N.C. angler lands enormous smallmouth bass

Ken Whitesides caught this huge smallmouth bass while fishing with Heath Settle at Lake James on Feb. 29, 2020.

Lake James lunker weighs more than 7 pounds

When Ken Whitesides of Connelly Springs, N.C., felt his jerkbait stop suddenly about 5 feet below the surface of Lake James this past Saturday morning, he first thought he’d hooked a log — even though the point he was fishing was about 12 feet deep.

Then, the log started to swim away. After a minute or so of the fish putting a bend in his fishing rod without coming anywhere near the surface, Whitesides figured he had hooked a big largemouth bass.

The fish finally made a pass by Whitesides’ boat, and his fishing buddy, Heath Settle, got a look at him.

“He said, ‘Holy crap, it’s a smallmouth!’” Whitesides said.

A couple of minutes later, Whitesides led the huge fish close enough for Settle to get his hands under its belly and toss it into the bottom of the boat. Moments later, Whitesides had weighed it at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. He measured it at 23 inches long and 16 1/2 inches in girth.

It was a great early birthday present for Whitesides, who turns 26 on Saturday, March 7.

“I thought if it was a smallmouth, it would have jumped,” said Whitesides, a broiler production manager at Case Farms in Morganton, N.C. “It just took off running and wouldn’t come up. Maybe because it was so cold that he couldn’t jump.”

The air temperature was 27 degrees when Whitesides and Settle launched at James. The surface water temperature was 47 degrees around 10 a.m. when the sun got up enough to start warming the water.

Whitesides caught the smallmouth on 12-pound test line

Whitesides and Settle, who had caught about five fish in a couple of hours, decided to fish points on the Catawba River arm of the 6,510-acre lake.

“The sun had gotten up, and it had started to warm up, so I told my buddy we needed to start fishing rocky points that the sun was warming up,” Whitesides said. “And it was windy, so we were fishing windy points. I guess that fish was up there either eating crawfish or shad that had been blown in there.

“We were freezing our butts off when we pulled across a point that was about 12 feet deep. I cast up to about 5 or 6 feet off the bank, and it felt like I’d hooked a log,” he said. “Then, when it started to move, I thought I had a big largemouth. I couldn’t do anything with it.”

Whitesides was fishing a Duckett rod with an Abu Garcia reel spooled with 12-pound fluorocarbon, so he felt like if he could hang on, he could land the smallmouth — until he saw it.

With no net, Settle grabbed the fish with both hands

“When it finally rolled up to the top and I could see it, I got weak in the knees. I said, ‘Dear Lord, let me land this fish,’” Whitesides said. “The first time I saw it, I had one or two hooks in him. Then, he went back down out of sight. The next time he came up, I could see he had all three hooks in him. One (was) in his mouth, one on the side of his face and one in his gill plate. That’s when I thought I could get him in, but I was still worried that he might throw the bait.”

Finally, after a battle that lasted a handful of minutes, Whitesides got the fish close to the boat. They didn’t have a landing net, so Settle leaned out, ready to lip the fish. 

“He went to grab it, and he said, ‘I don’t know where to grab him,’” Whitesides said. “He finally grabbed it with both hands and just threw it in the boat.”

Whitesides had a Golden Rule measuring stick that went to 22 inches, and the fish’s tail hung off the end of the board. He marked the fish’s tail where it hung over and measured it and came up with a total length of 23 inches.

“I fish Lake James a lot, and I saw one that was caught in a tournament last year that was 5 1/2 pounds. I thought it was the biggest smallmouth I’d ever see,” he said.

Dan Kibler
About Dan Kibler 817 Articles
Dan Kibler is managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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