May 25, 2021
Before it's all said and done, Texas angler Wyatt Frankens hopes to make a name for himself in the bass-fishing industry.
That's why the Nacogdoches resident is chasing tournament-championship dreams on circuits like the Toyota Series, as far away as Florida, as well as guiding clients for the big-bass riches found on Lake Fork, Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Nacogdoches Lake (Wyatt Frankens Guide Service, 936-221-8697).
In the meantime, Frankens—a May 2018 business and marketing graduate from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches—will be thankful and content for the way he's already found bass-fishing fame, thanks to a world-record fishing trip visit a few weeks ago to Texas' red-hot O.H. Ivie Lake.
On that day, March 1, Frankens caught an uncommon record, a 7-pound, 9-ounce smallmouth/largemouth bass hybrid that has been recognized by the International Game Fish Association as an all-tackle world record for the species.
Frankens' catch should not be confused with a "meanmouth," the common nickname for a smallmouth x spotted bass hybrid. The IGFA world record for "meanmouth" is 8 pounds, 8 ounces, caught in Oklahoma in 2006.
Frankens' successful trip came after massive big-bass catches at O.H. Ivie during the winter. Yours truly even wondered here in this space as to whether or not the February storm of big fish at Ivie would turn into a piscatorial version of March Madness.
As it turns out, it most certainly did, as O.H. Ivie wrapped up a stunning Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ShareLunker season, producing 12 of the 27 Legacy Class lunkers temporarily donated to the long-running TPWD program for spawning purposes, as the state tries to keep cranking out world-class largemouth bass.
Big Bass at O.H. Ivie
Certainly, the lake has cemented itself in the bass-fishing consciousness of the Lone Star State—just a few days ago, on May 15, a 14.82-pound largemouth was landed at the West Texas lake. But as Frankens and his friend Shane Campbell proved on their March 1 visit to the lake, there's far more to O.H. Ivie than big largemouths. Both anglers tied into a smallmouth x largemouth cross on that overcast day, barely a week after the February deep freeze.
Despite the parade of cold waves and heavy snowfalls that left Texas shivering in the dark and counting dead fish along the Gulf Coast, the bass-fishing action had been sizzling hot at the end of February, and Frankens and Campbell had noticed.
"When I worked at Tackle Addict (near Sam Rayburn and SFA), Shane had been my boss," said Frankens. "We had heard about Ivie taking off this past winter and decided that we had to get over there. So it was me, him, and a couple of his other buddies that loaded up in his boat and my boat and headed that way.”
Frankens and Campbell were aware of what had been going on at Ivie this past winter, as anglers put electronic wizardry and a world-class fishery together. Thanks to the "new lake" effect that saw rainfall wipe out several years of severe drought, Ivie—always a big-bass producer since the 19,149-acre water body was impounded back in 1990—is greatly re-energized as water levels have turned acres of brush, scrubby timber and terrestrial vegetation into a cover-filled Disney World for bucketmouth bass.
Suspended Bass Over Standing Timber
While it isn't as simple as it seems, the idea is to find a huge bass—or group of bass—suspended as an angler scans electronics. Then cast something like an Alabama-rig that can successfully tempt such suspended fish and hold on.
"A lot of those big-fish catches this past winter; they were a Garmin LiveScope thing as anglers targeted suspended bass over standing timber," said Frankens.
Frankens and Campbell hoped to duplicate the LiveScope pattern others were finding success on in 20 to 40 feet of water, looking for suspended bass that were grouped up above the timber patches. Unfortunately, they didn't find much.
"While those guys were crushing them the week before we got there by using A-rigs, we didn't find them grouped up like that anymore," he said. "There was still one or two that would show up on the electronics, but they had become hard to catch.”
With Plan A—electronics, suspended bass and A-rigs—effectively shelved, Frankens and Campbell turned to their Plan B, another tactic that had worked on their home waters in the Pineywoods of East Texas.
"Shane pulled out a big swimbait," said Frankens. "And it wasn't long before he caught a huge smallmouth/largemouth hybrid bass that weighed 7-something, not too far below mine."
Campbell notified Frankens that he was headed for the ramp to get an official weight on the fish. Oh, and by the way, that he had caught the huge smallie/largie cross on a swimbait.
Expanding Plan B for the Record
After wishing Campbell the best on his weigh-in session, Frankens headed back out and tied on his own swimbait set-up, a Megabass Magdraft Freestyle swimbait on a 3/4-ounce Jenko Long Shank Custom Swimbait Jighead. After getting everything ready at the end of a rod-reel-line setup consisting of a 7-foot, 8-inch Castaway Skeleton V flipping stick (Frankens says the soft tip is good for swimbait fishing), a Shimano SLX DC baitcasting reel, and 20-pound Seaguar INVIZX fluorocarbon line, the young angler started casting away.
"I was probably fishing in about 40 feet of water, with the timber standing up to about 15 to 20 feet off the bottom," said Frankens. "So it was in that 10-to-15-foot gap between the top of the submerged timber and the surface that these fish were suspending in."
For a good while, nothing much was happening. But then Frankens spied a couple of dots on his graph that would change his angling life.
"About an hour in, I saw some fish—which turned out to be one of these big smallmouth/largemouth crosses—over some standing timber," he said. "I see these two big dots about 60 feet away and threw the swimbait past them. As I reeled in, all of a sudden, one of the fish broke off and crushed that swimbait when it was about 20 feet away."
Bass Attacks Swimbait
Frankens noted that the other fish was "just as big, if not bigger," but that the fish he hooked started a fierce battle as he wrestled it towards his bass rig.
"It was a crazy fight," said Frankens. "It was one of the strongest fights with a fish that I've ever had. In fact, I don't think I've ever had a fish ever fight me like that. It was really cool."
As he battled the fish, he wondered almost immediately what was at the end of his line.
"I knew pretty quick that it wasn't a big largemouth," said Frankens. "The headshakes of a big largemouth are kind of long and slow, and you can sort of tell what you've got. You can tell though when you've got a smallmouth by the way that they fight. And I originally thought that's what I had, because when it came up, it was brown.”
In the middle of a fight that Frankens says lasted about a minute, there was a cool moment of aerial acrobatics from the fish that the angler won't soon forget.
"When she came up, I thought that's a huge smallmouth," said Frankens. "But she came up and jumped really far out of the water. I don't even know how high it was, but it was a good distance out of the water, and it scared me (that I might lose her).”
But even then, it wasn't long before Frankens was wondering about the fish's ID once again.
Not a Largemouth, Nor Smallie
"Like I said, at first, I thought it was a smallmouth because it was so brown," he said. "But after I landed the fish, it was crazy because it actually started changing colors as it sat in my live well. It was pretty dang dark when I first caught her, but after she calmed down a bit, I could start seeing some of that largemouth (green) in her.”
After completing the catch, it wasn't long before Frankens was on his own boat ride back to the ramp, looking to secure an official weight on the fish at a nearby marina.
"When we went in to weigh it, there were some guys there and one of them said, ‘Man, that could be a hybrid,'" said Frankens. "And I said 'Well, that sort of makes sense (because of the way it looked).' "
Later on, when Frankens talked with a TPWD biologist, the possibilities of what he had caught really began to take hold.
"They hadn't done any testing before and if I recall right, they weren't even sure if there were smallmouth/largemouth hybrids in there," said Frankens. "But when they got the DNA report back, they are 100-percent sure now."
State Record, Yes; Time to Call IGFA
When TPWD called and said that the fish was definitely a smallmouth x largemouth cross, it was easily a new lake and state record for the hybrid species. But then came the comment that Frankens hadn't considered yet, that it might be time to get the International Game Fish Association involved.
"The biologist said that it was definitely a state record and lake record," said Frankens. "But then he said, you might want to give the IGFA a call because it could be a new world record, too."
Frankens said he had heard of the possibility of a smallmouth/largemouth cross, but that he had never seen one, caught one, or until Campbell's catch, even talked with someone who might have done it.
But after a phone call to the IGFA offices in Florida, the snowball was rolling and picking up steam that Frankens and the state of Texas just might have a new world record on their hands.
"They really jumped on it at the IGFA," said Frankens, who had to fill out an application for the record, submit the weight obtained on an official scale, submit the DNA testing results, and a few other things to jump-start the record process.
"Zach at the IGFA really helped me through the whole process and I think he was as pumped about it all as I was," said Frankens. "The fish certainly isn't very common and only a certain number of lakes in Texas even have smallmouths in them to make this possible, so it's a really cool deal."
Coolest of all, was the day earlier this month, when the postman delivered some special mail into Franken's mailbox.
"Yeah, I got my world-record letter and certificate just a couple of days ago," said Frankens, who is having a replica made of the world-record fish. "It's so awesome to see my name next to the words, 'World Record.' It's obviously not something that you would ever think about doing, but it really happened and all of a sudden, you're looking at the IGFA certificate and it's official."
Frankens says now he wants to make a name for himself as a competitive angler, competing against and beating the best in the sport somewhere down the line. And he'll continue to guide clients on Fork, Sam Rayburn, and Nacogdoches, anglers who are eager to come up with their own big bass catches.
But until his new world record gets broken someday, he'll smile and remember a day out in West Texas when he did something that no other angler has ever done on the water.
"Even if it gets broken someday, I guess I can say that at least once in my lifetime, I was an IGFA world record holder," said Frankens.
And that's no 10-gallon hat tall tale from the Lone Star State, either.
Editor's Note: To fish with the East Texas guide, look for Wyatt Frankens Guide Service on Facebook, on Instagram (@wyatt_frankens), or call him at 936-221-8697.