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Man Versus Cat

Chuck Bauer

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</TD></TR><TR><TD>SATURDAY, AUGUST 8, 1998 -- When I received the call from my buddy, Jeff Laures, inviting me to go fishing at our "honey hole" the following morning, I answered with "yes, let's go," on the basis that we rendezvous at 11:00 a.m., rather than the suggested 6:00 a.m. meeting time. Hey, a man needs his sleep!

Picking up Jeff and his three boys went well, as we left Dallas and headed north. Jeff's boys -- Brandon, 3 1/2, and Benjamin and Zachary, 5 1/2 (twins) -- were full of anticipation as the "big bass" stories were told and retold.
All of us had fished this spot many times and many big bass were caught and released. Little did we know that today was going to be different than most.

We pulled the Suburban up to the bank and proceeded to start catching bluegill, which we used, in turn, to catch the bass. After 30 minutes, we had caught a few bass in the 3-5 pound range. The little boys were getting impatient and wanted bigger fish! They came running up to me and asked, "Chuck, what do we need to do to catch a bigger fish?"

After some thought, I answered with, "we need to change the music in the tape player in the Suburban; that should do it!" So, I marched over to the vehicle and noticed that country singer, Darryl Singeltary, was playing. Looking around at my other tapes, I immediatly saw David Ball, who had always brought me good luck when fishing. Out with Darryl and in with David! Who ever said fishermen were superstitious!

I walked over and picked up my 8.5-foot Loomis (heavy action) rod outfitted with a Shimano Chronarch reel with 12-pound Triple Fish line. Reaching into our bucket, I picked out a bluegill that was about average size and placed him on my big treble hook, then made a nice long cast from the bank. The bluegill hit the water and proceeded to swim down and out of sight.

All of a sudden, the line flew off the reel with tremendous speed and power. Knowing the underwater structure like the back of my hand, I knew I had to stop this fish ASAP, because two huge underwater trees loomed in the pathway of that line. I immediately engaged the reel and set the hook. The pole and reel nearly jumped out of my hands due to the power. At this point, the line was ready to break because of the tension, so I ran with the pole toward the bank to release the pressure on the line. I couldn't believe the power I was feeling and was praying that the line wouldn't break. I was pushing the pole out as far as I could toward the runaway fish. Things were happening so fast I couldn't adjust the drag. I hit the free spool once again and let her rip. The line continued to rip off the reel at a tremendous speed and all I could do was watch.

Looking down at the spool, I noticed there was only about 50 feet of line left. I engaged the reel once more and set the hook again. I set the hook a second time which slowed the fish down and finally the fish actually stopped its forward movement. The fish then pulled me down (the pole), then I would pull it back ever so gently. Jeff came running over and asked what was happening. I replied that, if this was a bass, it would probably be the Texas state record! Jeff, of course, gave me a doubting look and said something to the effect that it was probably "a little fish."

It was apparent that the fish was going nowhere and actually appeared stuck. I attempted various angles to try and free the fish with no luck. Then, I remembered a very unpleasant experience I had fishing Spring Lake in Northern California. You know, the lake where my good friend, Paul Duclos, caught the 24-pound bass. Back in November of last year, I had a 20-pound class bass on my line that wrapped up in my anchor rope. When I pulled the rope up, it broke the line and the big bass swam away. The flashbacks of that moment hit me like a ton of bricks and I wasn't going to let that happen again. I handed Jeff the pole and told him to hold it -- I was going in after the fish!

Jeff looked at me with one of the funniest expressions I had ever seen and he exclaimed, "You're WHAT?!"

I said "I'm going in; I'm not about to lose that huge fish!" So, off with my clothes, right down to my boxer shorts, and I grabbed the line and waded into the water.

I started to swim, holding the 12-pound test-line ever so gently, and began to weave around some of the submerged tress that I knew were present. I swam out about 20 feet when my knee hit one of the trees and pain set in. I knew nothing was broken but it sure did hurt. Continuing on, I swam out about 75 feet from the shore to where I was right over the fish. As I treaded water, I could feel the fish pulling the line. I knew, at this point, I was right on top of him. So, with a big breath of air, I dove down toward whatever awaited me. Reaching a depth of what I estimated to be about 10 feet, I could see about four to five feet in front of me. I then saw a patch of hydrilla and, by the feel of the line, the fish seemed to be right in front of me; probably wrapped up in the hydrilla. I ran out of air, surfaced for more, then plunged right back down.
This time, I saw the fish! It was GIGANTIC and dark, and I estimated it at four feet long. In fact, it appeared to be so big, that it scared me! I swam back up for more air and yelled to Jeff that the fish was not a bass, but a HUGE Catfish! Holding the line and shaking in my undershorts, I dove back down and actually moved the fish out and away from the hydrilla -- MISTAKE! This freed up the line and now the big cat was on the move again -- with me hanging on! I spooled the line because I was out of breath and had to surface while the cat was once again trying to get away. Once I reached the top, I grabbed the line again and the cat actually pulled me through the water for about 10 feet before stopping. The line was taut and the cat wasn't going anywhere.

As I swam over to the big fish, it was an amazing site to see that fish on the top of the water. I gently reached one arm over the top of it and slid my left hand into its mouth in an attempt to get hold of it; this while trying to stay afloat. After I got my hand in its mouth, the big cat clamped down on my hand and I could now feel more pain. The teeth and the roof of his mouth must have cut my hand. I felt that I had secured the fish and when I tried to move with it, I couldn't budge it because the line from my pole that Jeff was holding was taut. The fish wanted to move away from the shore. I wanted to move him back toward the shore but he didn't want anything to do with it. I yelled back to Jeff to cut the line at the pole to release the tension. That made all the difference in the world. I now turned the head of the big cat and started back towards the shore; about 75 feet away. I was amazed because the fish was just as tired as I was. It wasn't fighting, just going along for the ride. I was very careful, as I approached the shore, not to hit those submerged trees again; and, as I looked up, Jeff was taking pictures of me hauling this big cat back.

Exhaustion was overtaking me and about five-feet away from the outstretched arms of Jeff and the shore, I lost my hold on the fish. The big cat started to sink and then he was moving away from me! Panic and adrenaline took over; and I mustered what strength I had left, dove under the water and grabbed the fish once again. I kicked over to Jeff and pushed the big fish up to Jeff's arms. Jeff grabbed the mouth of the fish and he let out a scream. His hand caught the hook when he grabbed the mouth of the fish. I immediately rolled over on my back and just sat there in the water trying to get my strength. Jeff's boys were all yelling at the site of this monster fish, nicknaming it "shark" and "Goliath."

Pulling myself out of the water and feeling a little like Tarzan, I walked over to the Suburban and looked at the pile of clothes left on the ground. Being totally out of breath and very exhausted, I pulled on my Levis only to discover red ants had infiltrated the inside of my jeans! OFF came the pants again -- in a hurry, I might note -- while I brushed aside those pesty little ants.
I gained some composure and grabbed my big fish tank from the back of the vehicle. It's a large Rubbermaid storage bin that I use to hold the fish while I get ready to take pictures, measurements, etc. We filled the bin with water and placed the big cat into it. The only challenge was the cat didn't fit lengthwise. So we had to carefully turn the tail of the gigantic fish to make it fit.

I grabbed my scale, measuring tape and camera, and we prepared to document the fish. We waited a few minutes so the cat could stabilize. The cat appeared to be adapting well to his little tank and we started the measurements. We first weighed the fish and my electronic scale jumped to 35.8 pounds, then settled at 33 pounds! Not bad for 12-pound test! Next, the tape I had only went to 36-inches. After cutting and saving the first three feet from the hook, we cut the line to the exact length of the fish. Our measurements determined the big cat to be 45-inches long! Next, we cut line around the exact girth of the cat which measured out at 23.5-inches. We ended up with exact measurements, and saved the line cuts for length, girth, and the three feet of line to the hook.

After awhile, I started to feel compassion for the fish. Being held and photographed, and listening to all the hooting and hollering from the little kids, including the two big little boys was probably more attention this big fish had had since he was born. But the best was yet to come... CATCH AND RELEASE

Releasing the fish gave me incredible feelings knowing that this fish was to live again. Sure, we could have fed 50 people over a barbecue or had the fish mounted, but to see that cat swim off was a moment in my life I'll never forget. More deep feelings and emotions were experienced with the phone call I received later that night. While at home, nursing that very sore hand the cat had clamped its jaws on earlier in the day, I received a phone call from Shonda Laures, the mother of Brandon, Benjamin, and Zachary. Shonda shared with me the excitement of her boys and retold me the story in their words! Better yet, she thanked me for the gift I gave those boys as they watched "Catch and Release" in its true form, something they'll never forget through the ages, and something I'm sure they will pass along as well. Mother Nature, being very happy and pleased with what was experienced, smiled down upon these five little boys that day!

Saturday, August 8, 1998
About 1:00 p.m. central time
45-inches long
23.5-inch girth​
Chuck's Equipment:
8.5-foot Loomis Rod
Shimano Chronarch Reel
12 pound test Triple Fish Line

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About the Author

Chuck Bauer is a noted Big Bass Specialist. Since 1997 he has caught, certified and released 139 Bass over 22 inches in length. He has been recognized many times by various organizations, including Bassin' Magazine, Texas Fish & Game, North American Fisherman Magazine, Outdoor Life, Texas Hunting and Fishing News, Big Bass Record Club, Bass Pro Shops and The Dallas Morning News.
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