- Ken Duke
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When he set the hook, Justin Riley wasn't sure he had a largemouth bass on the end of his line.
After all, Maryland's Potomac River is home to many different species, and big catfish share the same waters. By the time he brought the fish to the net, though, Justin realized it was a bass — a giant that weighed 11.18 pounds and eclipsed the Maryland record for tidal water bass by more than 2 pounds.
If you could pick the conditions under which to catch a new state record fish, you'd be hard pressed to top the real-life set of circumstances under which Justin Riley broke Maryland's Chesapeake Bay largemouth bass mark.
For starters, the Woodbine, Md., angler was fishing with his father, Ed. For another thing, he was fishing a team tournament, so there were plenty of witnesses, a set of scales nearby and even money on the line. Finally, it was under super-tough conditions few would have picked to produce a trophy bass.
January 26th started slowly for the Rileys: They had decided to fish a section of the river called "the Spoils" and found their favorite spot covered with ice. Using their boat to break up the thin sheet of ice and the river's currents to carry it away, they soon had water to fish, but nothing was biting.
Justin realized the most productive spot in the area — that key spot within the spot — was still covered by ice, so he backed their boat into the ice to further break it up.
Angler: Justin Riley, Woodbine, Md.
Date: Jan. 26, 2008
Species: Largemouth Bass
Weight: 11.18 pounds
Location: Potomac River, Md. ("The Spoils")
Bait: Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Blade (chartreuse and lime)
Rod/Reel: Shimano Curado and medium-heavy Shimano casting rod
Line: 12-pound-test Berkley Big Game
Details: The bass hit at about 16 feet deep on a drop that fell from 11 to 19 feet
Status: Maryland state record for tidal waters
"I was looking at my electronics and saw some fish on it as we backed into the ice," he said. "When we pulled forward, I pitched my bait (a 1/2-ounce Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Blade in chartreuse and lime) back to the spot and let it fall to the bottom."
Riley lifted and dropped the blade bait twice, then let it sit still on the bottom. That's when the big bass decided to make a meal of it.
"She picked it up off the bottom, and I set the hook," Riley said. "At first I wasn't sure it was a bass, but after several minutes, she surfaced and turned, so I could see the lateral line. Even then I had no idea how big she was."
With Ed Riley manning the net, Justin led the fish to the boat. She came aboard at approximately 8:15 a.m.
"I still didn't know I had a record fish," Justin said. "I had caught a 9-pounder from the river a couple of years before, and knew this fish was much bigger, but didn't know how much bigger."
It didn't help that their onboard scale was malfunctioning in the cold, or that it didn't register weights over 10 pounds. So, with a very big bass in the livewell, the Rileys kept fishing.
And they proceeded to fill out a tournament limit weighing better than 26 pounds. It was good enough for the win and, naturally, Justin's lunker took big bass honors.
On the tournament scales, Riley's bass weighed 11-9, but they weren't certified. Once he realized the fish might exceed the state record, Justin and his dad went looking for some certified scales. They found them at a UPS shipping center, where the bass weighed an official 11.18 pounds.
For most trophy catches, the story would end there. The fish would either be taken to a taxidermist or released back into the water, but the Rileys contacted the Bass Pro Shops store in Hanover, Md., and asked if they'd be interested in the fish.
And after an hour-long drive to the store, the Rileys and store manager Aaron Frazier spent the next three hours gradually warming the water the bass was in to the same temperature as the store's quarantine tank — a 35 degree difference.
After a quarantine period, visitors should be able to view the state record in the store aquarium.
Technically, although Riley's catch is the biggest largemouth ever certified in Maryland, it's not the freshwater record.
Because his fish was caught in tidal waters, Riley's bass is the Chesapeake Bay (or tidal waters) record for the state. The previous tidal waters record was caught in 1975 from the Pocomoke River and weighed 9-1. The Maryland freshwater record largemouth weighed 11-2 (about an ounce less than Riley's bass) and was taken from a farm pond in 1993
Justin Riley is no stranger to tournament competition or fishing success. For three years he fished the Bassmaster Opens series, before an automobile accident sidelined him in 2007. Now he's ready to get back on the trail and try to qualify for fishing's big time, the Bassmaster Elite Series.
"My dream is to become a professional bass fisherman," Riley says.
In the meantime, he's pretty happy with his state record.
2hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy