Here on the verge of official start of winter (Tuesday, 7:42 a.m.) comes a just-told fishing story that sounds like a Santa Claus fireside fairy tale, but it's true and makes you wish it was bass season again.
Bob Miller, an inveterate fly fisherman from Fremont, landed a 9-pound, 4-ounce (or so) largemouth bass from a Sandusky County farm pond in October on a bluegill-size fly fishing outfit - a four-weight rod with a three-pound-test tipper on his leader.
It was the figurative case of hunting a bear with a fly swatter, and Miller had to use some of the rod-handling skills acquired over decades of fly fishing saltwater and freshwater from the Amazon nearly to the arctic. He just recently began telling the tale, and understandably is tight-lipped about the golden pond that produced the bass prize:
He was having a fine time catching bluegills on No. 12 popper flies, these on a flimsy three-pound-test tippet, and was just passing a fine autumn afternoon.
"I had a bluegill on, seven or eight inches. He [the big one] came by and he busted that fish like it was going out of style. It was about 25 feet from the bank. I saw him coming. I saw his wake."
At first Miller thought the big bass was one of the huge white amur that the pond's owner has stocked to eat down vegetation. That's how big it appeared.
"He grabbed the bluegill and ran. I just let him go. He took all my fly line out- 80 feet - before he stopped." Miller is experienced enough to know that a big fish will stop to turn its prey to head-first position in its mouth, so that it can be swallowed without opening up the sharp, spiny dorsal fin. He also was cool enough not to get too excited and force the issue, and lose.
"I kept up just enough pressure to know he was there. I waited what, two minutes, for the bass to turn the bluegill and I set. He started to run like heck.''
The fish was now about 100 feet out, into about 20 feet of backing.
Miller played the big bass deftly, slowly gaining back lost line and finally spooling some of the fly line onto the reel. "It was 5, 10 minutes before I had him under control.''
The angler used a big-fish saltwater tactic - which he has demonstrated on tarpon, snook, sailfish and other big guys - to tire the bass. His tackle clearly was overmatched. When the fish swam to the right, he would move his rod left and force it to turn and use energy. And vice versa. The continual right-left pressure wore the big one down.
"Finally he rolled, like a tarpon rolls when he is exhausted,''Miller said.
The angler pointed his rod at the fish, gently gained line and got it near the bank, then proceeded to slip on a rock and go in up to his knees in bottom muck. But he lipped the trophy bass and hoisted it to the bank.
After some quick photographs he spent 10 minutes trying to resuscitate it. Miller rarely, if ever, keeps any fish, preferring to release them for another day. Miller added "I was going to let him go, but he just died."
Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, said that he probably has seen perhaps five nine-pound-class largemouth bass in 20 years. "You just don't see too many that size. We see them up to eight pounds - those are not tremendously uncommon."
But that next pound, on up, is very uncommon.
Goedde said the big bass likely was 12 years old or more. The state record largemouth, 13.13 pounds, was taken from a farm pond in 1976 in Columbiana County in eastern Ohio.
For Miller, 79, who has caught uncountable numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass in his time, this one that didn't get away is his largest. "I've never caught a bigger bass on a fly. I guess that's the biggest bass I've ever caught."
And that counts loads of largemouth when he lived in Florida.
Its actual weight is something of a guess. Miller's tackle included a hand-held scale, which the bass pulled down to 9 pounds, 4 ounces. The fish was 23 inches long and had an 18.75-inch girth. "It was like a big football," according to Miller.
Depending on which of two length-girth weight calculation formulas you use, it figures to either 8.27 pounds (length squared times girth divided by 1200), or 10.11 pounds (length times girth squared divided by 800). Average out the two and you get almost exactly what the hand-scale indicated.
Speaking of bass, you can read about smallmouth bass, streams, and fly fishing if you pick up a copy of John Tertuliani's new book, Smallmouth Bass and Streams, Thoughts on Fly Fishing.
It is 136 pages of easy, informative reading that makes you itch to be on a free-running stream again, maybe in a canoe party of like-minded fly fishing anglers, working the holes and hides for smallmouth and stopping for a "shore" lunch. Tertuliani paints such tantalizing pictures.
He does more, though. A lifelong fly fisherman, he holds a graduate degree in aquatic entomology and worked seven years at a state fish and game agency. He now is a federal biologist. Along the way he has picked up expert skills in reading streams and their fish and insect populations. Hitch that to a love and long experience with tying flies and fly fishing and you can wind up with an authoritative and helpful book like this one.
Tertuliani discusses streams, smallmouth, reading a river from headwater to tailwater, the importance of flow, lunar activity, equipment - the works. He does a terrific job of summarizing key points at the end of each chapter, and the final chapter, "Retrospect," condenses it all into easy swallows.
Smallmouth and Streams is available from Lotic Books, P.O. Box 543, Hillard, Ohio 43026. The price is $19.95, plus $1.35 tax and $3.85 for priority shipping, or $25.15 total, cash or check. Telephone orders can be placed at 614-529-1806.