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The Nine Pounder

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The Nine Pounder

(wrote this for my kids...true story)

Bass fishing was one of my passions. It was the ultimate peaceful escape combined with an ever changing chess game as to whether I was successful. My brother Joe is an accomplished Bass angler and has caught several that were large enough to qualify for state fishing awards. I often said to him that I’d rather catch a dozen smaller fish than spending hours trying catching a big one and he disagreed. We would often good naturedly debate my philosophy but I was almost converted to his way of thinking on one memorable trip.

I would often take my bass boat to various ponds and lakes around the southeast region of the state. This was before I had kids so I would often spend double digit hours out on the water. One of my favorite lakes was Billington Sea in Plymouth. There was many times I where I did not catch a fish and went home with nothing more than a sunburn. These fruitless trips were not that unusual and the moniker “Billyskunk” was often the reply when someone asked how the fishing went. However when you did have a good day at Billington it was always one to remember.

I loved fishing in the springtime when the large female bass were on their beds preparing to lay their eggs or guard them. Billington was a heavily fished lake with semi transparent water so it was often very difficult to fool these wary fish that on average had probably seen twenty lures thrown in their direction just about every day.

It was May 22, 1995 and remember it was mostly sunny and windy as I slowly traversed the water with limited success. I had caught two small male bass over the course of five long hours each weighing less than two pounds. At one point I noticed a guy about my age who was in a nearby silver v hull boat and asked if he had any luck. He replied ‘no’ so I was becoming resigned to the fact that the fish simply wouldn’t be biting that day. I wished him luck; he returned the sentiment and motored off into the distance.

I had tried practically every lure I had in my arsenal and was contemplating whether to change the black and blue jig I was currently using. It was then around 12:30 in the afternoon and I was drifting rather aimlessly courtesy of the ever annoying and constant winds. I was fairly disgusted at that point and stopped trying to fight the mini gales with my bow mounted electric motor. I eventually drifted into a portion of the lake near a very small island where I had never had much success during any of my previous hundred plus trips. I had been staring down into by tackle box for several minutes while debating whether to just call it a day. I don’t remember what caused me to eventually glance up at the spot of water where my eyes affixed to but I was glad I did. I saw two large silhouettes of fish in about four feet of the semi clear water and instantly recognized them as bass preparing to make a ‘nest’ or were in the process of guarding their eggs.

I tried to steady to my feet and placed what I thought was a carefully aimed cast toward both fish. I had become very accurate with my bait caster having literally thrown thousands of casts during each fishing excursion over the past decade. Unfortunately the winds once again factored into the equation and forcefully redirected the jig in mid air. I cursed under my breath as the lure proceeded to enter the water a good eight feet away from the fish. However I didn’t have time to utter the second syllable of the profanity because the larger of the two fish began to steamroll toward the lure at warp speed. I saw my line move and instinctively set the hook as hard as I could. It’s no surprise to anyone who has ever fished to say you know that you have a lunker on the line when it feels like you snagged a moving bag of cement. I knew the fish was huge but was too busy trying to counter act it’s every move to shake the hook to figure out how big. At several points I jammed the first two feet of my fishing rod underwater when I saw it rise toward the surface in an attempt to jump and dislodge the lure. The battle took several minutes and I remembered my father’s advice when I was a kid to not “Horse” the fish into the boat. At one point I thought I had the upper hand as the bass swam toward me. That hope was short lived however when it began to repeatedly and violently swim under the boat. I was sure my line was about to snap at any moment with each charge the fish made. I usually did not use a net to land fish but I knew I needed all the help I could get. I attempted to reach into the well of my boat for the net with one hand while trying to keep the line taut with the other. I stumbled off the platform and into the boat well with a painful thud as I grabbed for the net. I was relieved to discover that the fish was still on but was continuing its blitz under the boat. I blindly swept the net under the boat two or three times hoping to contain it. I was practically on my back when I felt the weight of the fish as I lifted the net upward on what was likely my fourth try.

While adrenaline was still pumping I was more exhausted than elated immediately upon landing it. I remember being a bit freaked out when I saw the fish because prior to that my biggest bass had only been in the five pound range. It was so large for a Bass; particularly one caught in Massachusetts that it was beautifully grotesque. I quickly realized that the wind had actually been an ally in my success. The waves it caused on the surface helped to conceal my presence and it’s probable that the fish may have been too spooked had the lure splashed over them as was my intent. I weighed the egg laden fish with still shaky hands on my digital scale; the numbers momentarily flashed before locking on nine pounds. I gently unhooked the fish and placed it in my live well. This was before everyone had a cell phone otherwise I would’ve called my brother, friends, neighbors and perhaps my third grade teacher to share the news.

Moments later two old timers in a small johnboat motored alongside me after witnessing the commotion and hearing the occasional shout of excited profanity. Back then I only carried a Kodak 120 film camera I bought at CVS for probably fifteen bucks. Had I known of my good fortune that day I would have hired a film crew and professional photographer but I digress. The two men remarked that was the biggest fish they ever saw when I hoisted it from the live well and asked them to take my picture. One of them remarked “you’re in luck, I’m a retired photographer”. His confidence visibly waned however when I handed him a camera that looked like it was two dollars away from being a toy.

He managed to take some great photos despite the camera limitations. Of course I did not know this until the film was developed later that day. I thanked him as I put the fish back into the live well and retrieved the camera. The elderly photographer then remarked “You’re not going to keep it, are you”? His tone of disappointment caused me to pause and I gave an ambiguous reply as I started up the gas motor and headed to the boat landing. I beached the boat and was walking toward my truck with the intention of backing the trailer into the water but I couldn’t get that question out of my head. I had never seen the guy before but I could tell by his appearance and demeanor that he had seen much in life and possessed undeniable wisdom as to what the right thing to do was. This fish was large enough to earn a state fishing award and possibly qualify as the on record biggest bass caught in Massachusetts for 1995. I tried to convince myself to keep it with the rationale that most anglers would have that fish mounted and placed over the fireplace for all to see, I would be crazy to let a once in a lifetime fish go!

I turned around just as I was about to grab the door handle to my truck and walked back into my boat. I motored back over to the spot where I had first observed her. The two old timers were nothing more than a speck on the lake’s horizon at this point. I held the fish aloft and knew that I had to let it go. I knew that the growing cycle for fish in Massachusetts is very slow because of the harsh winter months. I knew that fish had been living in this lake since I was an kid with acne and braces on my teeth. I felt a fleeting moment of shame as I thought who am I to keep it? I gently released the fish in the water and watched as it slowly melted out of sight. An 8x10 photo of that fish hangs on my wall today but I don’t look at it as a trophy. It serves as a reminder that I simply did the right thing on that windy Spring day in 1995.

Upon reflection I don’t know who taught me more…the old timer or the fish.

-Steve B. 2011

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Excellent article! Well written!

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Very nice article, and a GREAT story! Any chance of seeing that pic?

Jeff

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That was a great story. What an awesome experience to have. I think ya did the right thing by turning her loose.

Oh, and I am definitely jacking the phrase "hooked a moving bag of cement". :D That describes the feeling to a T.

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Nice.It's great you put it in words to be able to look back on. All the little details usually fade with time. I felt like I was fighting that fish reading that story.

There's no better feeling of the final triumph when the fish is is hoisted securely out of the water, especially after a battle like the one you described.

I recently was picked as a finalist in a contest that asked to describe your dream. I submitted a story that closely mirrors your epic catch but I only had 500 spaces to tell my story and had to be very breif.

Anyways thanks for your story...it's a classic :)

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