T HE LARGEST BASS I have seen hooked probably weighed 15 pounds—maybe 16 if it took a deep breath.
I believe that to be an honest estimate because I was a neutral observer. My companion sharing the small skiff stuck the monstrous largemouth. We were on Cuba’s Treasure Lake, the clear-water swamp lake that launched the big bass frenzy in that country back in 1976.
My friend was casting a five-inch “thin minnow” plug along the edge of a thick weed mat. The balsa floating/diving design can be a killer for average bass, but the small trebles lack authority in a heavyweight bout.
The fish surged from nowhere and snatched the lure about 15 or 20 feet from the boat. The fish turned just under the surface, heaving a thick boil, and we both got a serious eyeful of the broadside of green and gold in the dark water.
The bass bore back into the rim of moss. The lure snagged, the fish twisted, and the small hooks opened—game over.
That long-ago encounter remains a vivid reminder of a simple truth: The best way to catch a big bass is to rig for a big bass. The old adage about not toting a knife to a gunfight is worth thinking about when the water suggests that a career fish might be at stake.
Frankly, as measured on the global scale, the largemouth bass is not a particularly tough or long-winded fish, but if given any glimmer of opportunity, it will cheat. In this commitment to chicanery, it is the soul mate of the mangrove snook.
In other words, it will dive for thick tangles of cover rather than race across open water. Unless you are fishing in the nearest swimming pool, a big largemouth is seldom far from the shadowed gloom of trouble.
Surprise! Instead of a 10-pound black bass you now have a 100-pound brown log.
This proximity to brush and weeds, more so than the size and power of the fish, enforces the use of a heavy rod, a strong line, and a big hook. The idea is to jack the fish away from trouble and keep it near the surface until you can put a net or a hand on it.
As a rough guideline for a specialized bass outfit, a 7- or 7 1/2-foot medium-heavy rod is a no-nonsense ally. So, also, is a reel spooled with 20- or 25-pound mono (or 30- to 50-pound braid). Either way, you’re backed by stout line, so don’t give away cheap yards with a light drag setting.
Twist that sucker tighter than normal, but don’t get carried away. The typical drill is to grab the line about a foot from the spool and pull, but remember that it requires more force to turn the drag off the rod tip.
The star drag on a casting reel (especially an older or poorly maintained one) can be slow to start. Even a heavy line can snap on an aggressive hook set if the drag won’t release promptly and smoothly—trust me from soul-deadening experience.
Without question, the high-percentage lure for really big bass is a large bottom bumper of some sort—a Texas-rigged plastic or a jig/tail combo. The potbellied sows tend to grump around near bottom, and they favor a real mouthful that’s easy to glom.
I’ve caught several double-digit bass and a fair number of eight- and nine-pounders. Most struck big plastics. Incidentally, the largest (released without being weighed) was a thin fish, but it measured almost 27 inches.
The second choice might be a large spinnerbait that can be slow-rolled and fluttered near the bottom.
As a big plus, these lures sport large single hooks with wide gaps, ideal for slamming into a thick, rubbery maw and remaining faithful through whatever mayhem might occur. Also, the single hook is less apt than dangling trebles to snag in heavy cover.
Typical crankbaits and lipless swimming baits are very effective on, well, bass—but not what you really want on a career fish. The trebles on a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce lure usually are too small, and the suitable line (10- to 15-pound mono) is too light.
Large topwater lures with strong hooks can work. Traditionally, they are best for huge bass on natural lakes with edges of grass and reeds (or on a shallow private pond known to hold jumbo bass).
Based on documented returns, most of the double-digit bass from the man-made reservoirs in Texas are hooked from the “big bass belt” of, say, eight- to 15-foot water—maybe 20 feet. This is not prime topwater territory.
On the plus side for the determined topwater chunker, the fight starts up away from the treacherous bottom. Although heavy bass are not noted for high-flying leaps, one might emerge in a gill-shaking, mouth-gaping wallow.
You really don’t want to see this, especially if the hook is pinned to the membrane on the edge of the upper lip.
A good tactic as the line angles up is to thrust the rod tip into the water and pull down and back, rolling the fish over. At least the fish is near the surface, so try to keep it there.
The boater positioned in deep, open water can tire a big bass with a bit of give and take once the fish is off the bottom. However, if you’re a brush- buster amid thick stuff, you’re well-advised to horse hard and hope everything holds.
To reiterate, this is a specialized outfit not intended for general use. However, serious bass anglers are noted for toting several rods to cover various circumstances.
Keep the rhino-chaser rig close, and when conditions look really “fishy” stow the light tackle and take a few shots for the bass above all others.
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]