I’ve been blessed to chase, and catch, a lot of species of game fish in only 29 years. I’ve caught a few stripers along the East Coast, redfish from South Carolina to the Keys, landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine and chum salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It’s worth noting that this isn’t indicative of any particular prowess I have as an angler, but it is a reflection of the kindness of anglers almost everywhere, who were and are willing to share their home water with a traveling vagabond.
But on this trip, and the one that preceded it, I’ve grown an increasing appreciation for what might easily be called America’s favorite fish: The largemouth bass.
I was probably about four years old when I caught my first largemouth, so I don’t consider myself new to bass fishing, but this effort has given me a renewed and deepening appreciation for the guys that are really, really good at it. Without further ado, here are 10 things I’ve grown to love, or remembered that I love, about the most popular of American game fish.
10. We have them in common: Go to Oklahoma and try to talk tarpon and you’ll get some funny looks, but largemouth is a universal language. You can debate the merits of topwater lures and spinnerbaits in any bar or beach from California to the Carolinas.
9. They’re (almost) free: Growing up, we didn’t have a boat, or many friends with boats. But they did stock a golf course pond near the house with largemouth bass and I spent almost every summer night between the ages of 10 and 17 learning every inch of that pond.
8. They’re Opportunistic: Now, I’m all for the complexity and challenge that can come with matching a hatch, or choosing a lure that most closely resembles the type of forage migrating stripers are feeding on… but when you’re a young angler (and sometimes when you’re an adult) you just want something that’ll eat in the few hours you have to get on the water. Don’t get me wrong… bass can be picky at times, but oftentimes they’re not.
7. The Strike: We’ve all had those fish that blow up on a Jitterbug or Lucky 13 like they’re a muskie. There’s nothing timid about a largemouth bass strike, and that’s half the fun of catching them in the first place.
6. The Fight: Now I won’t get into ranking game fish in terms of their fighting prowess, no one has ever won that argument, but largemouth bass, pound for pound, give a hell of a battle. Just watch a largemouth take to the air and violently try to throw your lure and tell me it’s not one of the better fighting freshwater fish that swims.
5. The size: Now, obviously this depends on where you’re bass fishing. But in Upstate New York as a young man, I usually had two go-to fishing options on any given summer day. One was a nearby stocked stream with brown and rainbow trout that got to about 12 inches, at best, and the other was a nearby pond where a 4-pound bass wasn’t out of the question. When you get into the deep south, where a 10-pound fish isn’t out of the question, you’re talking about one of the biggest freshwater fish an angler without a boat can realistically expect to catch from shore on any given day.
4. They’re Smart: A great deal of the fun in fishing comes from outwitting our adversary (the fish). It’s easy to think, as a boy, that these fish aren’t all that smart. But then go to a pressured body of water on a hot summer day in the South and you’ll learn in a hurry that your lure, its color, the way in which you present it, and when exactly you fish it are all of paramount importance if you want to catch a fish worth photographing.
3. It’s a lifelong love affair: The reasons we love largemouth bass, throughout our lives, often change. But when you think of the first fish you’ve likely caught, the first fish you drove your first truck to target, the first fish you brought onto your first boat, the first fish you showed a son, younger cousin or new angler how to catch, and perhaps even the final few fish you relax chasing in your retirement years… they’re all likely to be largemouth bass.
2. They can make you World-Famous: You know who Max Domecq is, right? Didn’t think so. Domecq holds the current tarpon world record. Now, the tarpon is a beautiful, regal and enormous fish, but a largemouth that’s 270 pounds lighter than Domecq’s fish could easily make you ten times as famous as he’ll ever be. George Perry’s world record is one of the most revered in fishing history and Manubu Kurita’s fish caught in Japan made headlines worldwide when it was caught in 2009.
1. They live in Beautiful Places: Go ahead and wax poetic all you want about trout streams or the striper surf, and I’ll not argue. But if I had to chase one single species of fish, and could only chase one, around the lower 48, it’d be largemouth. A largemouth mission would take you into the beautiful lakes of Maine, through the Adirondacks in my native Upstate New York, along the Potomac in Maryland, into the heart of Georgia, to some of the most storied bass lakes in the world in Florida, to some gorgeous and legendary lakes in Texas, up through California’s pristine bass waters, and in many of the gorgeous states in our country’s heartland. My pursuit of largemouth bass, and my mission to cure melanoma, has allowed me to see some amazing country… but only because largemouth bass got there first.