BUFORD - James Thompson of Buford loves to fish.
He doesn't compete for money. He doesn't try to win tournaments or show anybody up. He simply loves the sport because it is his favorite way to spend time with his family and friends.
And on April 4, he and his family had an outing to remember.
Thompson was out on Lake Lanier with his wife, Julie, and 9-year old daughter, Skylar, fishing for crappie. Crappie can be caught in great numbers that time of year and make for excellent eating, something Thompson was hoping to take advantage.
The afternoon had been a little slow as they had only boated five crappie. Sensing the day was about to end, Julie suggested they go over an area where they had hooked up with a large fish only to have it get off earlier in the day.
James guided his boat over the spot, just past the Ga. Highway 283 bridge in Wahoo Creek, when one of James' best friends, Kyle Hooks, pulled his boat alongside so he could give the Thompson family his catch of crappie for them to take home.
Hooks hopped into the Thompson boat and, as he was putting his fish in the livewell, whipped around when he heard Thompson yell.
"The rod suddenly just went down," Thompson said. "Line started burning off the reel and I got excited because I knew I was getting a second chance after losing that first one. The line was burning off so fast the reel got hot. Since it was on such a small set up, I knew we were going to have to chase it."
Thompson's gear was typical for a day of crappie fishing as he was using a 5-foot Berkley Cherry Graphite rod with a Browning Micro Stalker reel spooled with 6-pound test Mr. Crappie line with a curly tail jig tied on. Since crappie rarely grow over three pounds, heavier tackle would be just unnecessary.
Knowing he was wrestling with a fish much too large for his gear, Thompson jumped from his boat into Hooks' boat so he could follow the fish. While he was moving from one boat to the other, he assisted Hooks' wife, who was six-months pregnant, into his boat with Julie.
"He was trying to help her while holding on to his rod," Hooks said.
Once the two wives were secured, Hooks joined Thompson in his boat and began to chase the fish using his trolling motor. As he was doing this, he also operated Thompson's electric motor, using a remote controlled device that is worn on the wrist.
"Without Kyle, I never would have got the fish in the boat," Thompson said.
For 30 minutes, Hooks followed the fish to keep pressure off the light line while keeping their wives in safe water. As the half hour mark approached, Thompson felt the fish was tiring and began working him to the boat.
"When I first saw the fish, I knew it was a trophy," Hooks said, who had leaned over the side to grab the fish. "It's not every day you catch a fish like that."
Using just a small net, Hooks was able to get enough of the fish's head in it and the two pulled it in. What they saw before them was unbelievable.
Thompson had landed a 42-inch striped bass, that when weighed, tipped the scales at 24 pounds, 7 ounces. Lanier is known for large stripers but to land one on such light tackle is almost unheard of.
Most rigs set up for striper fishing are spooled with 20-pound test line or heavier on rods designed more for salt water fishing than inland reservoirs.
After a lot of hollering and congratulating each other, both anglers snapped several pictures and then put the fish on ice. The next day, Thompson took his catch to the Department of Natural resources to have it officially weighed and identified.
It was around this time that Thompson began to wonder if he had a record catch. The overall state record for striped bass is 63 pounds but Thompson felt he might have a record for that line class.
"I contacted the IGFA (International Game Fish Association) and they said they have records for two, twelve and 20-pound line but not for six and eight," Thompson said.
The IGFA has a program that recognizes catches on those three classes of line. In Thompson's case, he would have to apply one line class higher, the 12-pound category.
"You can apply to have your catch up line class but not lower," Rebecca Wright of the IGFA said. "Unfortunately, the record for the 12-pound class in Georgia is 42 pounds, caught on Lake Allatoona."
Thompson isn't too worried that his fish is not a record because of the memories associated with his catch. Thompson has had the fish mounted and currently has it on display at his home, along with the rod, reel and lure used to catch the fish, which he has retired from service.
"There's probably nobody in the world that likes to fish as much as James does," Hooks said. "That was one of those days you didn't expect anything to happen. It was a trip to remember."