Jul 10, 2014
By: Randy Williams
My partner, Split, and I felt confident that this was a good beginning to an exciting day of fishing. We were fortunate to have already caught two keeper largemouth bass under a fallen tree at our first fishing spot. We were fishing the Northwestern Bass Tournament on Cauldron Falls. Cauldron Falls is a flowage of the Peshtigo River in the Crivitz, Wisconsin area. The shorelines belong to the power company and are without developments. Fishing there feels like being in the tranquil Canadian wilderness.
We had three keepers in the aerated livewell by 9:00 a.m. and things just felt great. We had fished this same tournament several times before and previously had won with seven hefty largemouth bass, each ranging from one and one half pounds to six pounds three ounces. If we kept up the pace we were on today, we could place in the top six or maybe even win the tournament again.
We felt our spirits sag after a slow four hours, but then our luck turned sunny again with bass number four. Shortly thereafter, the tournament took on a tense, gut-level sort of feeling. At about 1:30 p.m., we eased up to that same tree where we caught that six pounder a few years before and this time that subtle tap on the line turned into a caught fish we named the “Elastic Largemouth.” We would gently put him on our measuring bump board, and sometimes he would just be 12 inches and sometimes he would shrink noticeably shorter.
Registering a short fish in this tournament would be a disqualification. What would you do with a questionable fish? We placed him in the livewell. We could always make what we thought would be an easy decision about keeping that fish after the tournament at the weigh-in site. There is, however, an uneasy feeling fishing in a tournament with an “elastic largemouth” in the live well.
Weigh-in time was drawing near, but there was one last beaver hut area to try before it was time to head back across the largest expanse of the lake. We didn’t catch any fish at the beaver hut. It was time to leave, and Split plays the game ramrod straight. Being the cautious, conservative, calculating type, he knew the exact amount of time required to return to the weigh-in headquarters. He reached back to get the outboard started. Being on time is safe. There is no late. The word disqualified filtered through our minds. Do I gamble?
Unlike cautious Split, foolish seems to be more my style. I had to make one more cast. I launched my bait and it went into the middle of a distant brush pile, and just after the plastic worm tumbled through the brush and hit the water, a bass inhaled it. I set the hook and miracle #1 occurred. The bass came right out through the brush and I easily coaxed it into the landing net!
Split demonstrated mixed emotions. Yes, we caught another fish, but spending that time could make us late, we should have already been headed toward the weigh-in. Split has a cooler head under pressure so, as he was putting the fish in the live well and turning back to start the outboard, he forcefully said something to the effect of: “We are done fishing and are leaving now!”
Whatever it was he said, it fell on deaf ears, because by then the adrenaline that was pumping through my system had long since evaporated any sensible reasoning powers I may have had left. Split’s head was turned away so he failed to see me make yet another long cast into that same brush pile.
The plastic worm again landed in the middle of the branches and somehow still managed to fall through the limbs and into the water. I felt a tug as another bass engulfed the worm. I got a good hook set, but this bass was hopelessly entangled in the brush.
Split turned as he heard me holler, “I’ve hooked another one!” He looked at me in disbelief. Not only was I not supposed to make another cast, now this bass had us locked to the brush pile so we couldn’t leave for the weigh-in. Split started the outboard anyway and headed straight for the bass! I wound the handle on my reel as fast as a propeller on an airplane to keep up.
As the boat crashed into the brush pile, I tossed the pole toward the back of the boat. After groping down through the tree limbs and spider webs, I grabbed the line and quickly inched it through my fingers. When the fish was close enough for me to get my thumb into his mouth, I lip locked him. Then, Split cut the line at the end of the pole, as it was the only way to untangle the fish from the brush. As I was climbing back out of the brush with the bass, Split dove back for the reverse lever on the outboard. I stumbled around like a dancing clown on a string trying to stay in the boat and get a flopping bass into the bouncing live well. We only snapped off two rod tips with this experimental fish landing procedure.
We tore across the lake and entered the marked weigh-in area just as the tournament official announced the end of the tournament. We weren’t late! That was miracle #3! Oh, yes, miracle #2 concerned the lower unit on my motor. My partner uncharacteristically took a risky short cut over a shallow rock bar nick-named the prop adjuster and somehow the lower unit stayed on the boat.
Now after just experiencing 20 minutes of the most exciting tournament fishing my heart could stand, we had to endure the tense anticipation of the weigh-in.
Would we have enough weight? Would we have to gamble with our elastic largemouth? We mentioned our elastic largemouth to one of our tournament friends at the weigh-in. He suggested we wait until all of the other contestants had their fish weighed in. Meanwhile, we should study the fish in our live well to get our best guess at the weight without the elastic largemouth. Our friend would watch the weigh-in board and tell us the weight of the current first place. Maybe we would have enough weight and could win the tournament without gambling on that elastic bass making 12 inches. We guessed the weight of our fish to be within an ounce or two of eight pounds.
This was the day when nothing would be easy. After all the other boats weighed in, our friends told us that holding first place was a sack of fish weighing eight pounds two ounces.
So here was the dilemma. We could weigh in six fish and have a lock on at least second place and maybe even eke out first place, or we could weigh in seven fish including the elastic largemouth. With that fish, first place would either be secure for us, or if the fish didn’t measure the required 12 inches, we’d be disqualified. Ugh, the dreaded word “disqualified” would penetrate our memories for years to come. What would you do in a predicament like this: take a sure second place or go for first and risk losing everything?
One more time we measured the elastic largemouth and this time he just barely, sort of, whisked the 12-inch mark. Split and I looked at each other and agreed, “How often do you get a chance to win a tournament?” We threw the elastic largemouth in the bag with the rest of the fish and headed for the weigh-in scales. A tournament official bumped the first six fish, which made the 12-inch mark easily. He then reached for the elastic largemouth and positioned him on the bump board. The official had a puzzled expression on his face. He turned the fish over and checked the measurement again. As we tried to contain the swelling feelings of disaster he looked around. He then called over another tournament official.
This official bumped the fish again, and then made the decision that the fish was in fact 12 inches. We won! To this day we don’t know if we would have won first place or not without using the elastic largemouth, as the fish were not weighed separately. We do know that we are thankful for fishing miracles, especially that elastic largemouth which still may be swimming in Cauldron Falls.