HOT SPRINGS – Stephen Tyson Jr.’s early competitive fishing Saturday in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League tournament on Lake Hamilton was interrupted by an extended fight with a fish he didn’t count on: a massive striped bass.
When Tyson finally got the striper boated and photos taken before releasing it back into Hamilton’s waters, the big black bass he’d found during practice and in the first minutes in the same area were gone. He had three fish, two short of the five-fish limit, but was just shy of 4 pounds. Other anglers were already in some of the spots he’d targeted to try later where he’d earlier found some big fish in practice, some 6-8 pounds. But he had quite a story to tell and the photos to prove it even if the one-day black bass tourney didn’t quite go his way.
“I caught a 50-something-pound flathead in the Ouachita (River) at Camden. I remember holding that fish, and this one seemed heavier,” he said.
Lake Hamilton is one of the few lakes the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks with stripers. Neighboring lakes Ouachita and Catherine also are stocked with stripers, as are Norfork Lake and Beaver Lake in the northern reaches of the state.
“It gave me a fight,” he said, describing how, once he put the drag on and started reeling in the striper, it began swimming in constant circles around the boat. “I was in a tournament and in (black) bass fishing mode and I had found some nice bass. I saw this big fish (on his Garmin LiveScope) and my first thought it was a bass and I saw it come off the bottom and eat my bait.”
He soon realized it wasn’t a black bass. Tyson was using a jerkbait that dives about 14 feet and caught the fish in 7 feet of water. He was using 10-pound test line. His co-angler in his boat for the tournament had mentioned previously landing a 40-pound striper and thought this one was much larger. “‘This one is way bigger than that! That’s got to be a world record!’” Tyson recalls his co-angler, Philip James, yelling as Tyson got ahold of the striper’s mouth and flipped it into the boat so he could take some photos. “I had a cranking rod by Halo and at one point it was bent back to the reel, and I was surprised it didn’t break off, but somehow the fish didn’t snap the line. It’s not the equipment you usually catch a fish that size on.”
Alas, no one will know how close it came to Arkansas’s state record striped bass of 64 pounds, 8 ounces, caught in the Beaver Lake tailwater by Jeff Fletcher of Golden, Missouri, in 2000.
“When I released it, it really sank it, ‘You let that one go.’ The one thing I regret is not getting it weighed,” Tyson said. “But at that moment, it was literally the first 5-10 minutes of the tournament. I’m not going to stop fishing for bass. Starting out that fast, I knew I had a chance at at least 20 pounds. But then catching a striper that size, oh my god. It’s a fish of a lifetime.”
Tyson said he wants to return to Hamilton soon and target the same area and maybe land the monster again, or perhaps another massive striper. He credits having his sonar to be able to find fish, as it eliminates time in tracking them down, “but you’ve got to put your skills and talent, your technique, to get the fish to bite. It’s key to locating fish, but you still have got to get them to bite.”
Tyson runs a fishing guide service on weekends when he doesn’t have tournaments. The 27-year-old Camden native, who started fishing with his dad at age 3, guides on Upper and Lower White Oak Lake near Camden, along with Lake Columbia and Millwood Lake. “If I have any days off, I’ll book a trip.” Tyson works in packing at American Rheinmetall Systems in Camden, but he said that in April he plans to shift to full-time guiding and tournaments on the BFL and The Bass Federation (TBF) circuits.
“Right now I keep those very small,” he said of tournament plans. “One day I’m going to be at that point that I’ll take off with tournament fishing. But right now, the main thing is keeping my name in the game and running my guide business and spending time with family. I try to stay busy.” Tyson, by being the top Arkansan in a recent Arkansas-Oklahoma qualifying tournament, landed a spot in the TBF National Championship at Lake Conroe, Texas, March 2-4. Also on the horizon later this year is the BFL All-American, scheduled for Lake Hamilton June 2-4.
“That’s my goal, to qualify for the All-American. I feel like I’ll have home lake advantage,” Tyson said.