At four o'clock on a Saturday morning about the only people you will find awake in San Diego County are short-order cooks, cops, insomniacs, truck drivers, and bass fishermen. Of them all, the bass fishermen are probably the only ones who really like being up at that hour. They have arranged their lives to accommodate those few still hours before dawn. They cheerfully get out of bed at two, or maybe three, and gather with their fishing buddies at the local coffee shop to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and talk about the one thing that compels them to keep such unnatural hours. "Bass fishing." one of them says. shaking his head in wonder. "It gets to be an addiction. You get to where all you want to do is eat, sleep, and breathe bass fishing."
There are other kinds of fishing, they will grudgingly admit, but neither the fishermen nor the fish amount to much. Anybody simple-minded enough to find sport in fishing for the sunfish — bluegill, crappie, or perch — is relegated to the status of "perchjerker," which is something less than a rational man. On the subject of catfish, one bass fisherman says, "A stinky, slimy fish, A bottom feeder, I wouldn't have one of those forty: pound whiskered things in my boat." Trout are a beautiful fish, and God put them on this earth for a good reason, too: to give bass something to eat. "You take a nineteen-pound bass, feed it a four-pound trout, and you've got a world-record fish," a bass fisherman says, delighted by the simplicity of it.
Most fishermen seem to be a bit exclusive about their own style of fishing. Fly fishermen think that anybody who would fish anywhere but a mountain stream isn't truly a fisherman at all. Other fishermen won't fish for anything but suckers — a bony, inedible fish that puts up a good fight. Even carp fishermen have been seen wearing T-shirts that read: "If you ain't a carp fisherman, you ain't shit." But to a bass fisherman, the only suitable subject for conversation on those dark mornings waiting for the sun to come up is bass. Preferably big bass. World-record bass. And on that subject nearly every bass fisherman in the county seems to have a story. "There's, a world-record bass in San Vicente," an older fisherman says, "I've seen it myself, standing on the rocks looking down into the water. We're talking about a fish maybe thirty inches long, with a belly so big it looks like it's carrying a basketball."
Gary Whyte, of Ramona, who makes his living manufacturing plastic worms, says, "If you really want to see a world-record bass, go to Lake Poway. There's one living under the boat dock there. Just lift up the hatch over the dock and look down in the water. You're not going to believe what you see."
Bill Becker, a bank manager and bass fisherman, says, "I know five guys who swear they've had a twentyfive pounder on the line at Lake Murray. But then you gotta remember, bass fishermen are a bunch of liars."
Maybe so. That's a disease frequently found in other kinds of fishermen as well, But Dave Zimmerly wasn't lying when he pulled a twenty-pound. fifteen-ounce largemouth bass out of Lake Miramar in 1973. That fish was only twenty-one ounces under the world-record bass caught in 1932 by George Perry in Georgia — one of the oldest world records in the fishing books.
The names. dates, and weights of world-record catches roll off the tongues of bass fishermen like kids who have just memorized their multiplication tables and can't stop repeating them, "The biggest freshwater bass caught in San Diego so far in 1984 was a seventeen-pound, seven-ouncer at Lake Hodges." says Mike Kennedy, a cigarette sales representative, "That fish would have been a record in forty states, but it isn't even a county record in San Diego. The rumor is that divers checking the dams for earthquake safety standards have seen several world-record bass in San Diego lakes. But the way I figure it, the chances of catching one of those fish is very, very remote. Some people say fish are stupid, but even the dumbest bass can humble an expert bass fisherman; and that world-record bass, wherever it is, didn't gel that big by being stupid, It's probably been hooked a few times, and gotten wilier each time."
Some of San Diego's bass fishermen have started calling that world-record largemouth bass "the million-dollar fish," because that's what they figure it will be worth to the person who catches it - in promotions, endorsements, lecture fees, and complimentary fishing equipment. Every bassboat manufacturer in the country will be after him to put out his own model boat. The same with rod and reel manufacturers, He will suddenly become a highly sought-after professional bass fisherrnan, which is maybe the next best thing to being a rich and retired bass fisherman.
People who have never been bass fishing before might think of it as the kind of sport in which you row out to the middle of some muddy lake, toss a worrn overboard, crack open a can of beer, and sit back to enjoy the day. Nothing could be further from the truth, Bass fishing has become as competitive as professional golf, as technological as video games, and as expensive as yachting, Below is a partiallist of the equipment a serious bass fisherrnan will need to participate in his sport today:
First he will want a seventeen-foot, low-draft. V-bottorn boat with a fiberglass hull and a metal-flake paint job. Next he will need a 175-horsepower V-6 engine to minimize the time wasted gelling from the boat launch to the best fishing spots. (The speed limit in most county reservoirs is ten miles per hour, which means the fisherrnan can sneak it up to twenty-five miles per hour until he is out of view of the lake ranger, then punch it up to about fifty miles per hour.) To reduce noise and save fuel while fishing, he will need an electric trolling motor, mounted on the bow, with foot-pedal controls, a supply of rechargeable batteries, and a charger; he does not use this motor for trolling ("That ain't fishin', that's trollin'!"); rather, he uses it to maneuver in and out of shallow inlets, to make minor changes in direction while fishing, and so on, He will need at least two depth finders, one for the bow and one for the captain's chair; contrary to what many people think, these are not "fish finders," though fish will sometimes show up as blips on the screen: one of the depth finders should be equipped with a graph to draw the structure of the lake bottom as the fisherrnan cruises along looking for likely places to find fish, The boat should have an aerated live well for holding fish, and a pump that automatically circulates the water in the well; this is necessary because the fishing limit is five bass per day, and after he reaches the limit, the fisherrnan will constantly be "culling" his fish — releasing the smaller fish and replacing them with larger fish. The boat should have at least three mounted chairs: an adjustable butt-rest seat on the bow. a back-rest seat on the stern, and a luxurious captain's chair. The boat, fully rigged, will cost about $18,000. A trailer and a camper truck or van to pull the trailer will cost, say, another $15,000.