by Mike Dombroske
The story of the incredible bass originated years ago, amazingly enough, in the local pub.
Bob, the bar owner, began to entertain his customers with the story of a lone stranger who had come into his establishment one summer afternoon. This stranger, obviously upset, claimed to have just released the largest, largemouth bass he had ever laid eyes upon, in what is known around here as Jake Junkers' old farm pond.
Returning from a fishing trip, this gentleman swore that the extra weight of the lone fish in his live well was threatening to snap the springs on his trailer. When he saw the small pond, just outside of our little town, he had no choice but to release the fish and relieve the heavy burden from his boat.
Bob swears that this fabled fisherman wiped away a tear as he told his heart-wrenching story. And thus began the legend of the bass, known by many, as "Ol’ Teardrop."
Sure enough, within a few weeks of this rumor's debut, the first report of somebody battling the bruising bass began drifting through our streets. Over the years nearly half of the town, as many as two-dozen people, have told of their unsuccessful attempts at landing the fish. Depending upon who's unverified version you believed, the fish was reported to weigh anywhere from twelve to fifty-five pounds.
Jim, the cook at the diner, says he had the portly fish attack a live lobster, only to have lost it when the spool spun clean off of his reel. Considering that the closest the diner ever came to serving lobster was when the creek flooded and washed some crayfish into the restrooms, I found this one hard to swallow. And ‘Greasy’, the mechanic in town, often tells about his encounter with the big bucketmouth. He claims to have labored with the fish for two hours before clubbing it over the head with a tire iron, only to watch it jump over his boat, spitting out his lure as it did. But the most amazing story came from Betty, the butcher at the meat market, although nobody has figured out where she could have found a hook big enough for a hog, and her rear axle has never been found in the pond.
It seemed that nearly everybody thought the tales were true. So when Jake announced he was going to sell the land, and our only body of water within forty miles would soon be off limits, we all knew what had to be done.
Our local sportsman’s club organized the tournament. All ten members decided to enter, though only eight actually believed the fish existed. I was not one of them. Neither was Bill, the barber, and that's why we teamed up.
It was a splendid morning the day of the competition. While the miniature size of our fishing hole made it impossible for the public to participate, that didn't stop the entire town from showing up. This caused quite a commotion, as Jake's pasture only had parking for about fifteen vehicles. Two people actually had to park on the road.
The rules would be simple. Everybody must fish legally, both driver and occupant of each boat must wear a life preserver, and weigh-in would be at twelve o'clock sharp. It wasn't as much time to fish as we'd have liked, but the cow's needed their stomping ground back at that time.
Nobody expected many fish to be caught and we hadn't even set up any prizes. We all were aware of some smaller bass that had been secretly slipped into the pond through the years, but at best estimate it only held about three bass per boat. However, anybody capable enough to bring ‘Ol’ Teardrop’ to shore would be allowed the honor of placing her mount on his mantel.
At precisely 9 a.m., the roar of five outboards shattered the morning's silence. Seconds later, all was quiet. We had reached our destinations. For the next two hours, ten of us frantically fished every square inch of the puddle to no avail. Jerry, the local letter carrier, twice announced that he had her hooked. Unfortunately, both times he was referring to his wife, Sherry, at the other end of the boat. She was forced to quit early to have a treble removed from her torso. Other than that it was an uneventful morning. That is, until Bill let out an awful gasp.
It was nearing noon and we were the only boat remaining on the water. The rest of the club had returned to shore, convinced that the fish did not exist. They may also have been lured by the fact that it was past noon somewhere and Bob was providing plenty of refreshments. Bill had just muttered something about this cast being his last when the air suddenly escaped his lungs like a stuck birthday balloon. I spun around, expecting to see him doubled over in cardiac arrest. To my amazement it wasn't the big one that had hit him. It was the "Big One."
His pole was folded over in a neat half circle, rapidly pulsating to the rhythm of an infuriated fish. I couldn't believe my eyes. He actually had hooked something that certainly had the muscle of a monstrous bass.
For several minutes he fought the lunker, only to have it pull further from the boat. We were running out of time. It was ten minutes until weigh-in, the cows were getting restless, we needed to get her in the boat. Then, without warning, ‘Ol' Teardrop’ turned towards us and retreated under the boat.
Bill screamed for me to get her in the net. At that moment I got a glimpse of a tail larger than that of my old hound dog. I didn't care that the fish was coming up on the opposite side of the boat. I swung the net into the water and catapulted the enormous largemouth into the hull.
This, unfortunately, forced Bill's pole to be pulled under the boat, which would have been fine had he let go of it first. Seeing him struggle for stability, I lunged to grab him by the seat of his pants. I was unsuccessful and the two of us were tossed overboard with only the bass left flailing inside.
As we surfaced, grabbing the side of the boat, Bill lamented that we had just five minutes to get our catch to the crowd. Unable to pull ourselves back into the watercraft, we began wildly paddling and kicking in a failed attempt to get to shore. Inside the boat a thunderous thumping could be heard as an oversized bass redecorated it's interior. Howls of laughter filled the airwaves as the entire town surveyed our predicament.
We had only two minutes remaining when it happened. In what had to be a miracle sent from above, ‘Ol’ Teardrop,’ through her frantic flopping, propelled herself upon the pedal to the trolling motor. We were thrust forward in a steady motion, directly towards the weigh-in station, the rusty old cow trough.
Cheers could now be heard from the crowd as we slowly chugged up to the makeshift dock. All eyes were straining to get a glimpse of the trophy that was resting quietly, buried in the remnants of the boat's bow. We told anybody and everybody about how ‘Ol’ Teardrop’ miraculously drove us to shore.
The panel of judges, all of the club members that weren't neck deep in the water, checked the official time. We had made it, with 15 seconds to spare. Bill and I would share in the glory of having ‘Ol' Teardrop’ adorn one of our walls.
As we slopped our way out of the water, the town was gathering around the judges in a hushed circle. Then they gave us the horrifying news. We had been disqualified on a technicality.
By allowing the bass to bring the boat to shore, we had broken rule number two. She wasn't wearing a life preserver.
We were outraged and told everybody within earshot, including the livestock that were now bellowing at our bumpers, what we felt about this crazy ruling. What would they do with this bass the size of a Buick? It should be ours to display proudly.
Reawakened by the commotion over this unfortunate decision, ‘Ol’ Teardrop’ suddenly became quite agitated. Nobody had bothered to secure the fish and in a moment forever caught in time we watched as she flipped and flopped herself out of the boat and disappeared into the murky water.
There wasn't a dry eye in the barnyard. Tears of renewed laughter blinded an entire town, while two dejected fishermen wiped away the tears of defeat. Not one person, save for Bill and myself, would admit to having seen ‘Ol’ Teardrop.’ They all claim that with their eyes so watered down they just couldn't make out what it was that jumped from our boat.
We're raising the money to buy the farm ourselves, Bill and I that is. And ‘Ol’ Teardrop,’ well, her legend swims on.
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