THE BIG CATCH
Wooten adds to family legacy after hauling in flathead
Ryan Wooten was fishing for smallmouth bass or “maybe some walleye” last week with a “little 3-inch black twistertail” with a 4-pound line on spinning gear.
“Then the adventure started,” he said.
Let’s pick up with Jackson Kennedy, who walked down to the spillway on the Fox River in North Aurora to make a few casts as the adventure was beginning. At first, Kennedy thought Wooten was snagged, then called over and found it was a fish on.
“He had been fighting the fish for over an hour when I had approached him,” Jackson posted in Illinois Fishing Bandits on Facebook. (Thanks to Ed Schmitt for tagging me on this epic tale.)
“I decided there was only one option to successfully land this giant, so I jumped in the river and helped him secure a fish of a lifetime. We walked up and down the tailwater of the Fox for about 30 minutes. I live down the road, so I called my brother [Josh] to bring down a net and we pulled in a [42-inch, 31¾-pound] flathead. This [is] a memory I will never forget and I’m grateful I could be there to assist him!” Wooten nailed the moment.
“I would probably still be there fighting the fish without Jackson and his brother,” he said.
At the beginning, Wooten thought he was snagged, too.
“He must have picked it up,” he said. “The fight was like fighting a log. It was definitely an adventure. I am probably never going to experience anything like that again.”
The uniqueness was the light line. “I had an 8-pound test rod in my car, but I didn’t have it with me,” Wooten said. “If I had hooked into him on 8-pound, it would have been easier, but I don’t think I would have him mounted. It was definitely the fish of a lifetime. I know they get much bigger on the Fox, but it was the [uniqueness of catching it on] 4-pound test.”
Wooten plans to have it mounted at Cliff ’s Taxidermy in Plainfield, where his dad, Les, had some big crappie mounted.
“My grandpa Al loved to fish, then passed it down to my dad,” Wooten said.
That’s truly family fishing. Wooten first appeared in the Sun-Times when his cousin Elijah Wooten earned Fish of the Week in 2009 for his first sauger while they were fishing with Elijah’s dad, Brad.
I reached Jim Bondi, bass fishing coach for Hinsdale South, where Wooten was on the bass-fishing team for all four years and was also an honor-roll student and a soccer player.
“I truly appreciated how much fishing and the outdoors was in his blood,” Bondi emailed. “He clearly had a lifelong passion to spend hours on the water that was fostered at a young age by his Dad and other members of his family. In terms of fishing, he had the patience and skill to finesse fish and coax fish to bite while many others struggled. While I may have taught him a couple things, he was the first to show me an underspin and blade bait, among other things I’m sure.”
That love of the outdoors translated to college. Wooten will be a senior at Upper Iowa University majoring in biology. Last year, he had a nice internship surveying native brook trout in northeast Iowa.
“It was an amazing experience,” Wooten said. “I might do my masters in wildlife or marine biology. That is my passion.”
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