When it comes to hunting and fishing, luck has always run in the family. But then again, if we’re all honest, behind nearly every outdoorsman flutters an angel of fortune.
My late father, L. E. “Sonny” Voss, Jr. stood as a lifelong example of our family heritage every time he stepped foot in a deer blind. As if on cue, the region’s “El Grande” whitetail buck promptly became overwhelmed by an irresistible urge to prance out into the open field within muzzle range of Pops’ Remington 7mm magnum rifle.
To further emphasize his kinship with good fortune, my father always overcame an incurable case of buck fever. Despite going into excitable convulsions at the sight of a deer rack, he still managed to jerk the trigger at the precise moment the dancing crosshairs of his scope lined up on the trophy deer.
Needless to say, his bazooka typically dropped the animal in its tracks. Hence, another wallhanger. And trust me, his game trophy room was an impressive sight to behold.
With the fortune of the wild strongly passed on as a family trait, my exceptional luck has usually come with a rod-and-reel in hand. But while my father’s job in the oil business took our family to numerous exotic locations around the globe when I was growing up, my angling experiences remained restricted, for the most part, to coastal salt waters.
What started with catching angelfish off the jetties along South Padre Island with a bamboo pole and a popping cork as a toddler evolved into hour-long battles off the West African coast with tropical fish as big as I was at the age of 11.
But once I moved to Temple to become the outdoors editor of the Temple Daily Telegram in 1988, I found out quickly that bass fishing was the talk of the town. In fact, my first assignment just happened to be covering a bass tournament, the second Jimmy Atkinson Memorial Invitational Tournament, where I first met professional angling legend and writer Roland Martin.
I had not been in Temple more than a week before I received several invitations to go bass angling. I definitely needed to get up to speed on my freshwater fishing skills.
So when the hectic demands of the new job allowed, I finally endulged in the inevitable bass fishing trip. Oddly enough, though, I ended up bypassing the local fishing holes for my first serious bass encounter to wet a worm with Pops and his high school fishing buddy, C. E. “Butch” Brugier.
Considering my new position, I immediately got the feeling Pops and Butch were relishing at the thought of rudely introducing me to the art of bass fishing. But by the time we reached the fishing cabin, I couldn’t wait to try my hand.
Of course, they weren’t going to make it easy. Butch presented me with an uncomfortable place to sit in the bow of a two-man jon boat, while the old men relaxed in swivel seats. As the three of us headed out onto the reservoir, I received stereo instructions on how to work a worm to the delight of a hungry largemouth bass.
Before I had a chance to rig my rod, the grey-bearded Butch had hooked and landed a small Florida bass that fell just shy of the reservoir’s 16-inch slot limit.
Moments later, Pops reeled in his first strike while I still struggled with my gear. The two old-timers exchanged knowing looks and chuckled at my ineptitude.
But as soon as I got a worm in the water, things started picking up. The fish were biting, and I felt lucky.
After bouncing the nine-inch black worm through the reservoir’s mossy bottom several times, my rod bent hard from a heavy strike, and I immediately released the line. I watched the line roll off the reel for an instant as the Florida largemouth worked the worm deep into its stomach.
When the reel went still, I felt a rush of adrenaline flood my system. Pointing the end of the rod to where the bass sat motionlessly submerged, I slowly reeled in the slack , drew a deep breath and yanked the rod back hard, setting the hook deep in the fish’s stomach.
Instantly, the 27-inch Florida bass shot straight out of the water, and its size took my breath away. Pops yelped and jumped simultaneously, rocking the tipsy jon boat as the largemouth broke the water’s surface.
Déjà vu overwhelmed me as I recalled trolling as a youth in the mouth of Angola’s Cuanza River, the turbulent African country’s main waterway dumping into the South Atlantic Ocean. I thought, somehow, I must have hooked a freshwater tarpon.
Working the bass-fighting rod like a deep-sea fisherman, I never gave the Florida largemouth sow a chance. As soon as she plunged back into the water from her spectacular leap, the wise old lady instinctively dug hard for the heavy moss line, but I denied her access.
In apparent frustration, the bass defiantly shot into the air one more time, trying in vain to shake loose the deeply embedded hook only to fall back into her watery death bed as the battle ended.
My first-ever largemouth bass tipped the scales at 12.5 pounds, but my luck did not stop there. When Butch finally decided to call it a day, I stepped out of the jon boat with a five-fish limit, the big momma and four smaller stair step keepers what weighed in at 32 pounds.
Amazingly, the two old men of the sea walked away empty-handed.
Sure, I could bore you by attributing my healthy snags to a natural gift, and incredible knack for working an irresistible lure. But let’s face it. I’m a lucky guy, and I know it. It runs in the family.