Published in Validity Magazine, March 2015
Daylight was breaking when I started backing the boat from about 70 miles per hour down to an idle. About 200 yards from a huge log jam, I was confident this was the favorite residence of some big largemouth bass.
Trophy largemouth bass are extremely efficient predators. This is how they become so large and live so long. Nature, a wonderful but sometimes harsh system, assures that the best of the species prosper and pass their superior genes on to future generations, thus ensuring the survival of the species.
In the Harpeth River, several miles above where it merges with the Cumberland River sits Cheatham Lake where I really love to fish. It’s only about 20 minutes from my home and this area is usually not fished very hard. The first time I saw the area, I was excited about its potential for big fish.
The obvious question is probably what gives it the potential for big fish? Large or dominant bass, as with other species in the natural world, usually find and retain the best places in any body of water. Safety is a constant battle from when the fish are born to when they die, as well as feeding efficiently which is critical to their survival. The only way for them to grow is to take in more nutrition than they expend capturing it.
Deep water or quick access to it is important to mature largemouth bass because it gives them a safety zone from birds of prey such as bald eagles, osprey and herons. It also gives them a good field of vision to feed on thin fin and gizzard shad, shiners, crayfish and almost anything else they can manage to get in their mouths.
Deep water is also more stable, since there are less temperature variances. This is helpful because bass are cold-blooded creatures and its body is the same temperature as the water it is in. Its body temperature controls its metabolism, which controls how much it eats, which controls how much it grows. The bigger they get, the fewer things that can eat them, and the bigger their bodies and mouths are, the more variety of food options they have.
Current can also be beneficial because it is usually more oxygenated and often carries food to the bass. What could be more efficient for a good predator than to have his food come to him? In our world, we have the pizza delivery guy. Current also controls where the plankton goes, which controls where the plankton-eating shad go.
There is another key ingredient the bass prefer to have, and that is some form of cover, such as old trees, brush, weeds, docks or anything else floating in the water. The largemouth bass’ preferred method of hunting is ambush.
This fishing spot had everything I mentioned and I had a great feeling of anticipation. Even through the excitement and sense of purpose, I could not help but notice the pungent scent, on this beautiful spring morning, of all the wild honeysuckle on both sides of the river. The only sounds I heard were birds singing — no road noise, no cell phones — nothing but the sounds of nature. I paused for a moment to thank God for letting me be here in this breathtaking moment, for my good health and for my wonderful family. These moments are a big part of why I enjoy fishing so much. It is difficult for me to see things this clearly with daily distractions of work, traffic, etc.
I surveyed the log jam to choose my first target. I chose a spot between two logs and made a perfect flip that allowed the brush hog to silently slip between them to what I was sure would be a waiting largemouth I hopped it up and down a few times to give her time to eat it, but no takers. I picked another spot and repeated the process. Same result.
This is another thing I enjoy about fishing: No matter how good you think you are, you can always learn more. A wise friend once told me, “The more you know about something, the more you realize that you don’t know.” I often learn more on the tough days than the good days because I am pushed to finally figure things out.
I was convinced this log jam held a largemouth bass and I was determined to find it. I noticed the current was starting to flow stronger around a big tree and pitched the brush hog into the junction of the trunk and a large limb. The water was 20 feet deep here, but the brush hog only sank about a foot and stopped. My reflexes took over — it was game time.
The 7-pound largemouth came straight up out of the water and she was not the least bit happy. The fight was on. She tried to bulldog for the bottom, but my favorite flipping stick and the 20-pound line met the challenge. I know I had to do everything right in this kind of cover or I was in trouble. Years of experience taught me to be all business and soon I was landing my worthy adversary. I weighed this beauty, enjoyed my accomplishment and release her unharmed to pass on her superior genes.