Nick Nergard of Wrenshall went walleye fishing Monday night on the St. Louis River and almost got skunked. He didn’t catch any walleyes, but he caught — and released — a smallmouth bass that was 23 1/2 inches long, he said.
Nergard, 56, a dedicated river angler who prefers walleyes and muskies, was trolling a black and silver, 4-inch Shad Rap in Wisconsin waters just below the Minnesota Highway 23 bridge at Fond du Lac in 12 feet of water when the big smallmouth hit.
Anyone who knows Nergard knows that expressing his feelings is not one of his shortcomings.
"I made 11 passes trolling for walleyes and never got a bite," Nergard said in a telephone interview today. "All of a sudden — KAPOW! That thing hit like a ton of you-know-what."
It took him nine minutes to land the fish, he said. She was a female, dripping spawn. The bass season won’t open on the St. Louis River until Saturday, so Nergard released the fish. But not before he showed it to anglers in several boats who had watched him catch it.
"They said, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are,’" Nergard said.
He measured the fish twice at 23 1/2 inches. An angler in another boat weighed it on a digital, hand-held scale.
"It said 8.43 or 8.41 pounds," Nergard said.
Minnesota’s smallmouth bass record is 8 pounds even. Wisconsin’s is 9 pounds, 1 ounce.
"It looked like a football," Nergard said. "I didn’t have a camera, but two guys from Eau Claire filmed it."
Once that celebration was over, Nergard got back to walleye fishing.
"I never got a walleye," he said, "but you know what’s cool? I caught that bass."