What’s the strangest place you’ve ever caught a largemouth bass?
I asked that question of my Facebook friends recently. What prompted my inquiry and the resulting discussion was a bucketmouth that turned up on the end of my line in what I considered an odd place, indeed.
I was fishing with my wife, Theresa, on El Salto Lake in Sinaloa, Mexico, a body of water many anglers believe to be the best trophy bass lake in the world. It was one of the first of several trips Theresa and I made to the bassing mecca and one of few visits when the water level in the lake was quite high.
On a trip the year before, El Salto had been low, and our fishing guide had shown us beautiful gravestones and statues in an old cemetery usually inundated by water. We actually walked through the old burial ground and shot photos of the lovely memorials.
Now, one year later, the same guide instructed us to cast and retrieve our lures through those same cemetery structures, which his fish-finder clearly showed on the lake bottom 20 feet below the boat.
“It is good fishing here when the water is up like this,” said Carlos, the guide. “And I don’t think the fishermen and families buried beneath the lake would be offended because we are fishing here. Before the dam was built, they fished here, too, but on the river instead of the lake.”
I never would have imagined catching bass hiding around tombstones, but that’s exactly what happened next. Theresa cast a purple plastic worm, let it sink and worked it through the headstones. On six casts, she caught six bass weighing 2 to 4 pounds. Then, much to my great pleasure, I hooked one of the biggest hawgs I’ve ever landed — a 9-pounder that fell for a deep-diving crankbait wriggled past a tall cross.
The Facebook conversation I started later showed that largemouth bass often turn up in very strange places here in Arkansas, too — inside old tires, for example.
My son Josh, an avid bass angler, told me about a spot in eastern Arkansas the locals refer to as “The Bass Hammock.” He doesn’t know how the honey hole got its name, but it refers to a large tractor tire that was pushed into a broad bottomland creek, a tire that produced a bass almost every time Josh fished there.
“Even weirder,” Josh said, “is a spot on another creek where a very old peanut picker was sunk. I could hook a bass every time I fished it, but at least half the time, I would break my line trying to get the bass out. A peanut picker is kind of like a mansion with many rooms. Somehow a bass can get you from the front porch to the basement quicker than you can set the hook!”
Peanut pickers aren’t the only vehicles that attract bass, either. My friend Daniel Ward of Sage told me there’s a Chevy S-10 pickup sunk in the Black River in north Arkansas that usually has some fish in it, including some dandy largemouth bass. And retired Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife biologist Robert Zachary tells a great story about finding a stolen vehicle in Mallard Lake in Mississippi County during a year of low water.
“When we had the car hauled from the water by a wrecker service, we noticed the windows were lowered,” he says. “Upon opening one of the front doors, a deluge of water poured from the interior, carrying with it 17 slab crappie and a 6-pound bass! The tow-truck driver wasn’t happy when I released the fish back into the water since he thought he should have ‘salvage rights.’”
Zachary also tells an interesting tale about a bass in a well. “Back in the 1950s, my grandpa caught a bass from a pond, took it home and dropped it into a well near his barn. He’d drop minnows into the well occasionally to watch the bass snap them up. We didn’t tell him, but when no one was watching, we’d drop a baited hook into the well, hook the hungry bass and then release it in the well again. It had grown to about a pound the last time I saw it, and either it died in the well from old age, or some fish-hungry family member fried that sucker up.”
Bass are sometimes caught in unusual environments as well, like freezing-cold water. Many friends tell me they have been surprised when largemouth bass were pulled from cold rivers where trout are the only catch expected, and some have caught bass while fishing for saltwater species.
“I was wade fishing for speckled trout in Texas’ Galveston Bay when I caught three largemouths,” said Howard Robinson of Boothe. “There were more schooling after small mullets. They weren’t large — maybe a pound and a half each. But I was very surprised.”
Sometimes nice bass come from waters that seem too shallow or small to support largemouths. Jennifer Martin, who farms with her family at Hickory Ridge, said they often catch bass in tiny drainage ditches created by irrigation water flowing out of bean and rice fields.
My favorite “bass in odd places” story comes from my fishing buddy Charlie Bridwell, who now lives in Nacogdoches, Texas. Charlie had built a duck blind on south Arkansas’ Lake Columbia by floating a big log into position and pegging it down with sticks stuck in the mud. The top of the log was right at the surface, but when wearing waders, it made a comfortable seat. He stuck switch cane all around it, and it made a great blind in a spot where no permanent blinds were allowed.
“One day I had a banker with me, Harold Fincher of Waldo, and we were having a good hunt,” Charlie said. “I felt something against my leg, and upon looking down into the icy water, there was a nice bass right there by me, opening and closing his mouth. Saying nothing, I eased my hand into the water and slipped my thumb into its mouth. Once I had it securely, I asked, ‘Hey Harold, would you like some fish?’ He said, ‘Why sure, some fish sounds good about now.’ Wish I’d had a video camera when I raised my arm, put the bass in front of him, and said dryly, ‘OK, here’s some fish.’ His eyes were as big as saucers. I figure it weighed 5 pounds or better. It was so cool to watch Mr. Harold’s reaction.