It was Lake Millwood in Southwest Arkansas, and I believe the year was 1973. The weather was hot, the water was hot, but best of all the lake was really hot. When you found the bass it was bass after bass, cast after cast.
All my life I had fished with a Zebco spinning reel. However, earlier that year my friend George dragged me kicking and screaming into the world of baitcasting reels.
Having grown up casting right handed and reeling with my left, I had alot of trouble adjusting to the traditional “right hand” baitcasting reels. Earlier that week I broke down and bought a new Ambassadeur 5001C (left hand) reel and a new rod to match. I don’t recall the price, but at that time it was a lot of money for me.
We took the 60-mile trip to Lake Millwood, towing my friend’s 16-foot Ranger with a monstrous 115 hp motor. I’d never been to Lake Millwood, so he was introducing me to the lake and I had no idea what to expect. He told me to tie on a black worm with a blue tail. Then George dropped the trolling motor and found one of his hotspots; an old creek bed about 7 feet deep.
George said, “You go first. Just throw it on the other side and slowly let it fall into the creek.” I did and immediately felt a small tap, then nothing. The line went limp. George said, “O.K., set the hook hard.” I reared back and stuck that bass with all I had. To be honest, it felt like a log. I told George I thought I was hung up. As I relaxed, the bass pulled back at least as hard as I had set the hook. In an instant the rod and reel were gone, jerked completely out of my hand by an offended, irate largemouth creature the size I had only heard about. The fish did a victory leap right in front of us, as if to say, “I win this one, sucker!”
Soon the water was calm, not a ripple. The air temperature was nearing 100, and I’m sure my blood pressure was nearing 200. I wanted to cry, my brand new rig was gone after one cast.
You might think the story is over, but thanks to George, it gets better. Unlike me, George had brought several backup rigs. He said let’s tie on some Mudbugs and try to snag the line or rod. We had to pull them really fast to get them to dig the bottom of the creek. Finally, George hooked something. While it was not my rod and reel; it was a nice two pound bass. Before he got him in the boat I also hooked up; another fish about the same size. We sat there pulling in bass for another 10 minutes. They were all nice fish, but nothing like “the one that got away”.
Suddenly the bass stopped hitting, and George speculated that my rod had been dragged too far away for the dredging to work. Not wanting to give up, and possibly catch another two pounder, I threw that Mudbug one more time.
To make the day complete, I got hung up on that last cast. George moved the boat over closer so I could try to get my bait back. As I picked up the line with my hand, I felt a vibration and a slight pull. I started reeling again and found my Mudbug hooked to another line. In shear excitement, I grabbed the line and pulled it in. Yes it was! My original line and my rod and reel. I got it in the boat and so excited to have it back I totally forgot about the fish. I was too busy thanking George, God, and whoever else was within yelling distance.
As I retrieved the line on my lost rod, I felt weight. I drug it in to find a totally exhausted seven pound bass. We figured it had looped the line around something and fought until it tired out.
I don’t think there is a moral to this story except maybe that good things happen to unworthy people occasionally. I still have the reel, 36 years later, in a place of honor somewhere in a box in the garage. I turned the big fish loose, but the others made great fillets!
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