Working the Mann's Grape Jelly Worm back over the submerged ledge, he hesitated an instant as it climbed over the brush top.
Thump came the telltale strike of a bass as it inhaled the worm.
As the line started moving slowly away, the veteran angler was already reeling up the slack and dropping the rod tip toward the water. Whipping the rod toward the sky, the line suddenly snapped as tight as a guitar string as he drove the steel deep into the bass' jaw.
Having none of this, the enraged hawg turned and swam toward the deeper water, stripping line away as it bore deeper into his sanctuary full of brush and debris.
With the line singing and stretching to its limit, the angler finally turned the bass and coaxed him away from the brush and back toward the boat. Seconds turned to minutes as the battle raged on in the pitch-black darkness.
With no light in the boat, we were fighting blind and couldn't see a thing as the bass exploded through the dark surface of the water.
The bass had the advantage, but I was well-equipped and prepared with 25-pound-test line, a 5/0 Gamakatsu hook and a large net waiting expectantly for the sow's arrival.
Double-digit bass don't wear down quickly or give up easily, as they are packed with energy and power. Thankfully, the monster bass finally gave up and was netted by the excited anglers.
The lunker bass had fallen victim to a relic from the past - a Mann's Grape Jelly Worm, a lure that once was the premier worm in the bass-fishing world but had more recently been known as a part of history.
But this Jelly Worm was a magnum-sized version that dwarfed anything that we had in the past. This larger worm was re-introduced to the fishing world fairly recently and didn't garner much attention from the fishermen, as a few anglers kept the old-time straight-tail worm a much-guarded secret.
But bass love them, and they are the perfect treat for nighttime prowlers on the hunt for an easy meal during a cool summer night after a scorching 100 degree day.
Trained by master anglers J. P. Nolen and son Jimmy Nolen on Ross Barnett Reservoir during its prime, I learned my deepwater structure lessons well and applied them during the heat of the summer last year with outstanding results.
Though my mentors were not with me, young Justin Giles was there to add his impressive bass-fishing knowledge to the equation, catch a few lunkers and net a couple of 12-pound-plus bass for me.
By July and early August, all but a few dedicated bass anglers have stowed their gear and gotten ready for the coming hunting season, retreating to the cool temperatures of their homes.
Indeed, our lakes and rivers are heated up like warm bath water and daytime bass activity becomes almost nonexistent, except for early morning or late afternoon.
But after dusk, the world turns and changes and the nighttime prowlers come out to hunt and feed on unsuspecting prey. They strike quickly, aggressively and when they eat they mean business.
Stout rods, strong lines, heavy duty equipment and a strong heart are a must for fishing after dark in lunker territory, as bass have the upper hand and quickly make victims of all but the most prepared anglers.
Pitch-black lunker night
Our late-afternoon trip quickly turned to a lunker night as the temperature dropped and the big bass came out to prowl.
Justin Giles worked the submerged ridge methodically, probing the slope and brush that littered the sides and top.
This submerged ridge was about 11 to 13 feet deep on top, with scattered brush making easy pickings for the bream and baitfish holding tight.
On one side of the ridge lay a creek channel about 17 to 18 feet deep. As the bass came up from the 25-foot depths of their daytime haunts, the submerged hump filled with shad was just the ticket to fill their empty stomachs after a day of inactivity.
Many lakes and rivers around our state are filled with thousands of such ledges that become honey holes after dark.
But where do you start?
"I'd start fishing right near your best deepwater honey holes," Giles said. "During the earlier part of the summer in daytime hours, you want to fish your favorite ledges and catch as many bass as you can while hitting as many (ledges) as possible."
He went on to say that by mid to late summer the bass have settled into their summertime haunts and won't stray very far.
"Once you become familiar with a lake, you need to get to your favorite fishing hole before dark so you won't have to spend a lot of time running and looking after dark," Giles said. "Spend your time fishing in the prime zones, and you'll catch more big fish."
As we continued working the submerged ledge, the young angler pitched a blackberry Jelly Worm into the deep water and retrieved it slowly yet methodically back over the hump.
As he crawled the worm over a tree top another bass sucked it in.
"There he is!" Giles said as he slammed the hook home.
After another battle, he slid the bass into the waiting net that I held firmly in my hands. This time an 8-pound bass had fallen victim to the old-time favorite.
Easy does it
Longtime Rez angler Jimmy Nolen said the keys to nabbing such trophies are pretty basic.
"When you want to catch lunker bass during hot weather you have to slow down and crawl that worm real slow," Nolen said.
I'd watched Nolen catch more than his share of lunker bass during fishing trips to Ross Barnett and in the Mississippi River oxbows.
"If you can find a submerged ledge with structure and baitfish on it, then there will be bass feeding there at some point," Nolen said. "You've just got to be there at the right time, and during the summertime that time will usually be after dark."
While Nolen has caught thousands of lunker bass in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana using a variety of techniques - including using crankbaits way before they became popular - his patience while fishing for lunker bass has been the key to finding and catching them.
"When you're fishing tournaments, you want to catch the active bass, but when looking for magnum-sized bass, you've got to slow down and work it slow right where they live because they're not going to expend a lot of activity chasing a lure down," Nolen said. "Feed them something large, work it slow, be patient and don't be in a hurry, and you just might get the bite and bass of a lifetime."
Accompanying Nolen on a trip to Toledo Bend Reservoir many years ago, I experienced my first successful night-fishing trip with him and Fred Mouton.
Nolen carried us to a spot near the entrance to a popular marina about an hour after dark, and we caught and released bass after bass on black-and-purple worms until almost midnight.
Only a return trip to Mississippi the next morning cut our night short, but the bass were still biting and we were all alone on one of the most-popular fishing lakes in the world.
Lunkers, ledges and structure
Continuing on our nighttime fishing excursion, we'd made a short trip back to the dock for a quick snack and donned our head lamps for convenience in tying on lures and netting bass.
As usual my young expert had some words of wisdom for me.
"Let's go back out to the ledge where we caught those other big ones and work it some more - there's bound to be a few more out there," Giles said.
Arriving at the ledge, we continued working across the top and dragging our worms real slowly through the brush. This time I switched to a Carolina-rigged worm with 75-pound braid and a 4-foot fluorocarbon leader to get deeper faster and manhandle those bass up out of the brush before they could hang me up.
After switching to a blackberry-flavored Jelly Worm, it didn't take long before I enticed another bass to eat.
As the worm glided over a limb, a bass sucked it in and almost tore the rod from my hands as it hit like a freight train and never checked up.
Reacting quickly, I slammed the hook home and the fight was on, as the bass dove into the brush and fought like a madman. I didn't give any quarter to this one because I knew it was important to get him up and out quickly or lose a trophy bass.
Thankfully, I did pry him from the limbs of the submerged tree and got him to the top where I could play him and wear him down. Minutes later young Giles netted my second 12-pound trophy of the night, and my day was complete.
What started out as a late-afternoon fishing outing had turned into a memorable nighttime angling adventure where I caught the two biggest bass of my life in two hours and about 35 yards apart.
And I had done it while fishing in a pleasant nighttime atmosphere light years away from the hustle and bustle and scorching temperatures that was there just a few hours earlier during the daylight hours.