When I was a very young boy I developed a passion for what later became a lifetime pastime: 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 dinner, let alone fishing. 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, who would take me?
The peculiar hobby I developed (peculiar in the sense that I had never fished before) began when I started collecting 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 muskellunge in the world), Kentucky Lake (where fisherman were shown holding huge stripers), and Minnesota, (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 low-talking 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 as I stumbled in. “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 where I grew up and we would like you to come.” I could not believe it─I became so excited I began to perspire.
Suddenly, my mother shot down the invitation by declaring, “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 right there was when I 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 on my first trip to Texas, 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 the area had to offer. One of the lakes stood out above all the others: Lake Fork. This lake claimed to be home to some of the biggest largemouth bass to be found anywhere in the world. Perhaps this is just a Texas thing I thought to myself, but 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. A trip to Fork would provide an excellent opportunity for my brother and me to explore its fertile waters.
My younger 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 had 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 along and we will have some laughs.”
Three weeks later I picked them both up at the airport for the start of our fishing 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 o’clock and both my brother and I leaped to our feet. “Wake dad up,” I told him. My brother shook him from a deep slumber and the first words he uttered were, “Where 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 where I asked a corpse-like clerk who resembled Don Imus, where my boat rental was located. He replied, “In stall number nine,” and handed me the keys. The three of us stumbled our way through the darkness down to the lake. We followed the pier until we found 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 like a group of old ladies in a pontoon boat.
After loading our gear, we boarded the vessel and were on our way. It was a beautiful October morning and the air was cold and crisp. The sun had begun to rise through a thick mist as the pontoon boat plodded through the water and we found our first cove. My brother indicated that the area looked like prime bass territory and began to assemble his poles. He had brought a special closed-faced 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 backlashes. 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 would test the cove with 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 bass. There was a violent explosion as the fish broke the water and leaped into the air. I caught an adrenaline rush as I seized the net, while my brother worked the fish to the side of the boat where I netted him. This fish weighed about five pounds and we were ecstatic over the catch. (Where we were raised a three pounder was a wall hanger.)
The rest of the day would be a productive one. We never had to leave the cove because the fish were schooling in the shallow water and we wore them out. My father even managed to catch several nice bass, despite the turtles constant stripping of his bait. On occasion, he even brought several turtles to the side of the boat before they let go of the shiner. “You’re becoming quite the turtle fisherman,” my brother quipped 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 turtle.) “Maybe it’s a trophy turtle,” my brother chuckled. I continued fishing while my father 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 and I now 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 “bucketmouth” I had ever seen.
“Git the net!” I screamed to my brother.
As he approached with the net and peered into the water, my brother’s eyes began to roll and he appeared to be on the verge of fainting. The fish avoided the first swoop of the net and this time I nearly passed out. I could visualize the fish throwing the hook at the last second and descending never to be seen again. On the second swoop 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 scale 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, clicked off several trophy photos with each of us taking a pose with the monster, and then released it.
Since that day, I have built a house in East Texas right on a 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.