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Stalking the Bodacious Bass

© By Mike Keenan
  It's 6.00 a.m., and I ruefully recall why, prior to today, I was content to be neither a hunter nor a fisherman, pleased instead to sleep blissfully in my cozy bed. I am engaged in a nautical safari in central Florida's Kissimmee chain of lakes, navigable from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. The hype claims it's one of the largest freshwater chains in the United States, well known for some of the best largemouth bass fishing. Apparently, Lake Walk-in-Water is reputedly bass central. The vegetation and brush surrounding it, makes the lake an excellent home for largemouth bass, and I'm advised that anglers catch so many that it's earned the title, "Largemouth Bass Capital of the World." We will try our luck in a similar, neighbouring body of water, Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven. We don't want it to be too easy. It's supposed to be sport. The opposition deserves a slight chance.
     I consider my taxidermy options. Do I go with the simple yet eye-catching wall mount that neighbours and friends can't help but see and admire or perhaps the more subtle table mount, portable and flexible such that I can shift it in ad hoc fashion from room to room to add its striking magnificence to any occasion? "Where are my glasses?" Miriam might ask. "Right beside my trophy bass," I casually reply to which she suggests where to place my head that rhymes with bass.
     There are two boats occupied by writers, courtesy of Dick Loupe of Southern Outdoorsman Guide Service. I share a boat with Lorry, a writer, from California. It's a 22' Big O made in Okeechobee, FL. Lorry occupies the bow; I'm in the stern, obviously a better position from which to snag fish. We use the same rods and reels, so the difference amounts to who is more expert in cast, who has better reflex and muscular contractions and who possesses superior mental and emotional stamina; in other words, who wants Mr. Bass most? Being an adherent of the Vince Lombardi School of Fishing, I am out to win, and I sense in Lorry a bit of competitiveness that I hope to inflame into a red-hot, aggressive battle to catch the biggest and most bodacious bass in this lake.


     In slight mist quickly dissolved by the sun, we set out into calm waters, equipped with everything an angler needs. Well, there's no beer, but it's early in the day. We bait and cast our lines, mine noticeably flung further out. We employ domestic shiners from Lake Haven Live Bait in Lake Wales, and trust that these morsels are irresistibly yummy to bass. The boat is outfitted with a Lowrance 522C fish-finder, an electronic device that dooms inferior beings below. We know where you are. You can run, but you can't hide. Actually, they hide rather well as Lorry and I discover while we reel in gobs of grassy debris, and I recognize my trigger-finger is easily fooled, pumped with too much adrenaline. Our guide, Reno Alley, has equipped us with Diawa spinning rods and Okuma spinning reels with 12 lb Big Game line. I like the "Big Game" part.
     Early on, I get a strike, flick the rod upwards to lodge the hook and begin to reel my prey in. Everyone is thrilled, even Lorry. I capture first prize. Reno adroitly nets the enormous bass, removes the hook and holds it aloft for me to take a picture. Then, inexplicably, without any fanfare, he allows Mr. Bass to escape back into the water. What gives, I wonder? People spend all this time and effort to catch a silly fish, this mediocre organism that Darwin would not expect to evolve, and Reno, wearing his embroidered, fancy fishing shirt, allows it to exist and flourish, contrary to the immutable law, the "survival of the fittest."
     "That will ruin evolution," I comment to Reno. He shrugs, attaches new bait to my line and encourages me to catch another fish which I accomplish in robotic fashion. Soon the score is Mike three, Lorry zero. Reno attaches a red and white plastic bobber to Lori's line. "Is that a girlie thing?" she asks. "No," says Reno unconvincingly.
     By noon, it's quite hot and we are finished; it's my four bass to Lorry's single, but the real winners are the bass, all released and swimming freely below, posing for fish-finders, able to gobble up shiners for breakfast, provide momentary illusions of success and then swim away to reenact the scene in Ground Hog Day movie fashion. A horrible thought emerges. Lorry and I might have caught the same fish five times. So, up and out of bed by 6.00 a.m., and I have nothing to show except pictures. Vince Lombardi would be embarrassed.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
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Central Florida Vacation Managers Association: http://www.vacationwithconfidence.com/
Florida Magic Vacation: http://www.floridamagicvacation.com/
Holiday Inn Winter Haven: 200 Cypress Gardens Blvd., Winter Haven, FL 33880
Telephone: 863-292-2100
Polk County Tourism: http://www.visitcentralflorida.org/
Dick Loupe, Captain, Southern Outdoorsman Guide Service
PO Box 7718, Indian Lake Est., FL 33855, 888-692-2208
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Haven,_Florida
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Winter_Haven

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Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
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Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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