As we unloaded our kayaks, the morning of June 11th, I had no idea this would be a day I'd never forget. I was fishing the RiverBassin.com Tournament stop in Columbus, Georgia. We had a small group of 6 guys and gals, who were determined to do good in this tournament. Joining us on the river was Scott Starnes, Terry Wolka, Scott's friends Jeremy and Mark, and my wife Rachael. We had a small stretch of river picked out to fish that had one good section of shoals that were maybe 200yds x 300yds square. Scott, Mark, and Jeremy stayed out in the deeper, slack water, fishing worms or other lures used for fish down deep. Terry, Rachael and I all headed upriver straight to the shoal sections.
I started out the day throwing a topwater devil's horse and quickly had my 3 fish limit but the length wasn't enough to put me near the top. My biggest fish was an 18" shoal bass I had caught on the devil's horse and I knew I would need something bigger. At this point it was after 12pm and it was getting hot. The bite had slowed way down and it was taking a slow approach like a shakyhead to catch fish. I have always been able to find a few shoal bass, up in the shallow fast water, even in the hottest parts of the summer. So I tied on a 5" hard swimbait and went searching for the big fish to fill my stringer.
I started fishing up in the swiftest water I could find and quickly hooked into something big. It stayed down deep and just didn't feel right. As I got the fish closer, I realized it was a 5lb striper. Not the black bass species I was looking for and quite a disappointment when your tournament fishing. I kept on fishing and that's when I had a fish grab the swimbait. I was kind of startled and didn't set the hook very hard which was my downfall because that 4-5lb shoal bass just launched itself out of the water and threw the swimbait back in my face. UGH!!! This was a bummer but in the end it was a let down I was willing to deal with since the river definitely paid me back. That fish gave me the confidence I needed to continue on with the swimbait.
Sweat was dripping from my face and into my eyes it was so HOT. It was getting close to time to pack up and head back to the weigh in, less than an hour left, when a fish swipes at my lure but doesn't hook up. I hollered to my partner, Rachael, and told her I had just missed a fish. I continued to make casts to the same location I had on the previous cast. On my 6th or 7th cast back in there, the fish came back and just gently sucked in my swimbait. I slammed back the rod and it barely moved the fish. It was shallow, maybe 3ft deep, and I could see the big shoal bass turn sideways underwater and instantly knew I had a 5lb plus shoal bass on. I jumped out of my yak, tangling my feet in another rod I had on the boat. My yak went downriver while I tried not to break my rod and lose this fish all at the same time. I finally snapped to and realized that the rod was fine and I needed to pay attention to this fish. It would take line like it was easy, would just swim off and I would have to let it take line or lose it. I still didn't know exactly how big this fish was until I pulled it to the surface for Rachael to net it. That's when I began screaming, "GET IT! GET IT!" She scooped the fish into the net, almost breaking the cheap handle and I began celebrating like no one's business. She was scared the fish would get out of the net and was trying to make me take the net from her. I was in such a state of shock that it took me 30 seconds or more to catch on to what she was asking.
I took the net and couldn't believe my eyes. I knew this fish was over 7lbs and the world record is just under 9lbs. I have been trying to break the 5lb mark since the begining of 2010 and at this point my previous personal best was 4lb 12oz. After a few minutes of ridiculous celebration, dancing, and screaming, I took the fish over to Scott and borrowed his scales. The fish measured in at 23.25" long and weighed 7lb 8oz's. The feeling from holding this beast was unreal and I am so thankful I had a chance to put my hands on her. It was magical to say the least. Watching that big shoal bass swim off unharmed was almost as fun as holding her.