1,113 Giant Bass… And Counting

Pat Cullen shares his secrets for catching 10-lb. bass.

Capt. Bert Deener | April 27, 2010

Pat Cullen, of Valdosta, says his dedication, boat, selection of lakes, equipment and presentation are the key ingredients for catching bass weighing 10 pounds or more.

One-thousand one-hundred thirteen bass 10 pounds or better and counting. No, that was not a typographical error… 1,113 bass 10 pounds or heavier. That is not the number of double-digit bass caught in all of Georgia over the last decade. It is the number caught by one individual, Pat Cullen, of Valdosta, over the last four decades.

The best part is that Pat has not fished Lake Castaic in California or some of the famed trophy bass fisheries in Texas, all options that few of us can afford. He has done it by fishing waters equivalent to those available to all of us here in Georgia. He has never paid club dues for special waters or any other fees (except state-park fees when fishing a state-park lake). All but a couple of his trophy bass have been caught from lakes within an hour of Valdosta — hardly a well-known destination for trophy bass. I have seen his determination firsthand as I left the boat after six hours while he stayed 16 hours because he knew the big fish were going to bite. And they did!

I doubted the accuracy of his numbers when I first met him. Then, I got to know him. Just over a year ago he had caught 1,070 bass heavier than 10 pounds. He has fished exclusively for trophy bass the last four decades, and he has fished as many as 320 nights a year. He has caught as many as eight (heavier than 10 pounds) in a night, and he is a corporate accountant. He has a passion for numbers. I have no doubt his numbers are accurate.

Anglers around Valdosta have taken note of Pat’s fishing for a long time. One pond owner marveled as Pat showed him several huge bass he had caught before he released them. None of the pond owner’s family was ever able to catch any large bass from the pond, and they did not believe the pond contained trophy bass. On a different pond, retired Lt. Col. Larry Martin, of Oxford, Ala., watched Pat catch five bass heavier than 10 pounds during one week when he first met Pat.

“Undoubtedly, in my opinion, Pat is one of the best bass fishermen I have ever observed and the most conscientious about releasing the fish alive,” Larry said.

Trophy hunting for giant bass runs in Pat’s family, as well. His wife, Linda, has caught 27 bass heavier than 10 pounds. One of Pat’s most memorable trips was a couple years ago on his dad’s 90th birthday. The pair landed 29 bass, with the biggest 10 weighing 101 pounds.

Before retiring from accounting and the U.S. Postal Service a few years ago, Pat’s routine was to go to work all day, come home and help with his family in the evenings, catch a few hours sleep, and then fish all night until he had to go to work again. He actually fished more frequently before he retired than he does now. He truly believed in the 1980s that he was going to catch the next world-record bass, and he believes he had her hooked a time or two. His biggest bass was an 18-pounder caught during the 1980s, and he has caught six heavier than 15 pounds. With his energy level waning, he is interested in “passing the torch” to the next generation of trophy-hunters.

I have not met anyone with such a passion for bass fishing or for bass conservation. He kept four bass (11, 11, 13, and 15 pounds) that created a spectacular mount that graced the center of the Valdosta Mall for years before recently being moved to Paradise Public Fishing Area, but he has released all of his trophies since that time. Pat’s style does not fit tournament fishing — he is fishing simply for the biggest bass in the lake without concern for smaller fish. He has caught some of his big fish on live bait, but the vast majority have come from the decades of night fishing with buzzbaits while his family was fast asleep. That was the time when he loaded his Gheenoe and headed to whatever local lake he thought would be the ticket for that night.

“There are five keys to my success — my dedication, my boat, my selection of lakes, my equipment and my presentation,” Pat shared.

Nothing else needs to be said about his dedication. Fish 320 nights a year… catch a bunch of big fish. His first night-fishing experience was a memorable one. He had listened to the old-timers talking about jiggerpole fishing and how huge bass engulfed lures worked along the surface during the dead of night. With anticipation, he devised a plan to use buzzbaits and other topwaters he had experience using and headed to the lake. He lacked confidence fishing in the dark around alligators and other things that go bump in the night, so he hung a lantern from the dock. Unexpectedly, the wind got up and blew the lantern off its perch, extinguishing it. He bumbled around the lake (not really worrying about fishing but just finding the ramp) until he located the dock and headed home for the night. His determination was not foiled, as he returned the next night about two hours before daylight so he could get his bearings in a short stint as he learned to night fish. During those two hours, a trophy-bass addict was created. The 10 bass that inhaled his buzzbait that morning weighed 92 pounds. A little dark never bothered him after that second experience with night fishing.

Pat fishes buzzbaits on 6-foot medium-action Ugly Stiks in both the trigger and pistol-grip models. “You just want to use your wrist to snap a cast. I believe if you make a big, animated arm motion, you can spook a trophy bass,” he said.

While a glittering bass boat is out of the price range of many of us, Pat’s boat is one that essentially every angler who has a job can afford. He has rigged his Gheenoe exactly how he wants it to perform from the custom-built keel on the back right down to the mat under his feet that dampens any noises he makes. Some days he spends 18 hours or more in his boat, so he has thought through every detail.

“A big boat is fine for big water, but my Gheenoe is easy to launch in the smaller waters I fish, and it gets me right down on the water where I can ease around undetected by the fish,” Pat said.

He links his success with his quiet, square-backed, fiberglass canoe, and caught his first 1,080 bass heavier than 10 pounds out of his original model. Only last year he replaced his almost 40-year-old model with a new one.

When Pat returned to his native Valdosta after being gone for almost two decades, he set his mind to finding some of the fishiest waters around his hometown. He flew the area with a pilot friend of his and marked the various lakes he saw. He then spent months going around asking for permission to fish the lakes. Sometimes he traded his accounting skills for permission, and sometimes the owner appreciated his conservation-minded approach and simply granted him permission to fish the pond.

In order for him to spend significant time fishing the pond, it had to meet several criteria. He looked for ponds and lakes at least 20 acres, but no more than 200 acres, as larger lakes often attracted enough attention that the fish were pressured (and correspondingly, often harvested). He wanted the pond to be at least 10 years old, simply to provide enough time for fish to grow to trophy size. The pond had to contain a significant forage base so that the fish could grow well, and the pond could not have ever had a fish-kill, whether natural or man-induced. After fishing the pond a time or two, he assessed its potential for producing trophy fish and either included it on his “go-to” list or moved it to one of his culls. He continues to search for additional ponds that have trophy potential and just since the first of this year has gained permission at six new ponds he believes will produce some huge fish for him this summer.

His equipment and presentation are perhaps the two most important details to his success. Parallel to the affordability of his boat, his equipment of choice is within the price range of basically everyone.

“I must have a rod that will hold up to the extreme pressure a trophy bass generates as it pulls my boat around and even dives under the boat. The only rod I have found that holds up is a Shakespeare Ugly Stik,” he said.

His garage contains quite a few 6-foot medium-action Ugly Stiks in both the trigger and pistol-grip models. His workhorse reel is an Ambassador 5500C. He still has his original Ambassador reel and Ugly Stik rod, and they are both still functional, although the reel now sounds more like an eggbeater than a baitcasting reel. He can usually get a decade out of a new reel, and that is a lot of casting.

Pat uses monofilament because of its stretch, which allows a big bass to inhale the lure and gives a little during the fight. His choice is 17-lb. test Vicious Ultimate Monofilament. One tip Pat mentioned was to not fill your spool all the way at night to help prevent backlashes. He suggests filling the spool to within 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch from the edge for optimum performance.

When I first met Pat, I could not believe the simplicity of his lure selection. His quart-sized Tupperware container “tackle box” contained about a dozen buzzbaits, all black. He has his lures custom-built and has four separate versions that produce slightly different sounds. All versions have black skirts and blades.

“I never know from one night to the next which sound will produce strikes, so I switch back and forth between them until I dial in what the bass want,” he said.

His four buzzbait versions include two models of the traditional flat, two-bladed buzzbaits, one with a smaller hole and the other with a larger hole. While just a subtle difference, some nights they want the higher-pitched squeak of the smaller hole and other nights they strike the more random wobble and squeak produced by the larger hole. The last two years, he has added a four-bladed bait to his repertoire.

“I love the way I can slowly crawl the plastic four-bladed buzzbait across the surface,” Pat said.

He uses one style made with a metal grommet and another with metal beads. The one with the grommet has a high-pitched squeak, while the beaded one is the quietest of his presentations.

“Even though my buzzbait has an extra-long shank main hook, I always use a trailer hook on my buzzbaits to catch the short-striking bass, and generally catch about half of them on that hook,” he said.

As with almost everything he does, he customizes what he believes is the perfect trailer hook. He takes an Eagle Claw weedless hook (#249W) and pulls out the wire weedguard. He threads the big eye over the main buzzbait hook and secures it with a small, round piece of rubber band. He sharpens the trailer hook to razor-sharp before casting it.

“That fine wire trailer hook swings around and will often grab a fish on the outside of the face as it slashes at the lure,” Pat shared.

Pat’s casting pattern is extremely methodical. Most of the time, there is no wind during hot summer nights, so boat control is no issue. As he works an area, he eases forward and after his boat stops drifting, makes a cast to the 12 o’clock position, then 1, then 2, then 3. After that, he switches to the left side of the boat and casts to the 9 o’clock position, then 10, then 11. After that, he either switches buzzbaits and repeats the pattern or moves the boat forward and starts all over again. With this methodical approach he ensures he has saturated the area. His casting is compact, involving loading the rod and sending the lure with just a snap of his wrist.

“You just want to use your wrist to snap a cast. I believe if you make a big, animated arm motion, you can spook a trophy bass,” he said.

Over the years, the most productive nights for Pat have been during the new-moon periods of July and August. If he catches a few cloudy or drizzly nights during the full moon, he will go, but nowadays he usually catches up on his sleep during full-moon periods.

As you have gathered, Pat is a stickler for details. Some of the other details that have improved his success over the years occur after Pat launches his boat each night. He hooks his buzzbait on the eye of his Gheenoe and stretches out the line to remove the memory and checks his drag to make sure it is set just right. He also grabs a handful of mud from the lake and “washes” his hands with it to mask his human scent. While preparing his equipment and for about 15 minutes before getting in his boat, he stands on the shoreline and simply listens. He notes that oftentimes one side of the pond has all the activity, and that is where the bass are generally the most active, as well.

June, July and August are the prime months to night fish for bass with buzzbaits using Pat’s methods, but he has caught trophy bass every month of the year. Right now, you have a month to hone your night-fishing skills before the bite is wide open.

The only tackle stores that carry the custom buzzbaits built for Pat are Priced Right Sports Shop at (229) 249-9676 and Fisherman’s Paradise at (229) 249-0061. Both are located in Valdosta.

If you would like to learn Pat’s techniques in an interactive format, he will be conducting a seminar on trophy bass fishing at Priced Right Sports Shop in Valdosta on June 1. For more information or for additional seminar dates, call the shop at (229) 249-9676.

If you want to keep up with Pat’s nighttime fishing this summer, the BassMaster website at <www.bassmas> will be giving weekly reports during the peak weeks in July. Pat will be logging daily reports, and the reports will be posted weekly.

“My trophy bass fishing is something that anyone in Georgia can do on a reasonable budget. There are trophy bass in every corner of Georgia. All you have to do is get equipped with the right stuff, search your area for lakes — asking permission if the lake is privately owned — and put in some time learning where the best night bites are in the lake. And, with the high-quality fiberglass replicas available these days, please release those trophies to fight again another day,” Pat concluded.

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