- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C.

On a cold midwinter morning, Jimmy Drumm slipped a 20-foot bass boat from its trailer into Lake Wylie, tied it to a floating dock and said, “Let’s put your rods into the boat and find some of those fish the BASS Masters Classic guys hope to hook.”

Though it’s possible to catch largemouth bass in the dead of winter, my hopes weren’t very high.

Twenty minutes later, however, Drumm set the hook to the first bass of the day, all because we spotted a small flock of terns diving onto Lake Wylie’s surface, picking up finger-long, silvery threadfin shad in an area known as the South Fork. It was a sure sign that some kind of fishing action was about to take place.

The little baitfish had been driven to the upper water column by an entire school of hungry bass who slurped down the soft-finned shad with the greatest of ease. For us, simply witnessing the feeding spectacle was a thrill.

Drumm, who cast a 4-inch-long, short-lipped Lucky Craft jerkbait that imitates a crippled baitfish when retrieved erratically, had another bass slam into the hooks while I cast out a green Mann’s Sting Ray grub of the type we use so often in the tidal Potomac during winter. By the third or fourth reel handle turn, something smacked the dickens out of the little lure, but it didn’t get hooked. Yet another bass struck it, bent the rod, churned on the surface for a few seconds and promptly spit out the 3-inch-long lure.

Without warning, the fish sounded and the little terns left but suddenly repeated the feeding frenzy 100 yards away, and thanks to Drumm’s powerful electric trolling motor we were able to quietly follow them. This was fishing at its finest. It reminded me of the times on Chesapeake Bay when we’d happen into a school of breaking stripers or bluefish — only now the frantic action was caused by largemouth bass, generally thought to be loners and solitary characters not into the schooling thing.

A number of fine, well-fed bass were flipped into the boat by Drumm while he talked nonchalantly about the championship Classic on the lake in late July and early August.

“The guys will do very well, I think,” he said. “They’ll catch bass in deep and shallow water, along dropoffs, rock ledges and points. They’ll do well with spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigged plastic worms, jig’n’ craws, crankbaits — you name it. Crowders Creek will be good, so will the Big Allison and the Little Allison, also Paw Creek and the South Fork where we are now.”

Then, as if to prove Wylie’s prowess in serious bass water, Drumm flipped a bucktail-dressed jig onto a windswept point. The waves behind us were rocking Drumm’s boat. The friendly Carolinian suddenly felt something touching his lure, and he set the hook with lightning speed. A bass of about 6 or 7 pounds soon showed itself alongside the boat. The rod bent like a pretzel and Drumm reached down to grab the fat bass by the lip, all along saying, “Please, don’t let me lose this bass.”

As he went for the fish’s mouth, he said, “Oh, no, the hook is barely in.” The bass broke free and disappeared with a mighty swirl.

Drumm looked at me and said, “This happens only when somebody has a camera in his hand.”

Meanwhile, the BASS Classic anglers are fortunate not to have to face Drumm on his home lake.

He can be reached at 704/827-3018.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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