Big bass are well known for their voracious appetites when the dinner bell rings. That’s why anglers who are serious about catching them frequently use big swim baits upwards of eight inches long, 12-inch worms and other super-size lures to tempt them.
Lake Athens fisherman Jim Brack is a firm believer in the theory that big baits catch big bass. He recently shared a whale of a fish story that puts some proof in the pudding’.
In late January, Brack and Bryan Lewis of Crandall were fishing at the 1,800-acre East Texas Lake when Lewis felt a bite on a Carolina-rigged soft plastic Baby Brush Hog. He was dragging the lure around a hydrilla bed in about 10 feet of water. Lewis set the hook and the fight was on.
The angler told Brack it felt like a fairly decent fish, but nothing they might need the net for. Moments later, an ordinary battle turned into an all out war.
“The fish had just come off the outside grass line and was almost to the boat when all of the sudden it stopped and just took off in the opposite direction,” Brack said. “Bryan worked it to the surface, and that’s when I saw what looked like two tails facing in opposite directions. I thought it was a big catfish at first, but then I saw it was two bass—one with the head of the other jammed five to six inches inside its mouth. One of bass was huge.”
Brack doesn’t know for sure how big the larger of the two fish was. Just as he was about to grab the line, the big bass shook its head just below the surface, lost its grip on the smaller fish, and swam away.
The smaller bass was still attached to Lewis’s hook. Brack said it weighed about five pounds.
“I don’t know how much the bigger one weighed, but there is no doubt it was in the double digits,” Brack said. “I’ve caught double-digit fish before. I know what they look like, and I got a really good look that this one.”
Brack said he already knew big bass were eating machines, but this experience took the belief to a new level.
“I’ve heard of four pounders trying to eat one pounders, but I’ve never heard of another bass trying to eat a five pounder,” he said. “I’ve been bass fishing for 56 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that. We were both dumbfounded. It was nuts.”
The bass-eat-bass incident was bizarre in a number ways. Some may be wondering what the outcome may have been had the angler landed the bigger of the two bass before it got away.
What if it had turned out to be a Toyota ShareLunker candidate? —or a new state record?
Would it have qualified for either award?
Not so, says Craig Bonds, director of inland fisheries with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
According to Bonds, when the smaller bass ate Lewis’s soft plastic it became the bait that enticed the bigger fish to strike. A black bass is a game fish, and it is illegal to use a game fish, or any part of one, as bait in Texas.
“Bass caught intentionally or inadvertently on a game fish would not be eligible for angler recognition or ShareLunker program entries,” Bonds said. “We have to protect the integrity of those programs, and it’s difficult to prove intent.”
Junior Thomas of Alba knows the situation all too well.
In Fall 2010, Thomas was fishing for crappie around the FM 515 Bridge at Lake Fork when he hooked a crappie on 1/16-ounce jig rigged on ultralight gear. Thomas was reeling the crappie to the boat when a big bass gobbled it up and took off.
The angler landed both fish 40 minutes later. The bass, which weighed 15.69 pounds on uncertified scales, likely would have ranked among the Top 50 heaviest bass ever reported in Texas had it been caught on a lure or minnow instead of a crappie.
Like bass, the crappie is a game fish and cannot be used as bait. Any fish caught on crappie—even if it happens unintentionally—is not a legal catch.
Interestingly, Thomas was already aware of the scenario when the prize bass ate his crappie. The angler had caught and released two fish over 10 pounds the same way the month before. Thinking there was a chance he might catch a bigger one, he contacted TPWD’s law enforcement headquarters ahead of time to ask about the legalities.
“I was curious to learn what the ruling would be if a sure-nuff ShareLunker -sized bass grabbed hold of one these crappie, and you were lucky enough to get it in,” he said. “It is well-known around here that big bass love crappie.
You hear about fishermen getting crappie ripped off their hooks or getting their lines broke by big bass at Lake Fork pretty frequently. If you spend much time fishing for crappie around the bridges, sooner or later it is going to happen.”
Thomas received a reply from Robert Goodrich, now retired from duties as TPWD’s assistant chief of fisheries enforcement. Goodrich explained that it is not legal to retain any fish that is caught using game fish for bait, even if it is unintentional.
“The bottom line is you can’t use game fish for bait,” Goodrich said. “It was ultimately a crappie that attracted that fish, not the artificial jig. When the crappie ate the jig, it became the bait.”
Although Thomas is thankful he checked on the ruling ahead of time, he said it didn’t ease the pain of turning a fish loose that ultimately would have won him $10,000 in cash had it been caught legally.
Thomas was pre-registered in the 2009-10 Lake Fork Bounty Bonanza. The now-defunct promotional program was run for several years by the Lake Fork Area Chamber of Commerce. It offered cash rewards to pre-registered anglers who caught whopper bass from the 27,000-acre lake. The bounty on a Top 50 fish was $10,000.
“It’s one thing to conquer a 10-pound bass and put it back in the water, but to catch a Top 50 fish worth $10,000 and kiss it goodbye—now that will put a knot in your stomach,” Thomas said. “I was sick about it, but I really didn’t have a choice.”
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]