Given his first day off in over a month on Tuesday, Wesley Bass of Columbia did what he usually does in his spare time.
“I went bass fishing,” he said. “That’s my golf. That’s my hobby.”
And, oh boy, did he get his reward. Bass, a chicken farmer who also operates a Christmas tree farm, caught the bass of a lifetime, a 13-pound, 4-ounce fatty at one of his favorite fishing holes, Lake Bill Waller a few miles from his hometown in Marion County.
“She’s something isn’t she,” Bass said, referring to the picture taken of the big bass, which is the only record of the giant fish. “We let her go as soon as we could, after I called the lake manager, who came and weighed and measured the fish and took the picture.
“She is back swimming in Bill Waller and I bet by the spring, when she’s full of eggs and ready to spawn she’ll be pushing 15 inches.”
This is a fishing story with so many angles. A guy named Bass catching a bass, and then letting the trophy fish go.
But, neither of those is the best part of the story — not at all.
Bass caught the fish on 6-pound test line.
Yep, that’s right — 6-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line.
“You know what, that won’t be a surprise to all my fishing friends,” Bass said. “They know me for my style of fishing and that’s finesse fishing. I usually use 4- or 6-pound test and spinning gear. That’s how I like to fish.
“I’m 60 years old and I have been fishing for most of them and I have been through all four of what I call the stages of fishing. Stage 1 is catching a fish. Stage 2 is catching a lot of fish. Stage 3 is catching a big fish. Stage 4 is catching fish the way you want to catch a fish, and that’s exactly what I do.”
Anybody who knows anything about Lake Bill Walker, the 168-acre Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks state lake, knows how difficult landing a bass of any size on light line would be. It is a lake so full of structure that landing one on 20-pound braid is often too tough to manage.
“That’s right, it is full of snags, and I had to deal with a couple of them Tuesday when I caught that big fish,” Bass said. “I was using a Zoom Finesse worm, which I think is about 4¾ inches long. She bit it in 12 feet of water.”
Bass was using a 7-foot light action Shimano spinning rod and a Shimano Stratic CL4 spinning reel, which he said was a key to his successful landing of the fish.
“I like a good spinning reel because I don’t like to use the drag,” he said. “I like to back-reel line to a fish because I have better control and feel of the fish and with one turn of a handle backward, I think I can give about 27 inches of line. With light line, that is so important, maintaining feel and control.”
When he set the hook, a 1/0 weighted Luck-E-Strike Perfect Finesse Hook, Bass wasn’t sure how big the fish was, just that it was bigger than the two 1- to 2-pounders he had already caught.
“I could tell it was big, but I didn’t have a clue,” he said. “She had some weight and she got around a snag, and I had to work her off that by back-reeling. Then she ran around another snag, and I got her off that one, too, and by then I had her close to the boat.
“She rolled over and that’s when I knew how big she was. She was too big to jump and with the water 51 degrees, I don’t think she was in the mood either. What she did do when she rolled, was see me and the boat and she made a dash under the boat.”
That’s when the 7-foot rod came into play.
“It gave me enough rod so I could reach deep underwater and work the fish,” Bass said. “She made a run for the back of the boat and my big motor was down but she didn’t get around it. When she came back by I was lucky my net was within reach and I was able to net her.”
Bass wanted to confirm the size but also to protect the fish.
“I immediately called the lake manager (Dustin Brumfield) and he said it was going to take him an hour to get there, and when I went to put her in the livewell of my 19-foot Skeeter bass boat, that’s when I realized just how big she was,” he said. “I had to nose-down her in the livewell to fit her in there and I ran the aerator the whole time.”
Brumfield arrived and confirmed the weight and measured the fish, which had a fork length of 26½ inches and a belly girth of 21 inches.
“My biggest fish before this was an 11-10 I caught in a private lake a few years ago in July, and it was a lot longer than this one,” Bass said. “This one is fat.”
Since it’s free again to roam and eat, it has room to grow and lives in a lake with a history of producing giant Florida largemouth. The fish can be no more than 8 years old, since the lake was closed in 2004, renovated and then restocked. It reopened to fishing in 2007.
It is the second time in 30 years the lake was closed and renovated. The lake’s bass record of 15 pounds, 14 ounces was a product of the first restocking and was caught in 1995.