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Don Feigert

It happened seven years ago, during the most solitary period of my life. I had quit my marriage and my job and was living alone in a small apartment, spending vast long hours all by myself hunting, fishing and writing, both up at camp in Warren Country and here locally. And it was here, in Mercer County, that I encountered the biggest bass I’ve ever seen.

I had gotten permission to fish a certain small two-acre private pond that lay in a valley surrounded by pastures and patches of woods deep in a Mercer County farm property far from the nearest road. I drove there in the dark wee hours of a Wednesday in July, walked in under the moonlight and watched the sun rise all orange and lavender against the gray morning clouds and the cool thin mist off the surface. I looked all around in no hurry, breathed deep in the fresh country air and tossed in a Rapala minnow lure with my Shakespeare spinning rig.

Nothing hit for the first half hour as I walked the shoreline and made exploratory casts. Then came a sudden splash and a strike against my floating Rapala near a patch of lily pads, shattering the perfect morning calm and roiling the surface of the pond as I reeled in a feisty foot-long largemouth bass. A few minutes later I caught another one about the same size, near the same spot.

I decided to take a break, pulled a water bottle out of my pack and sat on a rock near the shoreline. And then ... I saw him. Swimming left to right in the shallow water in front of me was the biggest bass I’d ever seen, maybe the biggest bass anyone had ever seen. At first I thought it was an optical illusion — I’d never even heard of a bass this big — but I shook my head and looked again and there he still was swimming slowly in the crystal-clear water, looking to be at least three feet long from nose to trail and maybe 18 inches high from dorsal fin to pectoral fin, with a girth so wide I doubted if I could even get my arms around the thing. I stared at him and watched him swim for maybe 10 seconds. Then I did what any fisherman would do. I cast my line in.

For the next three hours, I tossed all the hardware I’d brought — minnow lures, crankbaits, artificial worm rigs, spinnerbaits and more — to no avail. I lost sight of the fish in the first few minutes, but I walked back and forth on that shoreline casting everywhere a big fish might cruise or lie, incidentally catching three other lesser largemouths, which I impatiently threw back in. After a while I pretty much gave up.

But then I started thinking, maybe I’d have a chance with some live bait, if I could dig up some really good jumbo live bait. I thought for a minute more and remembered a buddy of mine who once kept small bass and smaller bluegills in an aquarium tank in his living room. One time he went away for the weekend and forgot to feed the fish, and when he came back the bass were there, but the bluegills were gone.

So I changed strategies. I found some red worms under a rock, put a number 10 hook on, and caught a nice-sized bluegill right away. I changed to a big number two hook, rigged the bluegill so he’d swim looking wounded and tossed out into the area where I’d last seen the monster bass.

Five minutes later, wham! I felt the biggest strike of my life, and for the next 30 minutes I fought the fish of my dreams all over that pond. He stayed deep and took off on one powerful run after another, but I kept giving him line and reeling in slack and giving line and reeling slack, until, finally, the big fish tired, and I lifted him up on shore, lay him in the grass and gazed at him in admiration. He was beautiful and huge, with a dark green back and wide white belly and a mouth you could stick two fists into.

I grabbed my 35-mm point-and-shoot camera and snapped a dozen quick photos, placing my rod and reel beside the monster bass to give a perspective on size. Then, suddenly, I tripped on a rock and dropped the camera into the pond. “Oh, no!” I yelled, and quickly retrieved the camera from the shallow water.

“Now what?” I said to myself. I’m a dedicated catch-and-release man for trout and bass and I never intended to kill this fish. Maybe the camera and film will be okay, I thought, but I knew better. I’d dropped cameras in before, once in Lake Erie at the mouth of Twenty-Mile Run and once two miles up a Warren County wild trout stream.

I had only a minute to decide. The fish needed to get back into the water soon to survive. But how will people know I caught this fabulous fish if the pictures are ruined, I wondered. I could kill the fish and take it to a bait shop, get it weighed and measured, and get a state citation or maybe even national recognition. But deep down I knew that was out of the question.

I carefully placed the big fish back into the pond and watched it flex its fins, gain stability and swim away. I fished the pond a few more times later that summer, half-heartedly trying to catch the prize fish again, but I knew you don’t ever get that lucky twice. Eventually I gave up and settled for the memories and the pictures in my mind.



Don Feigert is the outdoors writer for THE HERALD and the ALLIED NEWS. He can be contacted at 317-985-2870 or dfeigert@verizon.net. Visit his website at www.donfeigert.com.

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