“You know this is a private community!”
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
“Do you have permission to fish this lake?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
“Who gave it to you?”
David told her. She already knew the answer, but clearly didn’t like it. Sporting pink jellies, white shorts and some impressively pale thighs, the burly homeowner stood with her hands on her hips at the end of the dock, glaring at our three small boats and the six guys within them. Looming behind her, a large brown home, which we presumed to be hers, and which looked a lot like the other four large brown homes which dotted the eastern bank of the lake. We surmised from her accent that she wasn’t a local, but had made this community her home after retirement, either hers or her spouse’s or both. We had been warned some of the residents did not like outsiders fishing the lake.
During the exchange, we snickered and mumbled comments mostly aimed at the two guys in our crew who hailed from above the Mason-Dixon Line. Eventually, David’s calmness under fire, along with our vast naval superiority, caused the woman’s fusillade of angry inquisition to subside and she retreated to higher ground. As quickly as it started, the Battle of Camp Lake was over.
For the next two days, we pounded the banks of three lakes within the Cumberland Plateau community, hailing hundreds of bass to an array of top water presentations. While the fish were mostly small, they made up for their lack of size with an abundance of aggression. We simply could not stop tossing small poppers to the edges of the weeds and lily pads because the fish simply could not stop eating them.
Mostly, we fly-fished, although I had tossed a spinning rod in my boat just in case the fish turned off the flies. One of the lakes we fished was a reclaimed phosphate mine, and like most old quarries, it was extremely deep and extremely clear. It was also buttressed with countless downed trees. The lake was downright fishy looking, but due to its depth and clarity, made for a tough puzzle to solve. The spinning rod came in handy here, as the biggest fish of the day fell for a white spinnerbait slow-rolled through a labyrinth of submerged hickory trees.
This fishing trip was several months in the making, and David deserves full credit for both suggesting the idea and for booking our stay. We made base camp in a couple of condos within the community, and spent most of the daylight hours on the water. The lakes were designed by Bill Dance, which caused me to warble his TV theme song every morning when we launched our boats. "Now the sun is just starting to climb up over the tree tops …"
This was the same crew of guys who have fished together for over a decade. Most of our outings have been spent chasing trout while floating down tailraces, with fishing results that have run the gamut from awful to epic. This trip trended towards the latter, but, only one of us could claim it to be on the far right of the scale.
Anthony whipped an old fiberglass 5-weight, with a small, green foam popper on the business end of the line. He and Gary were fishing a pocket on an 80-acre lake. Like everything else on this body of water, the pocket was lined by tall grass, with a sprinkling of lily pads. Very bassy.
The popper disappeared in a swirl, just as it had dozens of times before that day, and Anthony stuck the fish with a quick hook-set. He smiled knowingly, as he envisioned the short tug-of-war and the eventual catch-and-release of another chunky little largemouth. But, the line steadily, determinedly moved to his right, across the bow of this boat and towards deeper water. This was a wholly different fish than he expected, and the glass rod soon doubled over and line dragged from the reel.
Gary readied the net, anxious to grab a glimpse of the catch. The fight continued for several tense minutes until the big largemouth finally came to the surface and revealed its comically-large maw … with a little green popper precariously perched in the roof of the mouth. The pressure now shifted from angler to net man, because now that the fish had been beaten, it had to be netted (in order to be photographed: both guys knew there was no way we would believe them without a photo). Anthony swung the fish boat side and lifted the bass’ head. Gary plunged the net into the water, scooped the big female largemouth into the webbing and flopped it into the boat.
Exclamations, high fives and photos ensued. While initial estimates of the fish’s size were a bit exaggerated (it’s a proven fact that 99.9 percent of fishermen have never underestimated the size of their big fish), but measurements revealed the bass to be in the 7.5 to 8 pound range. A big one, by any measure, and Anthony’s largest bass ever.
Later that evening, after a dinner that was literally a bowl filled with meat (hey, it was a guys’ trip), Anthony humbly shrugged and claimed his big catch was just luck. But, we knew that’s not how he really felt. We dutifully offered congratulations and told him we were happy for him. But, he knew that’s not how we really felt.
Petty jealously quickly subsided, and the final evening in the condo was spent playing guitars, laughing and trading stories — some new, some blue, some tried and true. In the morning, we’d load vehicles, secure boats and head back to the heat and humidity down below and brace for the coming of another work week.
As time passes, many of the details from our trip will evaporate like so many other memories do as we grow older. Assuredly, some stories will morph into something else in the various retellings and who knows what the encounter with the angry homeowner will blossom into in the years that follow. And, hopefully, the success of this very successful outing will be surpassed by even better trips in the future. But, even as the memories lose their vividness, or they are perhaps replaced by even more special times, we will all remember Anthony’s big bass.
Because he will never let us forget it.