Listen, Learn and Land….the Big Bass
“Great teachers fill you up with hope and shower you with a thousand reasons to embrace all aspects of life.” Pat Conroy
This is the story of taking the “road less traveled, Blessed Brotherhood” and the snakeskin bass.
Listen – to those who have caught the largemouth bass or “Freshwater Great Whites” (my private term) you dream of catching, listen to the locals….if you can get them to talk and that is another art form, listen to the fish. This theme will play out and lead us to “The Snakeskin Bass”.
The Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina the story starts here with meeting Karl Buchanan as cadets. We both served in the US Army with Karl seeing combat duty during Desert Storm. We are part of a brotherhood of The Ring, we are different yet the same. The bond like the pursuit of Largemouth Bass or the “Freshwater Great White” binds us, and to all of you together for adventures one could ever imagine.
Preparation – results from acting upon the listening and learning, in my case it frequently covers holes in my skills, it most certainly will lead to catching more and larger largemouths, this is Before you reach the water, have a plan, be ready to go, hooks sharpened and plan to have to adapt at some point….if the first wave of presentations don’t result in a Toad, listen and adapt…quickly.
Bill Siemantel was compassionate enough to provide some direction on coaching Karl. Bill said “Make it all about him, help him with lures, spots, presentation angles.” Challenging to catch your own, try coaching someone else to catch theirs….work, but it turned out to be exceptionally rewarding. To give something back to someone else who loves it as much or move than you do…and I love it.
Day 1 – We worked through multiple spots that had produced large fish in the past, attempted presentations to a bedding dinosaur size largemouth, worked through all our initials offerings. The grand total ? – 1 fish each, an immense dose of humility and some resolve to crack the code the next day. I made mistakes, attempting to make the fish eat unsuccessfully some lures that just looked so good in the water (to me) that I determined they had to be impossible to refuse. Evidently, the bass weren’t listening to my mind chatter.
Saw some locals at the gas station that evening decided to walk over and strike up a conversation. I told them I grew up there, lived in the city, was clueless and needed to salvage a fishing trip. They were kind enough to reveal that Chartreuse/White Spinnerbaits were “the deal” and confirmed for me that they like me had tried the wakebaits, buzzbaits, frog etc. and while the air temperature made that feel appealing to us, the water temperature was not quite there yet. Humility in fishing is only a cast away, however the beauty is so is redemption. Learn from what you hear, learn from your mistakes, adapt to what the fish want. Adapt quickly.
That night we discussed our shortcomings and “reloaded”, we agreed the fish were not ready to break the surface yet, they were not ready to slurp something off the surface, but they were feeding and that a presentation 6”- 3 feet with some flash, throb and preferably including a presentation with Chartreuse/White would provide a chance to salvage our manliness, dignity and right to claim we actually were folks who catch bass. I went all-in choosing a double Colorado blade (1 stainless and 1 Copper) spinnerbait with a Chartreuse/White Skirt and put a little “meat” on the hook with a watermelon candy grub. Reduced my other options to a swimbait and a 7” Creature bait. 1 presentation for the top of the water column, the other 2 options could be worked throughout the water column. Narrowed the focus, but varied the other colors going with Green Pumpkin/Purple and Grey Ghost, Karl had his own version of the spinnerbait with the same color scheme just a different meat as a trailer.
What I learned from this situation was, “When the going gets tough, retreat back into the basics, the fundamentals and watch carefully what happens, very carefully.”
In review, I listened to Bill, we listened to the locals after failing miserably, we started listening to the fish telling us what they did not want and adapted our presentations from Day 1. Then came the missing link that broke it open for us.
Tommy Hite and his wife Carolyn Hite – farmers, entrepreneurs, loving, honest who are exceptionally gifted and savvy. Tommy as a farmer, carries an MBA from the University of Richmond, he is humble but if you make the mistake of underestimating this man…you have done yourself a disservice. I learn from him each and every time I listen carefully.
The Hites and their 4 sons are all superb outdoorsmen, each with their own super powers. From downing monster bucks, to harvesting big Wild Turkeys…they all carry golf handicaps in the low single digits. They are the kind of people who are not going to tell you about it, you witness the fireworks and it makes you aware how good they are, then they flick you a smile.
Carolyn privately supported me in the cabin during a private conversation asking “Where are you taking Karl?”, I smiled and said nothing. She followed up with “If anyone knows where the fish are, you do.” And I replied, “Yes I do.” That phrase was choking me by the end of Day 1. Tommy simply asked me “Have you fished Hite Lake?”. I recognized the tone of his voice, part question/equal part command. It meant he wanted me to fish there to tell him the state of the water and it meant he felt that was a good place. So the next morning we decided to obey the command starting the day at Hite Lake in order to be able to honestly say “Yes, Sir we fished Hite Lake and here is what we found.” He wanted pictures of big fish and I filmed the release of this big fish as ongoing proof that when we say “it doesn’t matter how large the fish is going back in the water unharmed.” we mean that. When you treat landowners with respect, keep your word, do a little extra…..I can tell you from experience water will open up to you that you didn’t think was accessible. My brothers and sisters in pursuit of big bass, it sure does help to fish where the big fish are.
We rolled up and the water was far more stained than the day before. My heart sank a little for a second but I pulled it back together and thought “Okay, pull that big throbbing spinnerbait, use this point theory Bill is evangelizing and learn something.” 2nd cast I landed the first of 14 bass I would catch in the next hour or so. Bypassing everything except the points, looking for angles instead of aimlessly pounding the water. The water looked different to my eye, the technique was working. Just kept walking finding the target point or structure, zeroing in on the speed to trigger the bite and watching it happen very rapidly, over and over. I offered the lure to Karl on fish 2,6,10 and 12….then suggested he tie his version on.
10 minutes or so later I heard Karl say “This is a pig.” and watched as I closed the distance to him with his rod bowed over, hands held very high, fishing breaking the surface periodically and this went on for over a minute. As I walked up Karl was holding an incredibly beautiful fish.
We named this fish “Snakeskin” based on the beautiful markings along the lateral line of the bass. Natures camouflage and why even at the last few feet of a cast they can emerge from the nothingness to smash your lure. 21 ¾” and 6 lbs 12oz. Digital weight, aka “The Lie Detector”. I don’t weigh all the fish, but I do take special note of the size of fish that a particular bait delivers. Very valuable information and you will see patterns develop over time that are quite useful. I know which frog for me produces numbers, which one excels at 4-6 lbers and I am now going to wear out 2 “King Daddy’s” from Spro as I search for “Jaws”. One Rainforest Black and Natural Green, trying to “keep it simple”.
What I learned from this experience.
1. If you are swinging for the fence and attempting to force the bite…if that does not work..you must adapt quickly.
2. Listen to the locals who are catching fish, humble yourself and ask them for their wisdom.
3. When things go south retreat into the fundamentals. The color/throb of the spinnerbait combined with the angles of bringing that presentation past those points and avenues within the structure triggered fish after fish. That experience did something good to me as an angler
4. Study those folks who have already demonstrated the skills to catch the fish you would like to catch. Videos are an awesome way to learn from others on your schedule.
Thank you for taking your time to share our story. I hope one of these points will lead you to your next “big un”.