Pat Cullen of Valdosta, Ga., is no household name, but the 65-year-old has been quietly amassing one of the most impressive catches of trophy bass in history. In December 2009, Cullen caught his 1,100th bass heavier than 10 pounds. Just as with all the others, the fish was battled, landed, admired and then released to fight again another day. Since then, he has added three more double-digit lunkers to the tally.
What makes his story so incredible is that all of his double-digit fish have been caught within an hour of his home in Valdosta. There are no huge reservoirs with tremendous growth rates, no trout-fed fisheries, and no super-manipulated systems managed to produce trophy fish. The 20- to 200-acre waters he fishes are just everyday fisheries similar to what are available to most anglers. The way he approaches the fisheries has produced his success.
Pat has been bass fishing since his mid-20s, reading every copy of Bassmaster Magazine he could get his hands on. At the time, he was working in Ohio, but his mind was on the Valdosta-area ponds on which he cut his teeth. Several times per year after work on Friday, he would drive all night to get "home" and would be so amped-up that he would just start fishing when he arrived. His plan was to sleep when he got old.
He memorized all the cutting edge tips from the pros and adapted them to his home waters. His knowledge increased with each month until on one of the trips it finally happened. Casting a purple Flip-Tail Worm next to a lily pad, the tell-tale tap-tap produced his goal, a 10-pound,8-ounce largemouth. He dragged the fish back to Ohio to a taxidermist to preserve the memory.
During the next two years he continued to use the latest lures and techniques, but did not score another true trophy. He would listen intently to "old-timers" talking about monster bass caught by jiggerpoling (using a long cane pole and dabbling a lure on a short-line near shoreline cover). He melded lures of the day with the night-time success of old and developed his own brand of trophy hunting. June 22, 1980 was a day etched in his mind forever.
"That morning was foggy and drizzling rain... the kind of day that most folks would just stay home. I got to the lake a couple hours before daylight and threw a black buzzbait to a grassbed," Pat remembered.
By daylight, he had boated 10 bass weighing 92 pounds, and was permanently addicted to trophy bass fishing. Eight of those bass weighed more than 10 pounds, numbers two through through nine in his monumental tally of trophies. The local newspaper ran a story and photo of the catch before he slipped each fish back into the lake. The next day he added two more notches, and by the end of the week had caught 25 bass that pulled the scales past 10 pounds.
From there, Pat talked a pilot friend into taking him airborne in search of additional ponds in the area. With lots of legwork, he obtained permission from almost all the ponds that he located by air. Pat's sister wrote an article about his fishing for Bassmaster Magazine in 1987, and at that time he had caught 96 bass heavier than 10 pounds. Because of the publicity from the article, he went into seclusion with his fishing and concentrated only on his family and fishing. And fish he did... to the tune of 320 nights some years.
One of the most impressive aspects is the simplicity of his approach. His tackle (for the last three decades!) is a collection of 6-foot Ugly Stik and Ugly Stik Lite Rods and Ambassador 5500C reels spooled with monofilament, In recent years, he has switched to Vicious line. His favorite lure is a black custom-made buzzbait, and recently he added a 4-bladed version to his selection so that he can really slow down his presentation when needed.
Pat truly believed in the late 1980s and 1990s that he was going to catch a world record bass at some point and thinks he may have had it hooked. He has not yet boated a record, but his largest catches include one bass heavier than 18 pounds and six larger than 15 pounds.
When asked about one of the requirements for trophy bass fishing, he replied, "...a strong heart. You cannot believe the rush when a huge bass nails your buzzbait right at the boat!"