several good pieces of wood on it from large limbs and branches falling into the water from overhanging trees. I told my clients we would go fish that really quick, and then come back to try the first rocky shoreline again. I put the trolling motor on high to zip over there. It was about 11 AM.
On probably my 3rd or 4th pitch to this other shoreline…IT happened. I felt another small tap… set the hook, and again, I immediately knew it was a really good fish. I muttered, “It’s another good one,” and just as those words escaped my lips, freaking BASSQUATCH came up shaking her head. I couldn’t believe the size of this thing. Simply unbelievable. I heard Shelly gasp and Kev said, “Oh my gosh, it’s a MONSTER.” Shelly shouted, “It’s HUGE!” Kev responded, “Shelly, grab the net!!”
Now, I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to be a first-hand witness to several bass weighing in the teens and even a 15 and 17lber weighed in at tournaments on the California Delta. When I saw the head and frame of this fish on that first jump, I was immediately thinking this looked like a 15-16lb fish. I fought it around to the other side of the boat where again, it came up thrashing its head next to the boat before making a surge downward. Shelly got the net ready in the water, and I told her to just hold it there and I would guide the fish in the net and all she had to do was lift. After a brief struggle, the fish raised to the surface again and I slid her towards the net and in. I yelled, “Lift!” and Shelly tried lifting the net in the air, but it didn’t go anywhere. Kev jumped in and got a hand on the net as well to help, and they both hoisted her into the boat.
Once she was in, there was all the typical celebrating from boating a big fish, and I just stood there laughing as I unhooked her. She was hooked solid, too, by the way. That PTL Bull Nose Jig hook was hooked square in the middle of her upper lip in that nice hard bone. I had to use a pair of pliers to pull it out of there. Before weighing her, I wanted to get her back in some water ASAP, so I started filling the livewell and put her in. I wanted to let her regain her strength a bit before handling her for weighing, measuring, and picture taking. We resumed fishing for a few minutes before Kev finally had to ask, “How much do you think it weighs?” Up until then, I tried to not think about that and tried to calm down a bit before giving it a realistic estimate. As I thought about the monster sitting in the livewell, I said, “Well, she’s huge. When they get that big it can be hard to tell. I mean, she SHOULD be a Sharelunker EASY. She has the head, frame, and length to support a ton of weight, however, she is REALLY, REALLY skinny. She’s an obviously old fish and past her prime. Realistically, she may only go 11ish. But again, when they get that big, it’s really hard to tell. She’s enormous, that’s all I know.”
We continued to fish the shoreline and Shelly started putting a few fish up to 2.5lbs in the boat on the PowerTeam Lures Finicky Tickler on a drop-shot rig. Then Kev started getting in on the action boating a few with his PowerTeam Lures Tickler on a Shakyhead.
After about 30 minutes or so, we were nearing the end of our trip and Kev asked, “So what’s the process for submitting a Sharelunker?” That got me thinking about the process, and I realized, you know what, if this thing is SAL status, we better weigh it now so TPWD can get on their way here since they are hours away. I told Kev we’d better go ahead and weigh her now to find out if we needed to call it in or not. I pulled her out, put her on the digital scale, and it started bouncing around numbers… 9lbs, 10lbs, 13lbs… and then it started zeroing in… 12-05, 12-09, 12-07, 12-08, 12-08, 12-08… aaaand hold at 12-08. So close!
“How accurate is that scale?” asked Kev.
“I think it’s pretty accurate, but I’ve never really tested it,” I replied.
“Well, I’ve got a friend who should be out here fishing right now and he has a boga grip scale we can put it on to double-check,” mentioned Kev.
Kev called his friend, who turned out to be “michang5″ on AustinBassFishing.com and found out that he was fishing near the mouth of Bull Creek, so off we went.
We found him at the mouth of Bull Creek, he tied his kayak up to the boat, and we put the fish on the boga grip scale. Sure enough… another reading at 12.5lbs. That’s proof enough for me. No Sharelunker call this time, but 12lbs 8oz still rocks. We said goodbye to michang5 and motored back over to 360 in order to get in a photo shoot and take some measurements with the fish. As we pulled up to the ramp, we saw Gary Pinder from Tracker Marine floating around the ramp and told him we had a giant in the boat. He stuck around to watch the photo shoot.
We took several photos of her and several of her safe release back to the lake when we were through. I made sure to get some good measurements of the length and girth in case I wanted to get a replica made some day. I was very critical about measuring her to make sure I got the right measurements under close watch from Kev. She was 28″ long with a 20″ girth. Go check out all of the measurements on the TPWD Sharelunker website of all of the SALs recorded. You will notice that there are VERY FEW fish to have ever reached 28″ in length. Not even the state record 17lber is that long at only 27.5″. Like I mentioned previously, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some giant bass weighed in my life, and this thing had the head and frame on it to be an absolute giant. It’s a little crazy to think how big this fish may have been during the prime of her life. You can see in the photos that her tail and fins don’t look to be in the best of shape. People have asked me if that was from spawning… I seriously doubt it. To me, this looked like a very old fish, and her condition was simply on the decline. She had a large pink bump on her lower lip as well. She looked like she had been through a lot in her time. Catching her made me realize that there really is something different about a bass that is able to reach this kind of massive size. Not just any bass grows to be that big. There’s something special about them, and I think TPWD realizes it. That’s why they have the Sharelunker program.
What a day… what a fish. On Lake Austin, it only takes one cast.