I was going through some fishing photos this morning when I came across this shot of my friend Carlos Gomez grinning wickedly as he holds up a giant largemouth bass. Impressive, huh? Wouldn’t you like to catch a hawg that size?
Me, too. And I almost caught this one. Almost.
There’s a pretty funny story behind Carlos catching this fish. It was June 2004. My wife Theresa and I were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary on a trip to Mexico. I had convinced Theresa we should spend part of our vacation fishing on Lake El Salto, a body of water many consider the best trophy bass lake in the world. Theresa, who rarely fished before this trip, had really gotten in the swing of things. She was casting a plastic worm and catching scores of 3- to 7-pounders. It wasn’t long before she decided maybe she did like fishing after all.
This was my fifth bassing trip south of the border. I had previously fished Lake Guerrero, Lake Huites, Lake Dominguez and El Salto. These are extraordinary bass lakes. Each has a healthy population of 10-pound-plus largemouths, but despite my best efforts, I had never caught a bass over 10 pounds, a goal I’d been shooting for since I first visited Mexico in 1993.
This trip was no different. While Theresa threw her plastic worm and relished the fight of literally hundreds of bass, I was strictly fishing for a bass over 10 pounds. My previous best was an 8-pound, 15-ounce bass I had caught in my home state of Arkansas. My biggest Mexican fish prior to this particular trip was just a little smaller than that. But every time I visit El Salto, I know there’s a very good chance I could land my bass of a lifetime. Hundreds of 10- to 15-pounders are boated by anglers visiting here each year.
And so, instead of casting a worm, I was chunking and winding a huge floating-diving crankbait. I didn’t catch as many bass as Theresa (I never do), but the ones I had been catching so far that day were quality fish. Earlier, I had caught my biggest bass ever—a 9-pound, 4-ounce lunker that put up a whale of a fight. But to me, this was still a disappointment. I wanted one over 10 pounds, and I wanted it bad.
On this particular afternoon, we were fishing near an island in the lake. I had just made a long cast with my crankbait when Theresa set the hook in a nice largemouth. I hadn’t shot many photos of her with her fish up to this point, so instead of retrieving my lure, I just set my rod down in the boat and grabbed my camera. I could see my crankbait floating on the surface of the water about 30 yards away.
When Theresa had reeled her fish close enough, Carlos netted it, and I started shooting photos. The fish she caught wasn’t huge—about 5 or 6 pounds—but that’s a darn good bass for anyone on their first bass-fishing trip. To take the photo, I had to walk to the opposite end of the boat from where I had been fishing. And I left my rod laying back there with the lure still floating on the water’s surface.
The next thing that happened seemed very odd. While I was shooting photos of Theresa, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a great blue heron flying toward us. This heron did something I’ve never seen a heron do before. When it was over my crankbait, it saw the lure and dove from the sky. The bird hit the water like a pelican diving for mullet, plunging its head beneath the surface. Then, with some difficulty, it took flight again, and I watched, astounded, as my fishing line started moving off in the direction the heron was flying. I never actually saw the crankbait in the heron’s beak, but you can probably understand why, when I saw the slack going out of my line, I thought the heron had grabbed the plug and was flying away with it.
My rod was out of reach on the opposite end of the boat from where I stood. So I shouted at Carlos to grab it. I didn’t want to see the heron fly off with the lure AND my rod and reel.
Carlos dove for the rod just as the line tightened, and then the second strange thing happened. Carlos reeled the line tight and set the hook hard. I thought, what the hell is he doing? Why in the world would he set the hook in that heron? I could imagine him reeling in the big bird and watching it try to peck his eyes out while he removed the lure.
Carlos looked at me and grinned that shit-eating grin. “Ees a beeg bass,” he said, smiling. “Mucho grandé. You want?” He extended his arm toward me, offering me the rod. I expected to see the heron swap ends any second now, and I wanted no part of reeling in an angry bird the size of a pterodactyl.
“You catch it,” I said, smiling back at Carlos, thinking I had ruined his big joke.
Carlos’ fish weighed exactly 10 pounds, 8 ounces. It’s the biggest bass I ever almost caught.