Reminiscing about the magnificent last bass
By Larry Edwards
I will tell you about the last bass mainly because this was not just any bass. This was the fish I pronounced to be present more than twenty years previous when I first saw the water where the Chattooga River flows into Weiss Lake in northern Alabama. The river flows below hardwood forested hills and through the farms and settlements along it’s route.
It joins Weiss Lake two or three miles above the historic Cornwall Furnace and courses on under the Cobia Bridge to where it intersects the rest of the lake. The water is special in that area because of it’s rare yellow- green color. In the nutrient rich waters the bait fish thrived and where the food source is plentiful big fish grow and congregate.
My brother kept a RV parked just upstream from the Cornwall Furnace for over twenty years. Up and down the rivers and along the lake shore there is an active and militant citizenry that declared war on the polluters years ago. They were willing to fight for this place and are the true guardians of the lake.
Their constant vigilance and successful lawsuits are what made this story possible. As a living monument to their efforts there existed an incredibly huge and magnificent largemouth bass. This bass is worthy of a story because it was so incredibly huge and it crossed paths with my brother and me on a very special day in our lives. I don’t mean to imply we were in pursuit of this individual fish for the whole twenty plus years. Bass don’t live that long and only reach maximum size during the last few years of their life.
Only an extremely rare smattering possess the genetics to reach this gigantic proportion.
The conditions were perfect for a bass like this one to be present and this was the perfect fish for the conditions. It was the time my brother and I spent together looking for this bass we loved the most.
With all the anticipation of two kids at Christmas we waited for those days. It is only fitting we encountered her on such a post card gorgeous day in May.
We were two old timers in a blue metal flake Hydrasports X-270 bass boat that had been carefully maintained by one brother or the other since it came from the dealer new in 1989.
What no one could know is for all practical purposes it was a floating tackle store.
We had several tackle boxes completely full plus every square inch of storage was crammed with sacks of lures that wouldn’t fit into any box.
We were a pair of totally incurable tackle-holics.
We probably should have sought professional help for our condition but who can afford that much therapy?
We needed the bucks we would have blown on therapy to buy more lures and tackle.
There was more, something possibly supernatural there too.
I could feel it when I placed my hands on the boat’s waxed and polished gunwales. I could feel it and it was real or maybe it was only the imagination of an old fisherman.
I do know for a fact when we were in that boat together the years just melted away.
Old stiff shoulders and backs would fade far into the background to allow us to share a day of fishing.
Oh how utterly priceless those days were to us!
When we were out on the lake with fishing rods in our hands we were as happy as two human beings can possibly be. When we put our rods away for the evening several bass would be swimming around just a little bit wiser wearing hook holes in their lips.
We laughed at the old jokes we had told each other hundreds of times and told and re-told the stories of great fishing trips and big fish from all the years past.
No one else was there to listen so what did it matter the jokes were old and corny and we both knew the fishing stories by heart?
Those were our jokes and stories.
We owned them and they were worth telling each other again and again.
We were brothers but above and beyond we were best friends and fishing buddies.
There was nothing noteworthy about our outward appearance. Just a pair of common and ordinary guys wearing aged and battered lucky fishing caps.
What was different was the uncommon and extraordinary bond we shared.
The years had taken a toll on us as the years are so adept at doing to us all. The toll they exacted from my brother was exceptionally savage.
What in his younger years had been the perfect athlete’s body was failing fast from the ravages of diabetes.
He had already lost one leg and the other one was also failing.
We both had undergone heart bypass surgery. It was the ninth inning and we were keenly aware of how precious our remaining time together had become.
We almost desperately clung to every minute of every day we could be together and tried our very best to touch the other’s heart in a way to convey how much we treasured one another.
My brother was my hero and I was his hero. Try as you will you cannot spend the allotted time of two lives any better.
The day was growing late and the sun was over in the western sky above the hills of northern Alabama.
We had made the circuit of all the old spots and several nice bass had been carefully released back to the care of the lake.
For a couple of old timers we started early and quit late.
Always believing we were only one cast away from the fish of a lifetime.
The power of a magic boat is finite and the old shoulders and backs were winning the battle. We came to the last stretch close to the campground where my brother kept his RV parked.
A few more casts for this day and we would tell each other we would get the big girl tomorrow. Our optimism for tomorrow and next time should have been wore off bald but we had fiercely banished those thoughts.
The big old bass was lying right on that special few inches where the lake bottom drops off into the old river channel.
My Bandit crank bait came to an abrupt stop and I felt the head shake that only a very large fish can send up your line and through a graphite fishing rod.
She charged past the front of the boat and when she came to the surface she was still pretty fresh.
A bass this huge doesn’t jump. They will lift their head above the surface, flare that big mouth open and just wallow like a sow. When we saw the size of the fish we were both stunned.
I had seen and caught several big bass from my years of fishing Lake Fork and in Florida. Without a doubt this was the biggest bass I had ever seen or was it an apparition?
Maybe I choked and fumbled right there on the goal line but while my brother was scrambling for our landing net the hook slipped out of her mouth and the monster bass slowly sank back down into the yellow-green water and from our view.
We were left sitting there in the boat with eyes as big as saucers. We were so filled with awe over what had just transpired we lacked the extra emotional capacity to feel much disappointment. Once again the splendor of this place had flooded our consciousness and rendered us breathless.
That is what had drawn us here time and time again. The huge let-down that comes when you’ve just had a blast of adrenaline swept over us and we desperately needed some time to collect our thoughts.
In near silence we placed our rods in the rod box and returned to the launch ramp.
I have chosen to believe a higher power was orchestrating the events of that day. Be it the fish gods, the spirit of the lake or the creator of the universe. Take your pick. It might even have been just plain bad luck we didn’t actually boat the huge fish. This one was never going to be shown to another person or weighed or photographed anyway.
I had always planned for this to be our fish and ours alone. We were going to admire the magnificent creature while she regained her strength and then I would just release my hold so she could swim away. In our earlier years we would wag a big fish back to the marina for the folks to admire. I guess it was something we needed in those days but the time for impressing strangers had long passed for us both. We just ran out of having anything to prove or anyone to prove it to.
The idea of killing such a glorious fish to have our ego stroked or to entertain an audience had grown repugnant. Over time we had become aware our route to fulfillment had diverged from the mainstream.
We never presumed our way to be superior and we had not discovered some great truth.
We simply had found what worked for us and it was the path we chose to follow.
Late that evening my brother became ill and required a trip to the ER in Centre Alabama.
We were forced to cut our fishing trip a few days short and return to his home in Dalton, Georgia.
It wasn’t so much the words he used but there was an emptiness, a resignation in his voice. We had been a team far too long for me to miss it.
He had gone about as far as he could go.
Before we left the lake I went to the boat and placed my hands on it’s gunwale. I felt absolutely nothing.
The magic was gone, vanished. Perhaps my reason to feel it and believe is what had slipped from my grasp.
During the hour long drive to Dalton we discussed the events of the previous day.
My brother blamed himself for losing the huge bass because he couldn’t get to the fish with landing net.
Truth is it was never meant to be.
The lake had sent that special fish to us as a grand messenger.
We had run out of tomorrows.
There was not going to be a next time for us.
Weiss Lake had bid us our goodbye.