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Why do the big bass get away?

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
July 18, 2003
No one knows, but I would guess that less than half the trophy size largemouth bass that are hooked are landed. Modern reels, lines and rods have improved the angler's odds, but looking back on a lifetime of bassing, I know that a lot of the really big ones got away from me and so did the preponderance of whoppers snagged by my fishing friends.
Mind you this is not true for every bass angler. Take Mike Giles for instance. The guy has never lost a big bass in his life! He could snag a record book lunker in a virtual minefield of stumps with a reel full of two-pound test leader material and the fish would swim right into his net. Mike has two things going for him; good tackle and luck! No, seriously, he has good tackle, which means rigging for the big ones, and the skills to land the giants based on experience. (Well, maybe a little luck, too.)
But we must discount these favored few if my theory is to have validity and if I am going to get a story out of this topic.
Fishers are forever telling of huge bass that got away, thus reinforcing their status in the international consciousness as liars. Of course oversize fish of all sought species break off, but here we'll just address bass because it is a popular game fish hereabouts and should provide enough to whine about in one column.
Liar label
The world thinks all fishers are liars because they are always telling about huge fish that got away and their evidence is off somewhere swimming around in aquatic bliss. Listen world. They are telling the truth. Think about it. It is not the skinny little fellows that turn up wakes like Mississippi River paddle wheelers and strip the gears in your reel and get you so excited that you do something stupid and then break your line. It's the big ones. It's the big ones that really do get away. They are not only big but they are old and smart and know how to shake a plug. And if a pan size bass does happen to flop the wrong way and dislodge the hook, who is going to tell about it? It's not news, see. No excitement here. So all you get are the tales of anguish that comes from losing Old Mossyback.
Big bass have numerous ways they disconnect themselves from the end of your line. The "broken line" method is not always the fault of the line. An exception of course is when you fish a stumpy shoreline with six pound test line. You are asking for a break off.
But alas, monofilament fishing lines are rarely broken without some help. That help is usually damage that occurs to the line, such damage often being caused by the angler.
There is a subtle reason for damage to a line that lies near the top of a list of causes for losing big bass. When the fish takes your lure into its mouth, you feel the strike and you hit back, usually with a swift and powerful up sweep of the rod. Bass anglers refer to this as "crossing his eyes."
Line hazard
During this eye-crossing act, the fish has most often turned at an angle to the fisher and the line is yanked across the inside of the fish's mouth, a big fish with a big mouth being more likely to have the whole bait inside its mouth. Inside the tightly clamped jaws of a bass lie hundreds of tiny, sharp projections put there by a wise Creator so that fish can hold onto live prey. The monofilament is scratched and damaged as it is jerked across these saw teeth. A ten pound test line now has become a 6 pound test. A brush with a stump as the bass shakes its head and you have a snapped line.
If several bass have been landed, monofilament line becomes nicked near the lure because fish spin and flounce as they fight and their fins, scales and jaws scratch the surface of the line. Every scratch weakens the line.
Another line breaker is yanking several times on a lure hung in a bush. The jerks tighten the knot at the lure. As monofilament knots get tighter and tighter, they pinch themselves somewhere in the turns of the knot and weaken the line. A bruiser bass bores deep and shakes his head and it is too much for the knot.
Big fish are the ones with the strength to take advantage of a weakened line or any other weakness in your tackle. That is why the big ones do get away a lot.
So the next time one of your angling friends comes running up breathless and stuttering a tale of a behemoth bass lost to a low down line manufacturer who makes their fishing line out of melted down cola bottles, listen up. The line maker is probably not to blame. A damaged line is more likely. But the fish was indeed big. Maybe not quite as big as the aggrieved angler insists in order to get your attention. But believe me, the fish was big. Otherwise why all the fuss?