The allure of the largemouth

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11152296934358.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘The largemouth bass is arguably the most popular game fish in North America.’);

Growing up years ago in Texas, I became addicted to catching largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) on artificial lures. I would anxiously await the monthly publication of the three most popular fishing and hunting magazines of that time: Sports Afield, Outdoor Life, Field and Stream. Each of these publications usually contained an article on the largemouth bass, or old bronze back as the fish was frequently called. The fishing editors of these magazines were Jason Lucas (Sports Afield), Ted Trueblood (Field and Stream), and Al McClaine (Outdoor Life).

Of these outstanding outdoorsmen and writers, Jason Lucas was miles ahead of the others when it came to fishing for largemouth bass. This man knew how to fish for bass, and his articles had none of the hackneyed dope that had been previously published for the last 50 years. Lucas had the enviable record of having fished eight hours a day for 365 consecutive days for largemouths, and I quickly adopted his methods and became his disciple. I think the definitive book on the subject is still Lucas on Bass Fishing published in 1949 by Dodd, Meade & Company.

The largemouth bass is arguably the most popular game fish in America, and many dedicated anglers believe the catching of the largest largemouth on record is the most sought-after prize in all of fishing. Since 1932, the record for the largest largemouth has been held by George Perry who hauled in a 22 lb. 4 oz. monster from a lake in Georgia. In recent times, however, this record has been challenged by a woman named Leha Trew, who caught a fish weighing 22 lb. 8 oz. in 2003 from a small lake in Sonoma County, Calif. Unfortunately, Ms. Trew returned the fish to the water after taking a photograph of it and weighing it on a hand scale in front of one witness, so her claim to fame is somewhat suspect by the people who establish official fishing records. In addition, the fish was not examined by a fish biologist who could attest that it was indeed a Micropterus salmoides. (The record largemouth for Illinois is held by Ed Walfel, who caught one weighing 13 lb. 1 oz. from Stone Quarry Lake, in Lake County in 1976).

In the days before the advent of spinning and spin cast rods and reels, bass anglers employed short, stiff, steel rods and bait casting reels that always seemed to backlash at the wrong time. Bass plugs were large in comparison to today’s much smaller lures that the longer, more limber rods can easily cast. I recall that a few of the most popular bass lures some 50 years ago were the River Runt, Hawaiian Wiggler, Flatfish, Pikie Minnow, Daredevil, Bomber, Bass-Oreno, Chugger, Lucky 13, Jitterbug, and Hula Popper. I still have these plugs in a special storage box, being not willing to risk losing them to an underwater snag.

The largemouth bass thrives in warm waters, while its cousin, the smallmouth bass, prefers the colder waters of the northern part of the country. Consequently, largemouths grow considerably larger than smallmouths. The world record for a smallmouth is 11 lb. 15 oz. from Dale Hollow Lake in Kentucky, though this record has been questioned as it is alleged the fish was “salted” before being weighed. Illinois’s claim to fame comes from a strip mine lake in Fulton County in 1985, when Mark Samp reeled in a 6 lb. 7 oz. smallie.

To my way of thinking, there is no greater angling thrill than to have a largemouth bass suddenly explode out of the water and attack a surface lure being lightly twitched after you have cast it to an appropriate spot. In this case, the bass usually hooks himself, most often in the lip, and does not take the lure in deeply, where removing it can be injurious to the fish. I have used dozens of surface lures over the years for bass, and can say I have had the best luck with the Tiny Torpedo and the Hula Popper. But, sometimes, bass just refuse to attack a surface lure, and you must resort to a different type of bait to entice them to strike.

I have caught largemouths in the 2-3 lb class in the Kishwaukee and Rock rivers and in Black Bass Pond in the Franklin Creek Natural Area in Ogle County. But the two largest bigmouth bass I ever caught weighed 6 lbs. 5 oz. and 7 lbs. 2 oz. in the water by my former home on the eastern shore of Maryland. The 7 pounder’s mouth was so large, I could insert my clenched fist into its mouth, rotate it, and not touch the inside of the mouth. Both of these fish were caught on the Tiny Torpedo, and that is probably why I endorse this lure.

Good largemouth fishing, brother and sister anglers.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

From the May 4-10, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!