October 20, 2015
Largemouth bass sometimes turn up in very strange places. Cemeteries, for example. While fishing on El Salto Lake in Sinaloa, Mexico, one of the top trophy bass fisheries in the world, anglers often cast lures around headstones, crosses and religious statues that still stand in an old burial ground inundated when the lake was flooded. On many of my visits to El Salto, I’ve caught 7- to 9-pounders while working plastic worms and crankbaits through this unusual form of cover.
Texas fisheries biologist Bob Lusk tells me he’s nailed bass in a similar locale on Mexico’s Lake Novillo. “We often catch good ones casting watermelon worms against the wall of a submerged church there,” he reports.
My son Josh, an avid bass angler, often talks about a spot the locals call “The Bass Hammock.” The name’s origin is long forgotten, but it refers to a large tractor tire that was pushed in a broad bottomland creek, a tire that produced a bass almost every time Josh fished there.
“Even weirder,” Josh says, “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 tells me there’s a Chevy S-10 pickup sunk in Arkansas’ Black River that usually has some fish in it. And retired Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologist Robert Zachary tells a great story about finding a stolen car in Arkansas’ Mallard Lake 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 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.”
Seems like a fair share of bass get caught around roadways, too. Lisa Snuggs of Baden, N.C., remembers catching one in a flooded culvert by a two-lane highway in northern Louisiana in the early 1980s. Illinois angler Don Gasaway hooked and landed a good one in a 10-inch storm drain that ran from a roadway into the Rock River. Tennessee outdoor writer John Sloan says “We once caught a sack full on yellow H&H spinnerbaits while fishing in water running through a culvert under a highway in Louisiana.”
Virginia fishing guide Steve Chaconas reports he once caught a bass in a tire hanging on the side of a barge. The tire served as a protective bumper. “The fish must have entered the tire at high tide,” Chaconas says. “I pitched a jig into the tire and was surprised with a hit. I set the hook and brought in a 2-pound bass.”
Bass 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 Galveston Bay when I caught three largemouths,” says Arkansas angler Howard Robinson. “There were more schooling after small mullets. They weren’t large—maybe a pound and a half each. But I was very surprised.”
Fishing guide Mark Schindel says he often caught bass in the same brackish canals in southwest Florida where snook and tarpon were plentiful. “If you cast into the feeder ditches that flow into the canal, you can catch any of the three. I always carried a couple rods and reels ready to go as I drove along. If I saw something busting the water, I’d stop, back up and throw a bait. Zara Spooks and Rat-L-Traps were my favs.”
Sometimes nice bass come from waters that seem too shallow or small to support largemouths. Louisiana photographer Chris Ginn caught a 3-pounder in a 6 x 6-foot puddle behind a revetment wall on the Red River in Shreveport. Jennifer Martin, an Arkansas farmer, says her family often catches bass in tiny drainage ditches created by irrigation water flowing out of bean and rice fields. Colorado outdoor writer Paul Cañada tells me he caught two bass just over 3 pounds each from a ditch draining rice fields near Sacramento, California.
“I found an unexpected hawg in a tiny little headwater stream where a 1-pound smallmouth was a dream fish,” says Missouri angler Jim Low. “A 5-pound largemouth bass churned up the 12 inches of water she was laying in and clobbered my mini Hula Popper. It was all I could do to land her on a 4-foot ultralight rig.”
G.D. Sanders had a similar experience in his home state of Texas. “I caught a 6-pound-plus bass in what was literally a mudhole,” he says. “I saw a swirl on the hole of water and walked back to my four-wheeler to grab my rod. I had no idea what was in the hole of water and was shocked beyond belief when I landed that hawg. The bass must have washed out of a tank on an adjacent ranch and survived on grasshoppers. He had probably a week left before the mudhole dried out.”
Andy and Shannon Whitcomb of St. Petersburg, Pennsylvania, learned something interesting while doing research on farm pond management at Iowa State University. “We sampled scores of ponds,” Andy says, “and some of the biggest, fittest bass were found in shallow, muddy ponds, almost devoid of all vegetation, that always had a herd of cows standing in them. Maybe it was just coincidence. Maybe our sampling size was too small. But I’ve also noticed this at least anecdotally while fishing in Oklahoma and Kansas. Are these ponds more productive somehow because of the cows? Or maybe just the spectacle of a wading cow, simultaneously drinking from and peeing in a pond, makes the average angler drive his pickup to another water hole and thus keep fishing pressure low?”
Speaking of toilets, my Facebook friend Ricky Pinkerton says his cousin Todd caught a 3-pounder once while casting a spinnerbait into the front door of a flooded porta-potty. Nebraska bassin’ fan Todd Consbruck had a similar experience, catching a hawg by casting through the open door of a flooded privy on Francis Case Reservoir in South Dakota.
My friend Tom Waynick, fishing a buzzbait through a flooded parking lot on Tennessee’s Center Hill Lake, caught a bass over the top of a submerged concrete picnic table and bench. “I remember telling my buddy, hey, look, there’s a table. Maybe one is up there ready for a picnic!”
My favorite “bass in odd places” story comes from my Arkansas fishing buddy Charlie Bridwell. 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 says. “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, ‘Okay, 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.”