Thankful for the Power of Bass
by Lynn Burkhead
“The fish is spiny, chunky, and substantial in a way no trout will ever be. Its sides are rough to the touch and it wears an in-your-face look befitting a species that isn’t afraid to eat other vertebrates half its size for lunch.”
-Author E. Donnall Thomas, Jr.
It was a warm, steamy day, the kind that southern Louisiana is famous for.
Though it was still early, the rising heat had already sapped my energy and yours truly – at the ripe old age of seven - was already daydreaming of heading home for the comfort of the AC and an ice cold drink.
Even if the bayou’s plentiful bass had yet to cooperate.
But my dad was determined to stay a while longer, looking to find a few largemouths willing to inhale his Mann’s grape Jelly Worm.
So, I kept casting. Half-heartedly tossing my Mirr-O-Lure Sinker towards anything that looked like it might harbor a bass - a dock here, a cypress stump there, a lily pad elsewhere.
I really don’t remember much about the strike, just that suddenly there was determined resistance at the end of my line. After clumsily rearing back, something registered in my young mind and I yelled, “Dad, I got one!”
And, indeed I did as I finally got the bass boat side, gingerly reached down and lipped it like my television heroes Bill Dance or Virgil Ward would, and held it up to the sky for all to see.
After months of trying and casting to no avail, I finally had a largemouth bass. Or more appropriately, the bass finally had me.
Little did I know, in that moment, that this fish – and countless numbers of its green cousins – would eventually occupy my dreams, much of my available time and a considerable portion of my income.
But it did and still does nearly four decades later.
Case in point: Just the other day, as I was sitting in a deer stand with my youngest son. I happened to glance upwards and notice the flight of a flock of ducks up the creek and towards one of my state’s best bass waters.
As I traced their motion across the autumn sky, I thought about the timber-choked lake and where they might land. And when they did lower their landing gear, slow their wing beats and reach out for the water, it made me wonder if a big bass might be lurking nearby and what lure she might be willing to take.
If ducks and big bucks occupy a significant portion of my nightly dreams, then so do the bass.
Some nights, I’ll nod off with thoughts about the day I caught the “Big Three,” a sizzling hour and forty-five minute period when the stars aligned and I landed three bass pushing the 10-pound mark on DD-22 crankbaits.
Other nights, I’ll visit Mr. Sandman with not as pleasant thoughts about “Little Ethel,” the monster bass that broke my line – and my heart - at the boat while my DD-22 crankbait hung out of the side of her mouth. My guide estimated her weight at 12 pounds or better.
Some dreams are filled with thoughts of particular fish, like the 5-pound bass that surged up out of the water, arced over the topwater popper tied to the end of my Orvis fly line, and dove downward with a fearsome splash that would have made Shamu, the killer whale, proud.
Other dreams are consumed with the places that I’ve been privileged to visit while chasing this piscatorial critter, from lily-filled farm ponds to timber-choked lakes in my home state of Texas, to other waters scattered across the U.S. and even parts of Mexico.
And those are just the places where I have been blessed to wet a line in pursuit of the bass.
There are other places where I’ve been able to cover the exploits of the Major League Fishing pros at events across this great land of ours. Places where on-the-water battles were eventually decided at the scales by mere ounces.
Other nightly imaginations rolling around in my cerebral cortex have dealt with the myriad of people that I’ve been able to meet because of the bass.
Some of those folks are famous bass fishing pros like Kevin VanDam, Kelly Jordon, Jeff Kriet, Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston and Denny Brauer to name a few.
Others are local anglers who know how to sling a lure with the best of them, even if they aren’t the household name that KVD is. Guys like Randy Dustin, Chris Bobo, Landon Heinen or Lance San Millan.
Still other dreams deal with the equipment that fills my garage – rods, reels, lures and such that prevent me from being able to put the SUV in on cold nights.
Boxes and boxes of baits from A to Z, enough mono and fluorocarbon to circle the earth a few times over, enough graphite and fiberglass rods to stretch to the moon and back, and a collection of reels that is always in need of one more of the latest and greatest to be complete.
What about the rigs I’ve chased bass in? Yep, they fill my nightly dreamland too, from the gleaming Nitros and Bass Cats that have ripped rooster tails up and down big reservoirs all the way down to the dinged-up aluminum johnboats, canoes and kayaks that have slipped quietly into a backwater that I have hoped a hefty bucketmouth might call home.
With all of this swirling around in the gray matter on this eve of Thanksgiving, as I recall all that I am grateful for - my faith, my family, my material possessions and my undeserved blessings - I can’t help but think that one of my richest possessions in this great land is simply to have the ability and wherewithal to chase this great game fish.
The largemouth, the smallmouth and their spotted cousins all create a chase, a quest that takes place from one end of this great land to the other, literally from sea to shining sea.
Such is the power of the bass, or better yet, the power of America’s fish.