Jordan Mathews can’t remember the brand of the 4-pound monofilament line, nor when he filled the spool of the spinning reel on his flimsy, ultra-light 5-foot rod.
But, he’ll always remember the big bass he caught with it on Jan. 29 while fishing from his kayak on a blustery afternoon in North Mississippi.
Mathews doesn’t know the exact weight or any measurements of the largemouth bass, but the second-year Ole Miss law student from Biloxi is OK with that, knowing the fish is still swimming around in the public lake for the next fisherman to drag a lure by its giant jaws.
“I’ve caught and weighed a 10-pound, 3-ounce largemouth before, and I can tell you this one was bigger — much bigger,” Mathews said. “Conservatively, 11 pounds, but maybe 13. My guess is somewhere between 11 and 13 pounds.
“It looks big in the pictures I took, but I promise you the pictures do not do it justice. It was big.”
He said spawn will make it a real monster.
“Later this spring, when she fills with eggs for the spawn, this fish would easily have made the teens,” Mathews said. “Its mouth was huge — big enough for both of my hands.”
The size of that mouth will play a big role at the end of the story, which begins with Mathews using time between law classes to locate a good crappie hole on his computer. An avid angler, he was looking for a likely place to launch his 10-foot kayak if a window of opportunity opened.
“I was going through Google Earth on the Upper Sardis Wildlife Management Area when I found this lake,” he said. “It’s called Drewery Lake, and it’s small — maybe 50 acres — but it looked like it had some clear water on it, more than the others there.
“It looked like a good place to put in the kayak and maybe catch some crappie. Turns out, they cut my last class short that day and I had time to go. I loaded up the kayak and a couple of rods and went.”
Being a law student, and among the top 5 percent at Ole Miss, Mathews doesn’t have that many chances to get away in winter’s early/ending days. Time being short, his gear doesn’t get the attention it always needs, like re-spooling his reels.
“Yeah, that 4-pound line predates Hurricane Katrina (2005),” he said. “It’s been on there a long, long time, but all my stuff is geared for light tackle fishing.
“That’s what I like to do when I bass fish; I go light. It’s more fun.”
Mathews grew up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, the son of a fishing fanatic. Dad Ricky Mathews worked his way up the Sun-Herald newspaper from a delivery boy to become its publisher. He’s currently the publisher of The Times-Picyune in New Orleans.
“Dad always took us fishing, and I’ve caught everything from a 12-foot shark down,” Mathews said. “We fished most of the rodeos and tournaments together. We also bass-fished, and I’ve caught thousands of them — including at least 50 between 8 and 10 pounds.”
Jordan Mathews was alone on this latest fishing trip and had two poles in the rod holders behind the seat of his kayak when he put it in Lake Drewery.
“The wind was tough, and it was blowing right into the side of the lake where I put in,” he said. “I know it was blowing at least 15 (mph) but maybe 20. It was ripping, but the other side looked to be calmer, so I decided to cross the lake ….”
“After I paddled a little ways, I decided to cast one of the lines out and drag it behind me. It had a small crankbait on it; I don’t even know what it’s called or who made it or anything like that. I had it on because the last time I used it was in a small, private lake where we’d gone bass fishing, and I left it on because I thought it was small enough to catch a crappie.”
Mathews said he wasn’t thinking about trolling with the lure.
“Not really, I was just wanting to get across the lake in that wind,” he said. “It was really howling. I had been paddling about 500 or 600 yards when I heard the drag start screaming off that reel. My first thought was ‘Oh, great, I’ve snagged a stump! This is going to be ugly.’ In that wind, I knew it was going to be headache trying to get it loose.
“I was frustrated, but when I picked up the rod out of the holder and felt what was happening, my attitude changed quickly — the stump was swimming off.”
Mathews said he got serious. He knew he couldn’t put much pressure on the fish, whatever it was, because of the light line. Besides, the small, ultra-light spinning rod didn’t have much backbone anyway.
“I just babied it,” he said. “After about three or five minutes, I decided it was just a big catfish that had been lumbering around out there. It felt more like that than it did a big old bass fighting like they do.
“When it finally surfaced near the kayak, I saw it was a bass, which I thought to be maybe 7 or 8 pounds. I don’t think I drew another breath for the remainder of the five-minute fight.”
The odds of landing a big bass are small enough, but they grow smaller when fishing from a kayak with 10-year-old 4-pound monofilament line and a 5-foot ultra-light rod.
“All the stars must have been perfectly aligned,” Mathews said. “I finally got the fish next to the kayak and it rolled again, and I saw just how big it was.
“I knew it would be the biggest I’d ever caught, but I also started wondering how I was ever going to boat it.”
It wasn’t an easy task.
“Once I had it whipped and beside the boat it still took me two breathless minutes to maneuver it to where I could land it,” Mathews said. “When it opened its mouth, I grabbed it. Heck, I could have grabbed it with both hands in the mouth: The mouth was that big.”
After getting the fish in the boat, Mathews saw how lucky he’d been and why the line had held up: The lure’s rear hooks were firmly stuck just inside the upper lip, in the hardest part of the mouth.
“What that did was keep its teeth from ever coming in contact with the line,” he said. “The body of the lure was taking all the grinding.”
Even so ….
“Had that fish had really wanted to get away, it could have at anytime,” Mathews said. “I guess being the winter, it was lethargic enough not to.”
Mathews never hesitated releasing the fish.
“I was alone, and I quickly took a few photos with my cell phone and let her go so the next guy might get lucky,” he said. “I put the fish back; then paddled around for about 30 minutes with the biggest smile on my face.
“I didn’t catch another fish — didn’t need to. I was the happiest guy on Earth.”