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"Fish Story of the Year" online writing contest

Tim Smith

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"ISA Fish Story of the Year Contest"

What story from 2007 best conveys what made fishing worthwhile to you this year?

Post your best fish story from 2007 on this thread before January 10th and be published as an attributed author in the Bronzeback Bulletin during 2008.

Your entry must convey in some way a narrative story, preferably (although not necessarily) a true one. Entry formats are entirely unrestricted. Any narrative format that conveys your fish story in written form is acceptable. These could include fishing reports, essays, short stories or more. Preferable size for entries is less than 1500 words and should not exceed 2500 words. Don't sweat the editing, just get your story on the page!

Entries will be judged on general interest and quality and the degree to which they capture the values the ISA hopes to inspire and embody: 1) our enjoyment of the resource 2) our desire to protect and preserve the fishing experience and especially the rivers and lakes and ecosystems that support it. The fishing in the story does NOT have to be for smallmouth bass or posted by an ISA member (but given the setting, you might expect a competitive advantage if they are).

An online poll will select the top nominees from the entrees here. The ISA officers will pick the top fish story of 2007 from that pool. Officers submitting entries will not vote. The winning story will be printed as an attributed article in the BronzeBack Bulletin during 2008.

Any questions regarding the contest format can be posted below along with submitted entries.

Good luck and good writing!
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Someone has to be first,so here goes.This was an important moment for me.Sometimes we don't realize how important it is to spend a day with someone.The fact that we were fishing is just a bonus.


I'm one of those guys that is not comfortable heading up a fishing trip especially when it's up to me to put someone on fish.When things don't go well I feel I'm not doing the things expected of me.When I'm by myself it doesn't matter whether I catch anything because I love being outdoors with nature.Having only fished the local rivers in Illinois since I retired six years ago it has taken a while to learn the tricks of river fishing.Now that I have learned a little about reading the water and how fish relate I now am a little more comfortable inviting someone out for a day of smallmouth fishing.

My nephew,twenty years removed from this area and now residing in the Denver area was coming to Chicago.This is someone who has become a proficient fly fisherman in his area and wants to fish for smallmouths with his godfather-me.He has been reading my posts and wants to spend a day on the water with me.I know his expectations will be high but this is one of those guys that will have a great time no matter what the outcome.

I want to pre-fish an area for his arrival on Thursday. Where to go? The Kankakee is to high for safe wading,so I take a trip over to the DuPage and it's looking pretty good.The waters to the North are looking a little weedy,to much floating grass.I try downstream and decide that this should do just fine.It's not an area that I expect to catch big fish but I know we will catch fish.

Gary,my nephew arrives and it is bloody hot.Ninety degrees and going up.We decide to wet wade,something I rarely do.I set him up with a light weight spinning outfit and a few plastics.My first recommendation is a Woolyhawg tail and jig.We cast at the same time and are into fish immediately.A double,great start.

I know he is able to read water and I don't have to hold his hand.Ten minutes later he hooks into a nice 15 inch smallie.A little photo shot and a quick release.This was to go on all day.

As the sun was setting I told him I wanted to try one more spot downstream and he agreed.This was to be a great 45 minutes of fishing.Quantity and quality.My nephew told me he never had to change baits all day.Although I was trying to be discreet catching and releasing many smallies he later told me he never saw so many released fish.This day was not about fishing but bonding with a nephew I truly enjoy.Although the temperature hit 95 degrees on this day,no one complained.

When I went out to Colorado this past month I met with Gary again.We reminisced about that trip.He told me that was the best day of fishing he has ever had.He never new there where places in Illinois with quality smallmouth fishing and scenery.Now he understands why I sold my boat.


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Great story, got the juices flowing on this winter day!





It was a good fish. It was a big fish. It was a good fish.


(Just warming up :) )

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There once was a man from Nantucket

who's green prey was mouthed like a bucket.

But that habit passed,

once he hooked a brown bass,

and it felt like a train had just struck it.

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Short stories are acceptable?


Fiction or non-fiction?

Decide for yourself.


See if you can identify which ISA member one of the characters in this one is patterned after.


The Stream


The routine hadn't changed much in the last 30 years or so. A typical Saturday morning would find Frank Malone rising well before sunrise. Today would be no different.

As he sat on the edge of his bed wiping the sleep from his eyes, Frank pondered his fishing opportunities, wondering where this day might lead him.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee now filled the lonely house, and Frank wondered how he would go about packing everything up and preserving the memories of a lifetime that echoed inside the walls of this old place. The wind rattling the branches of the old oak tree outside his office window had Frank thinking that the spinning gear would probably stay home today in favor of his trusty old fly rod regardless of the conditions, and how the recent rains would probably make wading more difficult than it was worth. None of that mattered on this day.

For the first time in his adult life, Frank was having second thoughts about going fishing at all, but the workload facing him here seemed daunting, to say the least.

Mary always seemed to have a place for everything, and looking around at this point, Frank suddenly realized that he really had no clue where anything was. He couldn't help but chuckle at the thought, and went about his usual routine of gathering up some essentials for the day.


With his thermos of coffee in hand, he headed out to the barn to check on the goats to make sure they hadn't busted out of their pens, as they had recently found a liking to doing. Actually, the neighbors would have called if there had been another episode during the night such as occurred twice this week already.

Animals just seem to have that sixth sense in knowing that something has changed drastically in their surroundings, and these creatures definitely sense that something is not the same.


As darkness still held its grip on the morning, the lights from Frank's truck glanced briefly off the barn and startled the chickens out of their stupor, bringing a smile to his face as he realized that some things never change.

Fumbling to find his cigars and dial up a weather forecast on the radio, Frank came to the realization that he didn't even know where he was going to end up fishing today.

He'd done this so many times, for so many years, yet on this day he seemed to have a hard time getting his thoughts together.


With a slight chance of rain in the forecast and a low pressure system, it would more than likely be a good bite anywhere he ended up, Frank figured.


The light of a fresh morning was just beginning to peek over the horizon as Frank navigated the thick fog and back roads to take his customary place among the tall pines and crisp mountain air.

Taking advantage of the seemingly perfect conditions on this day, he wasted no time in getting set up and was at stream's edge just in time to witness a bald eagle take flight from it's roost, a marvel he had probably taken for granted too many times.

Everything seemed just a little more magical today, and Frank disrupted his usual routine at this point to slowly set his gear down and take it all in with a deep breath.


The stream was running a little quicker than usual, but "The Rock" could still be seen sticking out of the water, which generally meant it was safe to wade.

With his rod in hand, wading staff and a small box of flies, Frank was on his way.

Realizing he had a challenge ahead of him with the winds swirling through the canyon, Frank decided to make it easier on himself and tuck in behind the towering bluff and work the "hidden cove", as a few locals liked to refer to it. Many a smallmouth had come from this pool under just such conditions, and Frank was able to repeat his time honored tactics on this particular day to land and release at least a dozen decent specimens.

As he prepared to pack it in and call it a morning, Frank noticed a familiar silhouette off in the distance. The unmistakable outline could be none other than his trusty old friend.



Harold Westinghouse was a brooding figure even from a distance, standing well over six feet tall, and sporting a grey beard of "biblical proportions".

"Hey Westinghouse!" Frank yelled as he made his way back to the streambank. "You wearin' your lucky shirt today? You're not gonna need it, the fish are hitting anything that gets near 'em!" Frank laughed. Sharing their spots was never an issue between these two, as they grew up together on this land and helped lead the way in the preservation of this watershed through the years.

As Frank got closer to his friend, the fog seemed to lift in an almost surreal fashion and he found himself standing midstream staring at a newly fallen tree that must have been knocked down in the recent storm.


It was at this moment that Frank suddenly realized his whole world had drastically taken a turn in the last six months with the loss of Mary, preceded three months earlier by the loss of his best friend.

Now it seemed as though he was losing his mind, as he stood there staring for what seemed like an eternity, with scattered memories flooding in and consuming his thoughts, trying to get a grip on what he was going to do from here with his life.

Thoughts of packing away those boxes entered the equation once again, and it was time.


The last year of Frank Malone's life was spent traveling to all the places he always refused to visit because he had the very best in his backyard and couldn't bear the thought of ever turning his back on something so dear to him.

Some say he died of a broken heart and only returned to be scattered into the wind that he was always trying to escape from while out in the water. Those that never got to know him will wish they had upon hearing of his life-long passion for this great land. One only needs to look toward the sky and hope for a glimpse of a bald eagle spreading it's wings as it glides off into the pines, and they will come to know that Frank still watches over this remarkable place, and all is well in this little corner of the great outdoors.

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This is just for fun. Then I'm going to get serious.




I’m standing waist deep in a creek,

the chill air makes my nose run.

My legs are feeling pretty weak,

not sure why I call this fun.


But now a fish is on my line,

the size of it is mighty fine.

Get the camera ready honey,

even I might catch a twenty!


What fish is this? I stop to ask,

quillback sucker, gar, or pike?

When I reach to make the cast,

it isn’t what I hope will strike.


The fish I seek is brown and gold.

When hooked he takes to acting bold.

The fish that often kicks my ass,

the venerable smallmouth bass.


It seems the outcome isn’t fair.

I try my best to “give a care.”

If you think I’m being funny,

even Rego caught a twenty!

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Mike,that is a great story.I liked it so much that I copied it for my files.

I think we all know or heard of somebody fitting the description of "Frank".

Thanks, Bill.

I wrote that a couple years ago with the intention of writing an entire novel on Frank, but settled for a short story instead.

Wrote a couple more with the intention of putting a lot of them together, but you know how that goes.

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There is no need to exaggerate or embellish the story of the world record bass, because the truth is so spectacular. There is no need to embellish the role I play in this story either, because I made it up completely.


Fish Story 2007

The most hallowed record in freshwater fishing is probably the world record largemouth bass. Most fishermen know about a Georgia farmer named George Perry, the man who caught a 22lb 4oz bass from Montgomery Lake. He stopped by the post office to have it weighed on a certified scale, then took it home and ate it. For fifty or more years it was believed no picture was taken. Recently, a picture surfaced that may very well be the legendary fish.


I’m Neil Lungren. I’m a lawyer, a public defender, living in Elgin, Illinois. When not in the courtroom making sure the poor and oppressed receive a fair shake, I go fishing. I get excited about a fourteen-inch smallmouth from the Fox River or a largemouth of similar size from any lake in Illinois or Wisconsin. Something about the chase for the world record bass hooked my interest however, and I began looking into how to topple George Perry from the record book.


Most students of the chase for stunningly big bass think a fish from one of just a handful of lakes will break the record. In Southern California in fact, one or more people may have already caught fish that weighed more than Perry’s. Mac Weakley, an experienced big bass hunter, watched a giant bass on a spawning bed in a San Diego area lake during the spring of 2006. He eventually hooked the bass, landing it after a fight witnessed by his fishing partner and bystanders. It weighed 25lbs 1oz, easily heavier than Perry’s bass. The fish was not hooked in the mouth but near the dorsal fin-foul hooked. California law allows fish accidentally foul hooked to be kept. It was a legal fish, but we don’t know if it would have been certified as the record because Weakley released it after photos and video were taken.


I admit that my fishing skills are modest, but I’m getting better. For a few years I’ve been hanging out with guys from the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance. At outings, at meetings, or during informal gatherings I soak up everything I can about how to fish for smallmouth bass. Creeky Knees Norm develops an encyclopedic knowledge of a single stream. His focus allows him to predict where fish are and how they will react. Phil Fiscella vows to try something familiar and something novel on each outing. Jonn Graham pursues smallmouth bass with a passion akin to love. Jim Jozwiak perfects the short outing; run-and-gun fishing. Paul Trybul studies notes from days spent fishing to glean lessons for future use. Pete Plauck advises to fish slower than you have ever fished before, and then slow down some more. The list of lessons could be endless. There is a lot of fishing talent here. However, I could not get Perry and the world record largemouth out of my mind.


I make point of attending volunteer opportunities as well. Logjam removals, shrub plantings, and fundraising banquets are ways to protect habitat. Talk of smallmouth fishing is fervid at each gathering. This smallie fever is catching, but I still could not get the pursuit of a record breaking largemouth to leave my head.


I read magazine articles on the big bass lakes, studied maps, and searched the Internet for tips and inspiration. Months of research went into the notes I had carefully written on the pages of a spiral notebook. My notes contained spots to try, techniques to employ, and baits to use. The huge bass in these lakes feed on stocked trout, so I purchased a number of expensive swimbaits painted to resemble rainbow trout.


After months of obsessive planning I decided to fly to San Diego over Christmas, buy new equipment for pursuing huge bass, rent a boat, and fish Southern California’s big bass lakes for a few days. I know that the spawn would make it easier to target the record, but I didn’t want to catch it by bed fishing. I would fish alone, day and night, attempting to catch a new world record bass. I made reservations at a modest but comfortable hotel from which I would trailer the rented Ranger bass boat to lakes chosen based on up to the minute fishing reports. I informed my family that I would not see them after Christmas until New Year’s Day. Leaving on December 27th would allow three full days of fishing before I returned home on New Year’s Eve.


I arrived at the airport in San Diego, took a taxi to pick up my rental truck, boat, and trailer. After checking in to my hotel I dropped off my suitcase and headed immediately for the lake. I was a little geeked up as I motored away from the landing. I tried to talk myself down, but adrenaline was flowing. I found a steep drop-off on the Humminbird, killed the engine, and began casting a swimbait. I knew I was fishing too fast, changing spots too often, and generally the plan I had made while sitting at my kitchen table. I slapped myself on the thigh when I realized I had left my new GPS unit in the truck. I intended to use it for marking spots and finding my way back to the landing if I fished into the night.

I finally caught a couple of bass, but nothing larger than two pounds. So far, this would be a below average day at home. As night crept over Southern California I kept fishing. It was warm, so I felt no urgency to get off the water. Finally, hungry and not catching fish, I decided to call it a night.


“Uh, oh,” I said aloud as I looked around. On this unfamiliar body of water, in the dark, I was a little disoriented. Well, not a little. I could not see the landing or surmise its location at all. I had been so focused on cruising shallow water and drop-offs, looking for fish from the bow seat, that I lost track of my location on the lake.


I saw a light that I thought might be the landing. I started the engine on my rented boat and raced for it. “No, that is not it. It must be over there.” I raced to another light visible on the shore. As I arrived I could see that this wasn’t my landing either. I slowed the engine when I saw the deadfall, but not in time to avoid hitting it with the prop. I gunned the engine only to hear it rev without propelling the boat forward. I had sheared the pin!


Using only the bow mount trolling motor, I eventually located the landing with help from people I called out to on the shoreline. I was embarrassed, disappointed, and basically skunked, for day one. I’m an inexperienced boater anyway, so trailering the boat without a functional engine was tricky. Eventually, finally, I was able to secure it and head for the park exit.


The gate at the exit was locked. Chagrined and embarrassed, I called 911 from my cell phone. It took several calls, and I had to listen to admonitions from various answering services, before I reached park police. An officer came out, opened the gate and wrote me a $100 ticket for violating a “closed at dusk” policy that I had failed to notice in my rush to get out on the water.


I wasn’t able to fish the next day while the engine was repaired. The boat rental agent reminded me that he had recommended I take the insurance for a few extra dollars per day. The entire day was lost waiting for quick and easy repairs to the prop to be made. After paying $180, parts and labor, I was ready to pursue the record bass again the next day.


On my last day available for fishing, I chose a smaller lake to ascertain I wouldn’t get lost on it. There are big bass, very big bass, in San Diego area lakes of only 100 acres. I remembered to bring my GPS and to mark the landing in its memory. I fished hard all day without success. I set an alarm on the cell phone to ring one hour before dusk, but I didn’t need the reminder. I was painfully aware of what time it was and how much fishing time remained.


About the time my alarm was due to go off I watched my line move steadily from my right to left as a fish took my lure toward deeper water. I set the hook, hard. Line peeled off the spool of my expensive new baitcast reel. I tried to stop the fish, but could not. I followed him with the trolling motor to avoid stressing the line. I’ve caught 20lb pike that didn’t run like this. Suddenly, the line went slack. “The fish must be gone,” I said to nobody but myself. I waited, hoping I was mistaken, and then reeled it in. The lure was gone. The end of the line had the telltale curliness that indicates knot failure. My dejection was multiplied by the realization that I had cost myself a shot at this fish, a Moby Dick of a bass, by carelessly tying a knot.


I got on the plane that would take me back to Chicago. I arrived home on New Year’s Eve, early in the afternoon. The temperature was expected to reach 50 degrees, balmy for this time of year in Chicagoland. I had no plans for New Year’s celebrating until tomorrow. My parents would be expecting me then. I decided to dig the neoprene waders out of the corner of the garage and head to the Fox River for a therapeutic dose of smallmouth bass.


I parked the car in a secret spot and waded up to the outflow from a wastewater treatment plant. I hoped the warm water outflow would attract bass. I had about an hour to fish before nightfall. I hoped it was enough time to remove the stench of my California experience.


The fish were not cooperating. I threw my favorite bait, a Yamamoto Senko. When that failed, I suspended a float-n-fly jig under a bobber. No takers. My fingers were getting cold, and I was developing a windburn on top of my California sunburn. My spirit was depleted. I decided to throw the jig one more time before heading home.


The fish hit when the bait was retrieved halfway back to where I stood shivering. It didn’t leap spectacularly like it might in warmer weather, but I could tell it was a sizable fish. I lipped it and fumbled for my tape measure. The smallie measured sixteen inches. I’ve never appreciated any fish more. I kissed it on the lips, and gently released it back into the river. A tear of joy trickled down my cheek. “I’m back baby! Happy New Year!” I gently released the fish and turned for home.

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