It was last like this about 12 years ago. Orange Lake was on fire and bass anglers came from all over to take their shots at once-in-a-lifetime largemouths.
For some, of course, ‘the fish of a lifetime’ might be a five-pounder. But most bass anglers consider the big ‘double digit’ female bass of at least 10 pounds to be the gold standard of largemouth bass catches. You hear of 10-pound bass often, but the truth is, not very many fishers have ever caught a true 10-plus.
And when you get up past 12 pounds, the legit list of captors gets really short, but back to the Orange Lake bass boom a dozen years back.
Quite a few visitors succeeded in catching the fish of their dreams and the locals with the good sense to realize that this might not last forever spent a lot of time on the lake and made forever bassing memories.
Then, right in the midst of all this world-class fishing, the infamous sinkhole that has plagued the lake through the ages re-opened, shocking everyone with the speed it sucked the lake down to a shallow puddle inaccessible to most motorboats.
There was nothing to do but mourn the loss that we knew would be temporary.
The water returned and, following a few years of successful spawns, our uniquely great bass lake came around, returning to greatness relatively quickly.
A handful of bass weighing in the lower teens has been taken every year for a few now, and those that have caught them best have understandably kept some amazing catches close to the vest.
When your lake is not ballyhooed, you often find yourself alone on it. That’s really nice. When the ‘word is out’ about your lake’s greatness, you’re dealing with tons of strangers banging through the good spots. That’s frustrating at best.
But there comes a time that the big bass catches can no longer fly under the radar, and it seems that 2023 could be that year.
A few double-digit fish were reported in January, but it wasn’t until February that Orange started yielding the mythical monsters.
Late in the day on Friday, Feb. 3, Luke Matthews cast a hollow-bodied frog at something making a large wake in the shallows. That ‘something’ turned out to be a giant bass that would weigh 13.49 pounds on a good digital scale.
Then on Tuesday, Feb. 7, a pair of very skilled lady anglers really showed out.
Kaley Taunton was on the lake with husband, Randall, and one of their friends. The Tauntons live on the lake in Boardman and they have an uncanny knack for catching giant bass. They’ve kept catches of untold big fish secret. Kaley is a gifted big bass angler, having in recent years caught multiple fish weighing in the teens.
On Feb. 7, Nette Whitney of Cross Creek, another well-experienced local bass angler, was fishing alone on Orange. Kaley texted Nette that she had just caught a 13-pound, 3-ounce bass while casting a Senko worm.
Now Nette, having never broken the eight-pound mark, must have sounded envious. And since the Taunton boat had three aboard and Nette was alone, Kaley offered, “Come over here and pick me up.” Nette cranked her outboard and headed to the spot where Kaley said they were.
Nette’s boat was having some mechanical trouble. Her Power Pole wasn’t working, and her trolling motor had just quit.
Undaunted, Kaley said, “Let’s just drift through these pads.”
They rigged Nette up with a Zoom Super Fluke while Kaley continued casting her Senko around lilies. With no trolling motor, no Power Pole, and no landing net, the women fished. And when something ate Nette’s Fluke, the girls knew it was big.
After a tense battle, the giant fish became balled up in a mix of pads and hydrilla. They pulled the boat over to the big wad of vegetation and started digging through it.
Finally, Kaley got a grip on an impossibly large jaw and hoisted aboard the bass of a few lifetimes. Kaley, of course, phoned Rand to say, “You’re not gonna believe this.”
Nette couldn’t wait to call her dad, “Bassin’ Bob” Whitney. When Randall pulled up alongside, they weighed Nette’s monster bass on two digital scales that agreed the fish, 28 inches long and 24-inch girth, was 15 pounds, 9 ounces.
Kaley’s 13-3 was still recovering ahead of its release in the Taunton’s live well, making the photo of the women holding their amazing fish (with Bass Man Rand in the background) possible.
Most likely no photo like this – two live teen bass just caught with artificial lures by lady anglers – has ever been seen. Most likely there will never be another.