I’ve got hundreds. Broken lines, thrown hooks, fish tangled up in trees, I thought I’d lost a fish in just about every way imaginable. As it turns out, there’s at least one way I hadn’t.
I took out my finesse pole, which was rigged up with a Z-Man Micro Finesse Jig and a TRD trailer on a 10-pound Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon leader, and began tossing the small bass jig along the shoreline. I started fishing about 8:30 p.m., but because of the cloud cover, it was already pretty dark. I could see my line in the light on the south side of the pond, but as I moved north up the shoreline to a corner with some submerged branches, it got darker and I had to rely more on my sense of touch to detect bites.
I dragged my lure past a branch and saw a big wake in the water as a fish chased it from its hiding spot. I couldn’t tell whether the fish had struck it or not visually — usually I can see the high-vis braided main line taking off when a fish hits the lure — but I tightened the line slowly and felt the tension from a fish on the end. I set the hook and soon got a nice battle out of a bass that weighed about 2 pounds. I finally swung it onto shore, took a few pictures and released it back into the water.
Just two casts later, I was dragging the finesse jig through the water a little bit farther out from the last spot when I felt a big thump on the end of my rod. I reeled my line up tight and hammered the hookset on another bass — this one even bigger, probably close to 3 pounds — and it took off. I watched the wake in the water as this big brute zigzagged around this small cove, scaring two or three other bass out of their hiding spots in the process. I kept the pressure on and got him up to the shoreline, which was down a few feet below me because the pond had lost so much water this summer.
As soon as that bass touched the shore and the line went slack for just a second, the bass spit up the hook and kicked back out into the water before I could do anything.
Heartbreaking, yes, but a pretty common way to lose fish, especially with the Ned Rig. The real tragedy came soon thereafter.
I had seen a lot of swirls in the water up in the shallows when I first got there, which typically means a catfish is feeding, but I thought my bass may have moved over to the south side. I saw some small baitfish swerving around up against the shore and made a couple casts into that area.
With the glow of a nearby street light brightening the area, I could see my line again. I put my bait right up against the bank and jiggled it. In an instant, my slack line went taut, as if it were pointing to the fishing that just inhaled my lure. I yanked the pole sideways to set the hook into what felt like a giant log.
And then the log moved.
My rod bent wildly and my micro spinning reel strained and groaned — I thought it was going to fall apart in my hands. Every time I reeled an inch, the colossus below dove deep and gained back a foot. My mind was racing — what did I just hook? It fought like a catfish, but it was so much heavier than anything I’d fought before.
For some perspective, earlier this year I hooked into a 3-pound, 22-inch channel cat on this pole. I caught a 4-pound saugeye on it last year. I’ve got 4- to 5-pound bass on it at my friend Linnzi’s pond, and I caught two 5-pound rainbow trout on it during the winter. None of them came close to this.
I remembered earlier this summer, when I was fishing at the pond during the early morning, seeing several monstrous channel cats swimming along the surface in the shallows. When I say monstrous, I mean it would take two hands just to pick them up by their giant heads, which looked almost like a big flathead catfish’s head. If I had to guess, I’d say they were close to 15 pounds apiece.
Was this what I had hooked?
I had basically given up on the reel at this point, instead using the leverage of the rod to pull the giant toward me and then reeling in the slack when I lowered it. About 3 feet from the bank, I finally saw a massive tail rise up out of the water and splash wildly, then the fish decided it’d had enough. Nobody puts big baby in the corner.
With a powerful swish of its tail, it dove once more and the line went limp.
In a panic, I reeled in quickly and tried to cast back out, hoping he’d still have an appetite, but the lure went flying sideways. I reeled it back up and looked at the poor, mangled thing.
The hook had been completely ripped off of the jig. The rubber band that holds the skirt onto the ShroomZ jighead had been pulled down the shank and the skirt was hanging on precariously. That catfish had wrecked my favorite lure.
Now, I’ve lost a lot of fish in a lot of different ways. Line snapped by a trolling motor, rod pulled in the water, aliens abducted my fish... but never, ever have I had a fish snap a solid black-nickel jighead like it was nothing.
I’m constantly being humbled by the power and unpredictability of nature, and I love it.