21.7-pound Cal bass flirts with history

Jed Dickerson weighed with care his prized catch — all 21.7 pounds of her. 

"Get the scale ready, this one may do it."

That's the encouragement shouted by Mac Weakley on Saturday at southern California's Dixon Lake, a 70-acre impoundment in San Diego County.

And for good reason, too. Weakley's longtime angling pal Jed Dickerson had just netted a mammoth largemouth bass, which would tilt the scales to 21.70 pounds, good enough, when verified, for fourth place on the all-time big-bass list, according to records kept by Bassmaster magazine.

"When we finally got her on the scale, it kept going up and I was in amazement," said Dickerson, 30, of Carlsbad, Calif., a husband and father of two children.

The Dickerson bass just barely missed claiming the official California largemouth record, a mark set in 1991 at Castaic Lake with a 21¾-pound bass.

Furthermore, his mammoth bass just missed hooking even rarer angling history.

"It released a few eggs before it was weighed and it had apparently laid some eggs the night before," Dickerson said. "It would have been close (to the world record mark of 22¼ pounds) and probably would have definitely been the state record."

The world record, of course, has stood since June 2, 1932, when George Washington Perry pulled his legendary bass from Georgia's Montgomery Lake.

While somewhat small in acreage, it isn't all that surprising that such a gigantic bass was pulled from Dixon Lake's clear waters, according to Lake Superintendent Tony Smock.

"We have some huge bass here," Smock said. "We had a 20¾-pound bass caught in April 2001. Just last week, we had a bass over 19 pounds caught from the lake."

Interestingly enough, the latter, a 19½-pound bucketmouth, was landed by Weakley and ranks No. 13 all-time on The Bassmaster Top 25 list. The 2001 fish was taken by Mike Long of Poway, Calif., and it sits in the No. 9 slot on the list. With three bass in the top-15 all-time, tiny Dixon Lake is attracting international recognition and notions that it may yield the next world record.

Dickerson indicates that he, Weakley, and fellow angler Mike Winn are all longtime friends and big bass fanatics who frequent the 80-foot-deep impoundment.

After the fishing buddies had spotted a huge bass the evening before Dickerson's big catch, some good-natured kidding among the three friends may have had an indirect result in who actually landed the fish.

"Mac had already caught a 19(-pounder) and a 17(-pounder) this year," Dickerson said. "I was giving him the business the night before that he had caught a couple of big fish already and he ought to let me take a crack at it."

The next morning, Dickerson got his shot at the treasured honey hole but upon his arrival didn't see the big female bass he'd spotted the day before.

That's when the angler decided to look for the big bass in a nearby hole in the weeds that had been guarded for nearly a month by a smaller male bass.

"Sure enough, there was a big fish in there," said Dickerson, who fishes for record bass four days a week despite the long hours he keeps in casino management. "I thought at first it was a big catfish. I could barely even see down in there."

Not wanting to make any commotion in the early-morning light, Dickerson used the breeze to allow his electric-powered rental boat (all that is permitted for use at the reservoir) to drift by the hole several times.

On each pass he carefully tossed an 8-inch rainbow trout-colored Mission Fish swimbait toward the big sow.

"So every time I would drift by that hole, I would pitch the Mission Fish by the hole trying not to make a big splash and spook her," Dickerson said.

"It would sink down in there on the backside of the hole and I would wait a little while."

After allowing the bait to settle, Dickerson would begin his retrieve past the big largemouth bass. And with every successive drift, the big female bass grew more and more agitated.

"I drifted by her probably five times," Dickerson said. "I knew that one of those times, she was going to pick it up."

Finally, Dickerson's dance with fishing history was set.

"I drifted to where I couldn't really see her anymore. I could barely see her, but I knew she was right on it," he said.

"I felt a thump and my line bounced. I knew it was a big bass and I was sure it was her."

Once the hawg felt the hook, she plowed deeper into the vegetation, giving Dickerson a few anxious moments.

"Last year, I lost a big one the same way, so I was just praying that it didn't happen again," Dickerson said.

The southern California angler's prayers were answered when the sow turned and headed for deeper water, where Dickerson gave chase. With 20-pound line, the battle ended quickly.

"It didn't take too long, probably less than a minute," Dickerson said. "But it seemed like forever."

Upon netting the fish, Dickerson shouted for his friends Weakley and Winn for assistance. Then the trio made their way quickly to the Dixon Lake dock, where an initial weigh-in took place.

"I was so worried and didn't want anything to happen to her," Dickerson said. "I put her up there (on the scale) and put her back in the water. We took some measurements and put her back into the water."

"While we're taking measurements, she was squirting out eggs."

A couple of hours later, an official weight of 21.7 pounds was obtained when California Department of Fish and Game personnel arrived on the scene.

Needless to say, Dickerson's close brush with angling history had drawn a group of interested onlookers, including outdoor writer Ernie Cowan of the Escondido, Calif.-based North County Times. (See Cowan's story.)

"I drove up to the lake and was astounded," Cowan said.

"You know, guys often will hold a fish away from them to make the fish look bigger. But this guy was clutching this fish to his chest and it still looked huge.

"It dwarfed him (Dickerson) and he's a big guy."

With the lake's abundant supply of high protein in the form of annually stocked trout, Cowan said he would not be surprised if history's biggest bass is one day pulled from the deep, clear waters of Dixon Lake (formed by a dam built in 1971).

"I think the fish are there," Cowan said. "It's just going to take an angler being there at the right time, in the right place, with the right technique, and the bass being in the right mood."

Dave Precht, editor-in-chief of Bassmaster Magazine, agreed, but said it might be awhile before George Washington Perry's lunker gets a run for its crown.

"I think that there's probably no doubt that Dixon Lake has a fish that would push 22-4," Precht said. "It's a small lake though. After Mike Long's fish in 2001, that lake was just covered up with fishermen.

"That pressure on Florida-strain bass is just hard to overcome. Maybe after a few years of rest, after people stop going to it as much, someone might catch the big one."

In other words, the next time an angler yells "Get the scale ready, this one may do it," another Dixon Lake mammoth bass just might.