State’s second-largest bass caught at Davis Lake

Tupelo's Jeff Foster only got one bite today at Davis Lake, but it came from this 17-pound bass that is the second-largest bass ever landed in Mississippi.

Tupelo angler’s 17-pounder pushes state-record bass caught in 1992.

Jeff Foster knows that a wintertime bass trip to Davis Lake means hoping to get a bite or two.

He got only one today (Jan. 4), but the result was gigantic.

At 2:15 p.m., after five hours of fruitless casting, Foster hooked and boated the second-largest largemouth ever recorded in Mississippi — a 17.34-pounder caught only four days past the 20th anniversary of Anthony Denny’s 18.15-pound record catch on Natchez State Park on Dec. 31, 1992. “We know when we leave home going to Davis Lake in the winter that we are not going to get very many bites, but that one bite could produce the biggest fish a person has ever caught,” said Foster, 50, from Tupelo. “But today was starting to get pretty sad.

“We started right after 9 o’clock, and I had netted a 6-10 and a 5-7 for my partner. I hadn’t gotten as much as one bite, and the day was getting pretty frustrating. Then ….”

Using a 6-foot-6 medium-heavy Falcon rod, an Okuma spinning reel sporting 8-pound Vanish fluorocarbon line and a 7-inch blue Zoom Trick worm on a shaky head rig, Foster threw toward a bend in the main creek channel where a ditch connects — and turned the whole day around.

“I felt the bite, set the hook and it felt like I pulled a stump loose from the bottom,” Foster said. “I knew immediately it was a heavy fish, but honestly I thought it was probably a big catfish. Not long ago one of my buddies caught about a 40-pound catfish near that same spot on the same kind of rig but with 6-pound test.

“But I wasn’t sure so I backed off the drag and let the rod, reel and line do their jobs. She fought the whole way up and stayed down the whole time. You know how bass usually do in cold water (it was 45 degrees on the surface) — they come up pretty quick and make a roll and then try to go deep again, well this one never did.”

Using patience built over a lifetime of fishing, Foster just played the fish.

“You want to get them up and be done quick, but the whole time in the back of your mind you keep thinking about the 8-pound line,” he said. “I had to be patient and let her play out. She got under the boat and stayed there for a while before I finally coaxed her out. I guess it took three or four minutes.

“All of a sudden there she was, on her side right by the steering wheel of my partner’s boat. I looked down and was shocked.”

His partner, Errol Tootle, who was ready at the net, was even more stunned.

“When I saw that fish slide out from under the boat, I couldn’t believe it,” Tootle said. “I hollered, ‘Good gosh, what a fish’ or something like that.

“That was the biggest bass I’d ever seen.”

Fortunately, Tootle remembered his job.

“He netted it for me on the first shot,” Foster said. “It wasn’t as easy as it sounds because it came up right next to the steering wheel of the bass boat, and that made it difficult to get to. But he got it on his first attempt.”

And, then?

“Oh man, we started whooping and hollering and high-fiving and celebrating,” Foster said. “We took a couple of quick pictures and put her in the livewell as fast as we could.”

Using digital scales, the two men weighed the fish and it was over 17 pounds. Knowing the accuracy of such scales can vary, especially on big fish, Foster knew he had a shot at the record and began reaching out to a friend.

“I started getting texts right after they caught it,” said Larry Pugh, the assistant chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, who also lives in Tupelo. “When they sent me a text photo off their cell phone, I told them to go immediately to certified scales and get it weighed.”

Foster and Tootle did exactly that. They trailered the boat at the Davis Lake ramp and headed to nearby Houlka to a meat market. It was a lot closer than driving the 32 miles back up the Natchez Trace to Tupelo.

“Larry told us to get it certified and we did, and it was 17.34 pounds,” Foster said.

Tootle was quick to record a few measurements, after the pair got home.

“She is 27 ¾ inches long,” he said on a phone interview as he stretched the measuring tape, “and 24 inches around at the widest point. This fish is a giant, long and fat, but not nearly as fat as she would have been had she been caught in the spring full of eggs.

“You put a full load of eggs in Jeff’s fish and it would have been the new state record. Yes sir, this would have pushed that record for sure.”

Ron Garavelli, the MDWFP’s chief of fisheries who was steadily getting updates from Pugh, agreed.

“There is no doubt in my mind that if this fish had been fully loaded with eggs that it would have beaten the state record,” Garavelli. “No doubt about it all; but remember, Denny’s fish was caught in December, so it wasn’t full of eggs either.”

Back then, the conjecture was that if Denny’s fish had been caught a few months later, it could have actually pushed the existing, but since-tied, world record of 22-pounds, 4 ounces.

Garavelli is interested in aging the fish.

“We stocked that lake with bass in 2000,” he said. “I’d like to know how old the fish is to see if it is an original stock or was spawned a year or two after.”

Davis Lake is a 200-acre fishery managed by the U.S. Forest Service on the Tombigbee National Forest, and is a popular destination for bass anglers.

It was recently in the news for another, not quite so pleasant reason. Crappie fishermen there were complaining about Davis being overpopulated with white crappie, causing the fish to max out at about 8 or 9 inches.

“We know we have a crappie population problem,” Forest Service biologist and recreation specialist Rick Dillard said in December. “But, that might be one reason why Davis Lake is such a trophy bass fishery. When you have that many small crappie, the big bass can take advantage of them, too.”

Foster and Tootle say Davis Lake is perfect.

“I have caught an 11.4 and a 10.13, my two biggest bass, both at Davis and both during the winter,” said Tootle. “Always the same thing — winter and shaky heads. That’s the ticket.”

Foster agreed.

“We always seem to do our best on cold and miserable days, but today was kind of nice,” he said. “It was cold early but got up to, like, 48 or 49, and the wind was tolerable.”

Foster’s largest Davis Lake bass had been 10.9, caught a couple of winters ago doing exactly the same thing.

“I hope it’s only a matter of time until I beat this one,” he said.

If that happens, watch out Anthony Denny. Your record would certainly be in jeopardy.

About Bobby Cleveland 1342 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.

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