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826,572 Shoalie Casts Later and…WHAM!

  Before I get into what happened on my 826,573rd cast, I'd be remiss if I didn't go back and give some credit to the shoalie beginning.  It really all began when I was a young boy and my dad would take me wading on a small river close to home for bass and bream.   He had caught some nice bass out of it, but as a youngster I found the bass fishing to be tough.  However, after I came back from college I decided I was again up for the challenge of figuring out those river bass in my old local flow since I was a little older and wiser than I was when I was a teenager.

    One night in late 2003 I stumbled onto GRF while doing some research about my local waters.  Sometime in 2004, after lurking for a while, I decided to register with this eclectic group of folks that included some GRF originals such as Jim Nielson, Shoalieman, Braveswin, Kokosing Lover, Altamaha Jones, Croaker, Gone2Seed, Intrepid Bob and of course Sam the Creekstalker.

     I had never heard of a shoal bass and was just an average fisherman who enjoyed fishing ponds, small lakes and rivers.  After seeing some pictures and stories of them my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to make my first float trip and cast number 1 to these fish.  It was a little weird meeting up with a complete stranger to go fishing, but that is exactly what my dad and I did when Braveswin offered to take us on our first shoal bass adventure.  We met at the Waffle House (how fitting) where Braveswin was there waiting on us with a couple gifts – 2 black Booyah buzzbaits.  Whew, this guy wasn't a psycho, and in fact he was one of the nicest guys I'd ever met.

     For four years now I have been fishing for these fish and every year, thanks to the many tips and tactics I have learned from folks on this site, I have gotten a little better at catching the bigger ones.  Today, approximately 826,572 shoalie casts later, I feel like I have hit the shoal bass lottery.  Ever since busting the six pound barrier last year I have dreamt about surpassing the seven pound mark and what the fight and fish would be like if it ever happened.  Let me tell you that this fish did not disappoint any of the scenarios in those dreams.

     On Friday, April 4th, at approximately 5:45pm, I felt the thump of a lifetime on my soft plastic bait.  I was standing on a rock and I walked forward a step to wind up every bit of slack in that line, then I did a baseball-like reverse crow hop backwards and set the hook as hard as I could.  After setting a hook that hard with 50lb braided line you would think whatever was on the end would move towards me, at least a little.  Nope, this green and gold thigh actually pulled me back to it!  It began to move downstream of me and get into some very very swift current.  Not to long ago on the message board we had talked about ways we have lost big fish and one of the ways was trying to bring a fish upstream.  Well, I have never done that since losing a big one that way and was not going to try it with this fish - because it would have either broke the rod, the line (if there was any frayed spots), pulled the hook out, or stretched the hook hole out so much that when it jumped or got slack the hook would have come out.

     The only thing I could do was chase this thing downstream because I wasn't in my kayak to float down river with it.  So, I just reacted and started sprinting down river skipping rocks as fast as I could to catch up with it (kind of like how in a motor boat they run the outboard to follow and catch up to a big tarpon or marlin or whatever).  I am very fortunate I didn't fall and sprain my ankle, break something or fall into a deep hole that could have filled my waders with water.  I knew the risks, but quite frankly after seeing the fish I didn't care about the consequences.  After holding the pressure tight on the fish, watching it attempt to get airborne (which it simply could not do due to its size), and catching up to it downstream I was able to bring it onto the other side of the rock I was on.

     The water was calm there and I lied down on the rock and kept inching her closer to me all while repeating these words over and over, "stay on, please stay on...oh God please let her stay on…"  Finally my right hand grabbed her mouth and I put a vice grip on this fish so strong that my hand almost started cramping!  I lifted her up and let out a big "OH MY GOODNESS, LOOK AT THIS THING!"  If you have ever seen Mike Iaconelli lip a fish and start yelling that is pretty much the scene you can imagine in your head as I laid on this rock and raised the shoaliezilla in the air.  I skipped back over all the rocks as quickly as I could and put her on a mechanical scale that I had.  My digital had gotten lost the weekend before but I had checked this mechanical on a bag of sugar to make sure it was accurate – and it was.  I still had not even really looked at the fish in detail either because I just wanted to quickly get back to my kayak, weigh and picture her, and get it back in the water as soon as possible.  I knew she was big and probably over six but when the scale swung all the way over to the seven I think my heart about came out of my chest!  I then looked at the fish and saw the belly and realized that its gut is one main reason it went over seven.

     I waved PawPaw and Seminole Steve over so they could come see it and put her on some digital scales to get a more accurate reading.  The digital scale topped out and held right at 7lbs and 2oz!  A big thanks goes out to PawPaw for weighing it and taking some great photos.  Also, it was awesome to have Seminole Steve there since he is a fisheries scientist who is working on a project to restore these fish in their native waters where they have been wiped out.  Steve was able to measure its length and girth for us since he carries a measuring tape with him on all of his fishing and work expeditions.  She measured just shy of 24 inches and the girth was 16 ¼ inches.  Steve did an excellent job making sure she was ready to swim off before he let her go, and just as soon as she swam into our lives, she moseyed right back into the depths and was gone - hopefully to be caught by someone when she is a state record!

     It was truly a blessed day for me and I believe it was a good example of how this site has inspired and helped many of us become better anglers.  Also, if you just started river fishing out of a kayak and are finding it difficult, I hope this will encourage you about where you could be in just a few years if you hang in there.  The next seven may just come on one of your next 826,572 casts!

     Feeling very blessed, grateful and fortunate,




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