Travel Tuesday – Nine, my Prime Number

By Hanna Robbins, Half Past First Cast

Every bass angler wants to catch a 10-pounder.

As long as you fish where they live, it’s always a possibility. You don’t expect it to happen, but in the back of your mind you’re always hopeful. That’s why we go to bodies of water where big ones live and choose our lures with giants in mind.

If your name is Hanna Robbins you may come up a little short, pun intended. Seven times short.  I know what you’re thinking: “Poor Hanna, I feel so bad for you!”

My journey for my trophy bass started in 2009 when I took Pete to Anglers Inn at Lake El Salto for the first time for his 40th birthday.  I came home with a personal best of 6 pounds, 12 ounces, which far exceeded my prior biggest largemouth, and I was thrilled (for a minute). After hearing about sevens and eights and nines, it suddenly wasn’t good enough. I wanted to go back. I NEEDED to go back. I wanted a 10-pounder.

We returned to El Salto in May of 2013, with low water conditions and the fishing was off-the-charts incredible. I caught two 9-pounders. One was 9-01 and the other was 9-03, both on a Chatterbait with a Money Minnow trailer.

Our group caught so many sevens and eights on that trip it was unreal. We stopped taking pictures of anything under 7 pounds simply because it meant you had to stop fishing. My
partner for a day, Forrest Wood Cup champion Kevin Hawk, landed a bug-eyed legit 10. I was excited for him and I took a million pictures, but at the same time I was pissed and defeated deep down inside. We basically cast in the same place– Why did she bite Kevin’s lure and not Hanna’s? I took no consolation in the fact that he was a world champion and I was a relative novice.

Yes, you want to be a good sport, but it’s difficult to see someone else accomplish your goal right in front of your eyes.

We loved it so much in 2013 that we went back at the same time in 2014. Again, I caught two scale-verified 9-pounders but this time I did something that no more than a handful of people on earth have ever done: I caught two 9-pound bass on two different lakes on the same day.  Both bass were caught on a 6-inch, Texas rigged, green pumpkin Senko. The morning fish at El Salto went 9-05 and the afternoon fish at the yet-to-be-opened-to-the-public Picachos weighed 9-12.

In the morning I had no other partner, just my guide Armando. The 9-05 bit on a bluff and I immediately knew it was big, but had no idea how big. The panic didn’t subside when we got it into the boat because we didn’t have a scale. Pete had taken ours that day. I had a camera, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know exactly what it weighed. Fortunately, Armando thought quickly. He told me to take my seat with the fish and he sped off for parts unknown. We found Chago, another guide, around the bend and luckily the guys in his boat had a scale.

When you catch a 9-pounder and your partner is not in your boat you quickly become friendly with anyone around you. These strangers seemed as excited as I was. They even took pictures of me for their own keepsakes. Perhaps today me and my big bass are in a frame in some random household in Oklahoma or Arizona.

What a great morning, I couldn’t wait to get back and tell Pete and the gang. If that was the highlight of the day, I could’ve lived with that result. Fortunately, there was still more to come.  We enjoyed a quick lunch, and then Pete and I were asked to pack up our tackle and an overnight bag to go and test the still-Gringo-free waters at Lake Picachos. Anglers Inn owner Billy Chapman wanted our honest appraisal of the fishery and he wanted us to see the plot of land that eventually become his lodge. Why not? I had done my damage for the day, or so I thought.

Once we arrived at the new lake, our guide led us to several somewhat productive spots before making a beeline for one particular stick (out of thousands). He tied the boat to it, told us
where to throw, and for hours one cast after the other we caught fish after fish after fish.  If one fish dropped the bait while you were reeling in, another one ate it. It was crazy, it was
like they had never seen bait before. Most of them were 1- to 3-pounds, but they fought like they were much bigger. Those Mexican bass are so extremely strong that sometimes it’s tough to immediately tell the difference between a good one and a really good one.

I finally had a bigger tug, one that was pulled so much harder that initially I thought I hooked the tree we were tied up to. Gradually, though, the line started to move. As the fish came to
the surface — I remember this so vividly — the fish turned up on its side and it had the biggest bug eye I had ever seen.  Pete put down his rod and screamed, “It’s a 12-pounder, it’s a 12-pounder!!”

My heart was pounding. It couldn’t be. Was it? was it really 12 pounds? I couldn’t believe what I saw. I had no frame of reference to tell the difference between a 9-, 10- or 12-pound
largemouth bass. If Pete (who’d caught a 12-pounder on his birthday in 2012) said it was a 12-pounder, I assumed it was someplace around a 12-pounder.

All I knew is that it was big. I think I blacked out for a minute.  Fish in the net, then fish in boat. We put her on the scale, and despite that giant cow-like eye she was short and stubby and “only” 9 pounds 12 ounces. WHAT!?!?!!? Yes, of course I was thrilled to catch my PB, but ugh, four ounces short of that magic 10 pound mark that differentiates a really big fish from a trophy fish. Short and stout like the girl that caught it.

We weighed it again and again. You know how you can’t believe what you see in the morning and you get back on the scale to see if you saw the number wrong the first time? That was us, except this time we wanted the scale to read heavier.  Nope, not a ten, maybe next time. Try, try again.

In the next few years, I was able to catch three more 9-pounders.

 One came on a Skinny Dipper swimbait, letting it sink to the bottom and slowly reeling it back.
 One on the hard-pulling Strike King 10XD crankbait.
 And although not with Armando (aka, “Señor Lizard”) I caught my seventh 9-pounder on a green pumpkin lizard with the tail dipped in chartreuse Spike-it.

I realize that this sounds a little bit greedy to complain about not hitting the 10-pound mark.  Most bass anglers haven’t had the chance to catch an 8- or 9-pounder, let alone a trophy ten pounder. I understand this but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow and I won’t quit, I’ll keep going back until I land my trophy. Maybe I’ll even be like Pete, who initially skipped past 9, 10 and 11 and went straight to 12 before filling in some of those gaps.

I wonder which bait will I catch it on. I suppose it doesn’t really matter as long as the scale repeatedly reads double digits.