It’s almost as mythological as the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot, but every once in a while, you experience a brief encounter with a rare 10lb + river monster. Just like Nessie and Sasquatch, once in a blue moon you get a glimpse of what looks like one, that makes you believe that they do indeed exist. Usually, this glimpse is a side flash of its body or a guargantuan head shake/jump attempt as it throws your bait back at your kayak. The images of those (lost) fights haunt river basser’s dreams for months, sometimes years.
But, like the 13 year Cicadas, Haley’s comet, or the Cleveland Cavs and Chicago Cubs winning a title, it is a real thing, despite what some people think. If you’re fairly new to river bassin, you may be surprised by this, since 10lb + bass are clearly caught all the time in lakes or ponds. However, river bass are a different animal; they rarely get as “heavy” as their lake counterparts because they live on a treadmill called “current,” that they can never get off of. In turn, they work a little harder for their food, burn more calories and build more lean muscle. Bottom line, they are a leaner, meaner and more aggressive bass that, at times, seem like a totally different species than their lake counterparts, but it’s why we’re so hooked on river bassin. We don’t care that they don’t technically “weigh” more. We care that they fight better, are more aggressive and are a little more fun and adventurous to pursue. Ask yourself this: Would you rather hook up and fight a fit and athletic Lebron James type bass, or a Santa Claus bass? Santa may technically weigh more, but you know the fight won’t last as long or be as exciting, unless you’re in a weight tournament, of course!
This past weekend, I was able to once again prove to myself that this rare creature does exist in rivers, and yes, I was inside the eligible water for the upcoming April 29th Rock Hill, SC River Bassin Tournament!
Step by step, this is how I caught this beast. I share this in hopes that it may help someone else out there catch and release a river beast like this. I was fishing a deep pool area where lots of big boulders and rocks were present. My Raymarine Dragonfly was showing the depths anywhere between 3 and 8ft, water temps as high as 56.5 degrees. I didn’t care that it had snowed 3 inches the night before, (listen, its rare for the Charlotte area so give me a break if you live up north, it was weird for us) because someone always told me the weirdest weather days are the days the big girls are fooled; in my experience, this has been true. The sun had come out and outside temp was approaching 50 degrees right around 4pm when she bit. There was only moderate current so I had put down my 3/4 Z-MAN Project Z Chatterbait and switched to a 1/2 oz so I could fish a bit slower, since I wanted to keep the bait ticking the rocks every once in a while, making sure I was close to the bottom. To keep the 3/4 oz just above the rocks, I had to wind the bait too fast for those depths. I had also switched from a sexy chartreuse chatterbait to a breaking bream colored bait since the sun was higher, water was fairly clear, and there wasn’t too much current or wind. To me, the breaking bream color is more natural, and I like the brighter colors when the water is a bit more stained. I tipped the bait with the 6-inch houdini colored SwimmerZ rather than the smaller Razor Shadz or Diezel Minnowz, which I often use as well. Big baits, big fish, right? This combo definitely puts out a large profile!
I know, I know, I’m giving away all my secrets! That’s ok, because as a professional in this sport, if I can’t be the one to help others catch (& release) fish then clearly I’ve missed the point. You’ll want a fairly stout rod when fishing 1/2 oz and heavier baits in current, and around a lot of structure like I had. My choice was a 13 Fishing Concept C reel (7.3:1) with a 7’1 Omen Black rod in MH power. You can go with a H power when using 3/4 oz and especially when using the 1oz baits. I slapped some Hi-Seas 30lb braid on the reel and tied the bait straight to it, no leader.
Around 3:30pm, I had missed a bite in this exact spot where the bait was hit so hard that it knocked slack into my line. I wasn’t sure if it was a gar or maybe a big catfish, both of which are known to smash a chatterbait and were in the area as well. It didn’t matter to me, I was going to return to that spot just in case it was a bass and she had some time to reset. So, around 4pm, I made my way back to the area and fished it from a completely different angle, just to make sure I did as much different as I could. I made a long cast directly in front of the bow of my Jackson Kayak Cuda HD, and rather than let it fall straight down before I starting winding, I made several very slow cranks so it could get deep and keep my line in contact with the bait. A straight fall is fine sometimes, but you can lose contact with the bait, which is bad because they can often bite on the fall and you may not feel them if there is too much slack in the line. As soon as I felt the bottom, I sped my retrieve up a little to make sure I was still near the bottom, but not constantly banging into rocks and debris, either.
About 1/4 of my retrieve in, she inhaled it! Due to her weight and the fact that she was straight in front of the bow, I started moving very fast towards her. Eventually she swam perpendicular to the kayak and began to dive beneath some undercut rocks. She finally got up near the surface where I saw how big she was… my heart jumped into another level of intensity. Hooking up with one like this is one thing, but actually landing her is another! I kept my rod down each time she came near the surface so she wouldn’t jump. I clicked the release on my concept C and played the drag with my thumb so I had full control of when I needed more pressure to pull her away from the rocks, and when I could let her wear out a bit more in any open water moments. I was shaking like crazy, debating on whether to reach behind me for my Yak Attack Leverage Landing net or not, but I had it positioned within easy reach so I quickly grabbed it with my right hand. She is very close now, very close, but I know that you have to resist the temptation to horse them in when they finally get “so close” that you can almost net them; wait until they are actually ready or you’ll find yourself losing her when she makes her last few runs. I bowed my rod to her and gave her a little line when she made her last two or three surges. Finally, she was worn out and I led her into the net. I lifted her in and thanked the good Lord for making such an awesome giant! Still shaking, I looked down and couldn’t believe the size of her head, eyes and mouth; it made such a large profile bait actually look small!
I paddled to the nearest shallow area and quickly put her back in the water on my Lucid Fish grips. As fast as I could, I did a couple things. I first measured her and took a photo for the River Bassin’ season long online tournaments, (I entered her in the Largemouth tournament and the Southeastern Online Regional event). She measured 25.75, but every once in a while she would touch 26 inches so I tried to hold her still while she was 26 and then lift my hand away and snap a photo. Each time she moved a little and only got to 25.75. She actually moved her mouth from the bump by the thinnest paper-thin margin and I rightfully got deducted down to 25.50 for her. Just goes to show that you need to take your time and make sure the mouth is touching the bump!
Then, I had her back on the grips in the water and quickly set up the GoPro Hero 5 and Session cameras on .5 second time lapse mode. It’s amazing how many photos you can get in such a short time when on that mode! Certainly I figured some of them would be good, and they were! I then took a quick release video with the GoPro and watched her swim back into the depths. Most likely she’ll never be seen again, but she is real, and these monsters are real….just rare!